Guns in the Cockpit
By: Tracy Price
The Washington Times | Friday, January 04, 2008
In a recent interview, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida
stated: "The need for guns in the cockpit is just nearly not [sic] as
acute as it once was. There are all kind [sic] of screening systems,
there is now the reinforced cockpit door, there are air marshals, we
now have a lots of checks and balances." Hearing this, some might ask,
"Do airline pilots still need to be armed?" The answer is, "Absolutely
— now more than ever."
Consider this: Arming pilots is not a new idea. In fact,
airline pilots flew armed in large numbers from the dawn of commercial
aviation to 1987 with no record of incident. When the federal
government disarmed pilots in 1987, many pilots predicted cockpit
takeover attempts — including the late Captain Victor Saracini, who, in
horrible irony, was the captain of United flight 175 on September 11,
2001 when his Boeing 767 was hijacked and crashed into the South Tower
of the World Trade Center. It was the disarming of pilots in 1987 that
inevitably led to the September 11 cockpit takeovers.
When the first pilots were armed in April 2003, all airliners
had been retrofitted with the reinforced cockpit door, but few were
willing to bet the lives of hundreds (or thousands) of people on the
hope that the door would withstand a sustained attack from killers who
had been trained to quickly breach it. Terrorists know what security
experts have long known: There is no such thing as an impenetrable
door. The reinforced cockpit door will slow terrorists from breaking
into the cockpit, but it is foolish to blithely assume that it will
The Federal Air Marshals Service is an important layer of
security, but the agency has never been able to cover more than a
fraction of domestic flights. Armed pilots protect many times the
number of flights that the agency does at 1/25th of the cost per
flight. If marshals happen to be on board a flight that is attacked by
terrorists, and they are able to control the situation from the cabin,
all the better. The guns carried by pilots will never be a factor.
However, if the marshals are not able to stop the attack (or are not on
board the airplane) and the killers breach the cockpit door to find
defenseless pilots, everyone on board — and possibly thousands on the
ground — will soon be dead.
All armed pilots are trained and deputized federal law
enforcement officers. Prior to inception of the armed pilot program,
there were reckless predictions of accidental shootings and safety
degradations. The facts illustrate the absurdity of these claims. The
number of pilots who have stepped forward to attend training (at their
own time and expense) is huge. Airline pilots have been (re)armed for
nearly five years now and the program has a safety record that is
superior to any law enforcement agency in the country.
Mr. Nelson tells us that we don't need armed pilots because
airport security screening now provides a meaningful layer of
protection. Anyone who has been through passenger screening in recent
years might wonder what planet the senator is talking about. Recent
internal Transportation Security Administration testing (TSA) has shown
that screeners missed 60 percent to 75 percent of the prohibited items.
The TSA screening model is based upon the theory that we can cleanse
the airport of small things that are potentially dangerous. This has
led us to the inane circumstance where we are limiting the size of
toothpaste tubes but ignoring potentially dangerous people. An
effective program that looks for dangerous people by identifying
tell-tale, involuntary behavior patterns should be the foundation of
screening, but due to politically correct thinking, the TSA may never
implement an effective system.
Some have argued, "The threat we face is now is explosives
smuggled on airliners and armed pilots can't stop a bomb." True enough
(although effective screening can). But if terrorist groups are now
looking toward explosives as a weapon of choice, is this not evidence
that the armed pilot program is working? If we disarm pilots, the
specter of September 11-style hijackings may well resurface.
It is human nature to become complacent as the years pass
since September 11, but complacency is a luxury airline pilots cannot
afford. Arming airline pilots is safe, fundamentally important, and
highly cost-effective. How many government programs can make that
claim? The U.S. military stands ready to destroy an unarmed airliner
that has been commandeered, killing everyone board. I ask this question
of those who have forgotten the lessons of September 11: How can you
support the use of military force to kill innocent people on an
airliner while at the same time denying them the last-resort, final
line of defense that might have saved their lives by permitting their
pilots to be armed?
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