- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

An altogether reasonable proposal has been advanced to permit pilots of commercial airplanes to carry firearms or, at least, to have access to them in the cockpit. Capt. Duane Woerth, head of the Airline Pilots Association, told the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday that in addition to being armed as a precautionary measure against future hijacking attempts, pilots should be deputized as federal law-enforcement officers. John Meenan of the Air Transport Association added, "Airport Security must be treated as a national security priority and funded and treated no differently than any other national defense program."

Arming commercial pilots many of whom (if not the majority) are ex-military or in the reserves seems to be a sound and eminently practical idea. All pilots must undergo extensive background checks, as well as psychological screening. Those lacking experience with firearms and gun safety could be trained in these areas. It is doubtful that armed pilots present any danger. No U.S. pilot in the history of American commercial aviation has ever "gone postal" and that's not likely to happen anytime soon. Arming pilots, however, would provide at least some means of defense against terrorists or would-be hijackers. As it is, there's no way to call 911 when you're 30,000 feet in the air. Until the aircraft returns to the ground, it's the unarmed and thus defenseless flight crew against the bad guys and whatever they manage to smuggle aboard the plane. In the Sept. 11 attacks, where the hijackers were apparently armed only with knives and box-cutters, an armed flight crew might have made all the difference in the world.

Some critics many of them among the ranks of gun-control outfits oppose the idea of arming flight crews on the basis of the possibility that they could be "overcome" by terrorists, who would then have firearms they might not otherwise have been able to get through security. But this argument quickly falls apart when you examine it. After all, we don't fret that armed policemen are in danger of being "overcome" by criminals it being pretty challenging for unarmed thugs to get the best of an armed and trained law-enforcement officer. The same certainly applies to flight crews again, many of whom are already quite familiar with the safe handling of firearms as a result of their military backgrounds.

Giving pilots the means to defend themselves is an idea whose time has come. It makes sense and is certainly more cost-effective than hiring armed "sky marshals" and placing one on every commercial flight. Armed flight crews render the sky marshal concept superfluous, and it provides some much-needed leveling of the playing field between the good guys and the bad guys.

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