Wednesday, 10 July, 2002

Arming Pilots Against Terrorism

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed, by a vote of 310-113, the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act (H.R. 4635), that allows pilots of commercial aircraft to carry guns.  This is an extremely bad idea, for a couple of reasons.  First, now potential hijackers don't have to worry about smuggling guns on the airplanes.  Instead, all they have to do is wrest a gun from somebody who has his hands full flying an airplane.  If that's not enough reason to scrap this bill, consider that pilots are not police officers.  Yes, we have air marshals flying with weapons, but they are law enforcement officers who are trained for the situation.  Sure, the bill mentions training the pilots, but there's no way a few day-long classes are going to give a pilot the training he needs in order to use that gun effectively in a hijacking situation.  The pilots are behind a locked door, where they damned well better stay, considering the potential consequences of an unauthorized person obtaining entry to the cockpit.  I certainly wouldn't want them opening the cockpit door when a hijacker is lying in wait outside.  The cockpit doors are supposedly strengthened now, to prevent unauthorized entry.  Most likely, a determined individual could still get in, but I suspect that the passengers would have subdued that person long before he could threaten the pilots' safety.

On the airplane isn't the only place to worry.  No.  If pilots are allowed to carry guns, that means that there will be more guns in the airport terminals, with substantially more risk of one falling into the wrong hands.  It's a frightening thought.  I can think of no scenario in which it would be beneficial for pilots of commercial aircraft to be armed.  And I can come up with dozens of scenarios in which it would be a very, very bad idea.

What I find really sad is that our Representatives really aren't so stupid as to believe that arming pilots is "A Good Thing."  No, it's an election year and this is just one more strategy to garner votes:  "I voted for arming our pilots against terrorism!"  This bill, like just about every other bill that has sprung from the September 11 tragedy, is simply Congress' way of assuring the American people that "something is being done."  Happily, it's likely that the Senate will kill the bill.  Failing that, it falls to the President to stop this madness, although doing so would be very expensive politically.  I wonder if he has the guts to do it.