OUR WAR on terror is turning schizophrenic. Abroad we search out the enemy and attempt to destroy him, while here at home pre-September 11 political divisions and politically correct ideas have slowed us down. In the days following September 11 there was nothing that this country – its elected leaders and its people -- would not or could not do to combat those who perpetrated the attacks on America. Now, almost three quarters of a year later, we are coming face to face with the reality of Washington politics. The war on terror is costing us billions and common sense solutions are being overlooked.
The unity of purpose demonstrated by Representatives singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol after 9-11 has been replaced by partisan bickering and jockeying for position in the upcoming fall elections. The light in the Capitol was illuminated until 3 a.m. on May 24 as weary Representatives battled over parts of the supplemental spending bill for anti-terrorism. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), accused the Democrats of retreating "from our responsibility to put politics aside when the time comes to strengthen our country." Yet, missed in all the name calling between Democrats and Republicans is that this legislation added another $29 billion to the original $40 bill appropriated last October is only for the rest of fiscal year 2002 – until October 1. This brings the total anti-terrorism spending this year to $69 billion dollars – a sum never contemplated before 9-11.
Part of the $69 billion pays for all those reservists who stood with fully automatic M-16 assault rifles at the ready while airline passengers went through an assortment of degrading exercises in body searches, rummaging through luggage, and even shoe removal before boarding an airplane. While being searched recently, I had time to wonder if those M-16 rifles were loaded. At some airports I was convinced they were empty, while at other airports I believed the Guardsmen were truly armed.
Now after the National Guard has been relieved of its airport security detail it has been revealed that in many states these were Barney Fife soldiers, who carried unloaded guns. According to an Associated Press (AP) report of May 26, 2002, "At 16 airports across the state, the troops were banned from patrolling with loaded weapons, according to guardsmen interviewed by The Philadelphia Inquirer for Sunday editions." Additionally, that same report noted that New York Guardsmen were equally unarmed. I can attest to seeing blue magazines in California airports. Blue magazines designate empty magazines in the U.S. military.
Yet, I also know that some National Guard troops that were issued ammunition and their weapons were locked and loaded. The AP story revealed that the Pennsylvania guardsmen were serving under the authority of the Federal Aviation Authority, an agency of the Department of Transportation.
Thus it came as no surprise that the Department of Transportation decided this past week that the last line of defense on an airplane, the pilot, can not and will not be allowed to have a firearm in the cockpit -- not even with an empty handgun. According to testimony by Transportation Security Administration head John McGaw on May 21 before the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee, "The use of firearms aboard a U.S. aircraft must be limited to those thoroughly trained members of law enforcement."
But, according to the May 24 USA Today, "TSA officials acknowledged Thursday that they no longer require applicants to pass the more difficult shooting test that some argue was the program's critical requirement…The source estimated that as many as three-quarters of marshals deployed today were not required to pass the advanced marksmanship test. The source said that many of the proficient marshals are reluctant to team with marshals who haven't passed."
Now let me get this straight. An untrained air marshal with a loaded gun in the cabin is preferable to a trained pilot with a gun in the cockpit. What kind of crazy logic is our government feeding us? As a passenger I am certainly more worried about a poorly or untrained marshal sitting next to me, than I am about a pilot whose job is to get the airplane back to earth safely or prevent its being used as a flying missile.
As I wrote in my FrontPageMag.com article "Americans Trust Pilots with Guns" the American public and the Congress in overwhelming numbers want airline pilots to have the option to carry a firearm in the cockpit. It is time for the public to let their Representatives know of their support for H.R. 4635, legislation introduced by Congressmen Don Young (R-AK) and John Mica (R-FL) and the Senate companion bill introduced by Senator Bob Smith (R-NH) that directs the Transportation Security Agency to establish a program to authorize and train pilots to carry firearms.
Arming pilots is certainly a better solution to the problem of airline hijacking than spending billions on National Guardsmen with empty M-16s. It is a better and less costly solution that having F-16s flying across our skies to shoot down a civilian airline. Finally, the choice between a poorly trained air marshals sitting in the cabin or an armed pilot should be a no-brainer. Arming American pilots makes sense while saving cents.