IN OVERWHELMING NUMBERS the American people support proposals to arm pilots. The glaring exceptions are the airlines and the Bush administration. Public support extends across all segments of the population according to a survey performed for the Airline Pilots Association by the Winston Group. Meanwhile, in passing the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that President Bush signed last year, most members of Congress believed that they had signaled their strong support for arming pilots when they passed.
Thus the introduction of a bill by Congressmen Don Young (R-AK) and John Mica (R-FL) on May 1 to allow pilots to be armed should be unnecessary. Yet, since Congress gave the administration the authority to set the standards commercial airline pilots to carry firearms into the cockpit, it has become clear that the FAA has no intention of allowing firearms in the cockpit under any circumstances.
Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta has stonewalled, obfuscated, and now tries to foist the notion that stun guns are the "weapon" of choice in an airline cockpit. Mineta along with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Director John McGaw, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BAATF) under Bill Clinton, are following not only their anti-gun biases to keep pilots disarmed, but are yielding to the airline companies, which are against arming pilots.
On May 2 Congressman Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee, held a hearing on his legislation. One of those invited to testify was Ronald J. Hinderberger, director of security at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. According to the New York Times, Hinderberger reassured the panel that even if there were a bullet hole in the fuselage or that if a bullet shattered a window "there would be little hazard to continued safe flight and landing." Meanwhile, across Capitol Hill, a group of four U.S. Senators led by Zell Miller (D-GA), held a press conference to show their support for arming airline pilots.
With the exception of the White House, there is great support in Washington for giving pilots the last chance to safeguard their airplane. The Winston survey shows across-the-board support for the position taken by the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA). According to the survey 75% of the general public supports arming pilots. The survey reveals solid support among all sex and age groups. In fact women favor it more strongly than men. Additionally the flying public would seriously consider changing their choice of airline if that airline did not allow armed pilots. Overall, 49% would switch their airline loyalty to one that permitted armed pilots. That’s a number the airlines should consider as they lobby the administration to keep pilots unarmed. An even more interesting sidebar is that people who originally were opposed to arming pilots are changing their minds.
Congressman Don Young has spent many hours promoting these measures. On May 1, he made a full court press with the media: talk shows, TV shows, and print media. On Washington, DC’s largest talk show station, WMAL, his eloquence and his knowledge of the issue even managed to turn around the host, Chris Core, who until hearing from Young had adamantly opposed to arming pilots. Yet, the most interesting part of the interview was when Core put Michael Barnes, the President of the Brady Campaign, formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc, on the air. To my surprise Barnes stated that even his group was not opposed to arming pilots.
Now that the Brady bunch has joined the millions of Americans who agree that pilots should be armed, what’s stopping the administration from implementing the idea? The answer is simple: the airline industry, a former anti-gun Democratic Congressman, now Secretary of Transportation, and a former BATF Director.
It’s odd that the airline industry supports the idea of an F-16 shooting down its airplane, yet opposes their pilots being able to defend the cockpit. In an Op-Ed for USA Today Congressman Mica stated, "aviation security is based on redundancy. As a last line of defense against hijackers, pilots need to have the right to be armed. It is unacceptable that our last line of defense today is an F-16 shooting down a hijacked passenger aircraft."
The Young-Mica legislation and a companion bill in the Senate look like they are on a fast track to being sent to President Bush. He should sign it and support arming pilots. As Senator Zell Miller, (D-GA) said in his keynote address at the NRA Annual meeting last month, "To President Bush and his Administration I say this -- We trust the pilot in the cockpit with our lives. It's time to trust him with a firearm!"