- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

For reasons that remain impenetrable, if not just plain contrary, our inscrutable Transportation Department continues to hold out against arming airline pilots. Why they did so remains a mystery.
"Pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane," non-explained John Magaw, undersecretary of transportation.
But can you think of a greater aid to concentration on the part of the cockpit crew than knowing a sidearm is available should the cockpit door suddenly give way?
That kind of assurance clears away the mental clutter, and offers an answer to the unavoidable question that must now haunt cockpit crews. ("What do we do if the cockpit door gives way?")
Call it peace of mind. Arming pilots gives them a better alternative than crashing the plane with all aboard.
Why would anyone think being rendered defenseless would help one concentrate? To quote one pilot: "How easy will it be for me to concentrate on flying an airplane when a terrorist breaks through the cockpit door and tries to slit my throat?"
A Beretta in hand is worth any number of theories in the bumbling hands of the Department of Transportation and Obfuscation.
It's a puzzlement why a government that would scramble jet fighters to intercept a hijacked plane which is a polite way of saying blow it out of the sky would deny pilots a last chance to avoid such an explosive ending.
This administration, which is supposed to be conducting a war on terror, did agree to consider just consider, mind you allowing the crews to have stun guns. But nonfatal weapons lack something essential in dealing with terrorists bent on taking over an aircraft: Finality.
Letting those pilots who wished to arm themselves could also have a clarifying effect on those planning to hijack an airliner and plunge it into the national landmark of their choosing.
How could the terrorists know which crews were packing heat? How could they hope to overcome it? Suddenly box cutters might no longer seem the ideal weapon. No wonder three-quarters of the country's airline pilots, according to one poll, want the right to bear arms.
We're told that reinforcing the cockpit doors will make armed pilots unnecessary. We're told lots of things. The stronger doors aren't even required on all planes until next April, and there's no guarantee terrorists wouldn't find their way into the cockpit even then either by determined assault or some trick.
To quote Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican: "The cockpit doors are still not as secure as a vault. What is wrong with having a last line of defense if something does happen?"
Nothing, of course.
The argument in favor of denying the pilots weapons tends to view arming them as an alternative to stronger doors or more air marshals or better checks on the ground. But armed pilots are but one more additional defense, one more fail-safe, one more insurance policy. It couldn't hurt and it might prove a crucial help.
But can we trust pilots with weapons? Goodness, we trust them with the whole plane, why not sidearms? All those pilots who wanted to carry arms would be trained before being issued a semiautomatic, and undergo psychological testing, if that's any comfort.
What might comfort passengers is knowing that their cockpit crew is armed, unlike those on the planes that were hijacked and turned into guided missiles September 11.
Many of these commercial pilots are ex-servicemen who already have received weapons training. They wouldn't be novices at defending themselves. And others.
The case against arming airline crews doesn't really rest on its (nonexistent) merits, but ideology the sheer, reflexive, unreasoning assumption that Guns Are Bad all guns.
To the gunphobes, it doesn't seem to matter whether those firearms are in the hand of terrorists or pilots. The ideologues bent on banning guns don't seem able to differentiate between the two.
To quote Greg Warren, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration: "We have just spent the last eight months purging the airspace of potential weapons. It would be unwise to suddenly flood the system with 100,000 lethal weapons."
But doesn't it make a difference who has those lethal weapons the airline pilots or the terrorists? Nobody seems to have a problem with air marshals' carrying weapons. Why not pilots who will be screened and trained?
Imagine how differently the events of September 11 might have played out if the pilots had been armed, or even if the terrorists thought they were. It's called deterrence. And just now the country can use all of it we can get.


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