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Save Lives — Arm Pilots By: Tanya Metaksa
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 05, 2002

IT SHOULD BE a no-brainer for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to decide in favor of allowing pilots to have firearms in the cockpit. Yet as we approach the Valentine’s Day deadline for public comment on this issue, the liberal media, the airlines and the anti-gun groups have been trying to scare the FAA into believing that trained pilots cannot be trusted with firearms. It’s time for Americans who fly our skies to send a letter, an e-mail or a fax to the FAA concerning on the issue of "pilots carrying firearms into the cockpit."-- [Docket No. FAA-2001-11129]

America witnessed mayhem in the skies on September 11. It has also witnessed trouble in the air on several occasions since then. We have had incidents in the air where United States Air Force jets with the license to shoot escorted civilian airplanes to safe landing sites. At those times, the cockpit crews were helpless. I am sure that the passengers on those planes would support arming their pilots.

When Americans board the cabin of an airplane they put their trust in the men and women sitting in the cockpit. If we trust the cockpit crew to take off and land, fly through inclement weather, and be ready for any emergency, why not trust that same crew as the final defense against a hostile takeover? Survey after survey has shown that Americans understand the gravity of such a situation, and support arming pilots against suicidal maniacs.

America’s airline pilots are now aware of their vulnerability and responsibility. September 11 became the catalyst for the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) to change its position, and support the right of the pilots to fly armed. Some of their members felt so strongly that they formed Airline Pilots Safety Alliance (APSA). Led by Captain Bob Guida, a New Hampshire legislator as well as an airline pilot, APSA has been in the forefront of the battle to give pilots the right to be armed.

A majority in Congress listened, and then voted for the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which gave FAA the authority to set the standards for allowing commercial airline pilots to carry firearms into the cockpit. Since President Bush signed the legislation many in Congress have taken further initiatives to tell the FAA how they feel.

Some sixty Representatives wrote a supportive letter to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. This letter stated that they "hoped" the FAA would "move expeditiously" to implement the provision concerning arming pilots "without delay."

Additionally a letter from U.S. Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) stated, "We believe that armed pilots are a first line of deterrence to terrorism, because terrorists will know that armed pilots will be behind that reinforced cockpit door to defend the aircraft. We further believe that armed pilots are the last line of defense against terrorism, because when all else fails, an armed pilot will be provided with the most effective means to disable a terrorist."

The FAA is also soliciting comments on "less than lethal weapons for use in the airplane." In the aftermath of September 11 United Airlines and Mesa Airlines publicly advocated that their pilots be equipped with non-lethal weapons such as stun guns or tasers rather than firearms. Although the term "non-lethal weapons" sounds humane, it is not a suitable or equivalent alternative to arming pilots with firearms. Tasers are not 100 percent effective. They are inappropriate for use when milliseconds make the difference between success and failure. They take seconds to successfully stop the assailant and must be almost touching the attacker to be effective. Finally if there were multiple hijackers-- as on September 11--a stun gun may stop the first hijacker, but the others could overcome the cockpit crew.

Finally there is the alternative of Federal Air Marshals (FAM). The FAA hasn’t requested input on the use of FAMs, but that issue has many pilots concerned. One U.S. Airways Captain is troubled that several hijackers would be able to overcome one FAM, seize his firearm and then commandeer the plane. In that case the pilots without firearms could only submit meekly as terrorists gain access to the cockpit.

Captain Bill Bandlow writes, "Act now to allow the proper tools to be employed to stop the last step in a suicidal takeover. The front line, the cockpit, requires, not only the capability to control the aircraft, but the ability to repel any individual or group intent on seizing aircraft control."

On my next airplane ride I want my cockpit crew trained and armed. It’s not only my life at stake, but also the lives of thousands on the ground who depend on that cockpit crew defending and flying that airplane to safety.

Tanya K. Metaksa is the former executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. She is the author of Safe, Not Sorry a self-protection manual, published in 1997. She has appeared on numerous talk and interview shows such as "Crossfire," the "Today" show, "Nightline," "This Week with David Brinkley" and the "McNeil-Lehrer Hour," among others.

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