- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2001

President Bush's proposals to increase airline security are laudable and worth implementing. However, more may be necessary to ensure not merely that the chances of a terrorist taking over an airplane in the future are minimized, but also that appropriate response mechanisms are in place as well. In addition to the use of National Guard personnel to patrol airports and provide additional physical security, allowing pilots to carry or have access to weapons should also be part of any response to the tragic events of Sept. 11. Mr. Bush should not allow himself to be cowed by gun-control groups on this critical piece of the security puzzle.

It's one thing to do all possible to prevent a would-be hijacker from getting on an airplane with weapons another thing entirely to provide a means for dealing with one who manages to defeat these measures. It's not unreasonable to believe that, no matter what steps are taken on the ground by airlines and airport security, a determined hijacker or terrorist will still likely be able to smuggle a weapon of some sort on a commercial airplane. Absent some means of defending themselves and the people on the aircraft, the pilot and flight crew are at the mercy of an armed hijacker. Only the presence of an armed air crew equalizes the equation, and gives the helpless passengers a chance. Indeed, the mere presence of firearms in the hands of the mostly ex-military air crews is bound to have a deterrent effect. Just as street thugs are less likely to attack an armed policeman, so also are would-be terrorists apt to think twice before attempting to commandeer an aircraft when they know the flight crew has the means and the ability to fight back. We already trust pilots with our lives; trusting them with firearms is no great leap of faith. And it would level the playing field considerably.

Regarding Mr. Bush's other proposals, they are mostly salutary and should be adopted as quickly as is feasible. Reinforced doors that make it more difficult for a bad guy to gain access to the flight deck, more thorough inspection of baggage, and under the supervision of better-trained federal workers all of these are steps in the right direction. So is the proposed expansion of the federal sky marshal program, which would put armed undercover officers on more commercial flights. But the sheer number and volume of flights that take place every day makes it difficult to place a sky marshal on every flight. Arming the flight crews, meanwhile, would help solve this problem. By all means, proceed with the sky marshal program. But let's not make airline safety a matter of Russian roulette. Let's make sure all U.S. flights are properly protected on the ground and once in the air.

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