- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

You can't dial 911 at 30,000 feet. It is this fact more than any other that likely prompted the House to pass a bill on Wednesday that would allow all 70,000 U.S. commercial airline pilots (not just the 1,400 envisioned under a two-year experiment that had previously been considered) to carry firearms aboard their airplanes as a last-ditch means of self-defense against would-be hijackers. The overwhelming 310-113 vote in the House puts renewed pressure on the Senate to pass companion legislation and we hope will cause the Bush administration to reconsider its bewildering opposition to this eminently sensible idea.

Many of the congressmen who voted in favor of the bill have stated publicly that arming pilots is a necessary adjunct to the heightened on-ground security measures that have been put into effect since September 11. "Members of Congress fly every week," said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat. "They know we do not yet have a secure system." One sponsor, Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, said "Frustration is setting in with the general public" over the federal government's failure to take proactive steps to deal with would-be terrorists who might manage to board a commercial flight. "You either shape up or we're going to start passing legislation to get you to do what should be done," he added.

The bottom line is that it's still entirely possible that a determined terrorist could slip through airport security and threaten an aircraft once it is off the ground. At that point, the only thing standing between another September 11 and the safety of the aircraft and all those aboard could very well be a flight crew in possession of the means of effective self-defense. There are simply not enough federal sky marshals available to protect every commercial flight and reinforced cockpit doors only go so far. Just as burglars tend to avoid homes they have reason to suspect are lived in by people with guns, so also would potential terrorists likely think twice about attempting to subdue an armed flight crew capable of putting up a fight.

Most pilots support the idea as do flight attendants, who threw in their support for the House bill after a provision was added to require more self-defense training for them as well. Every person who boards a commercial flight is already placing their life in the hands of the trained professionals who fly the plane; it is no great leap of faith to entrust these same professionals with the ability to protect themselves and us in the event of an attempted takeover. Many are ex-military; all would be trained and retrained in the safe handling of firearms. There is no rational reason to deny them this crucial deterrent.

The sooner pilots are armed, the better. At 30,000 feet, it could easily be all that stands between the innocent lives aboard and another airborne tragedy.


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