The Bush administration is now to the left of Senator Barbara Boxer on arming airline pilots. The liberal California Democrat on July 10 cosponsored a bill by conservative Bob Smith (R, N.H.) that lets qualified pilots carry firearms to stop airborne terrorists.
”I think this is the first time I have ever stood with Senator Smith on an issue that has involved guns,” Boxer said at a news conference. “I believe that pilots who are carefully trained and want to carry a gun in the cockpit should be allowed to do so.”
The White House opposes this policy. If Barbara Boxer gets it, what is the president’s excuse?
For its part, the House — with 102 Democrats in favor — voted 310 to 113 on July 10 to let pilots voluntarily fly with sidearms. The Senate should assent and push the president to get with it on this issue.
For now, Team Bush seems to accept the flimsy and often self-contradictory arguments of those who want to keep pilots unarmed:
First, Transportation Security Administration director John Magaw opposes cockpit guns because “pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane.” True, but that can be tough sledding with their throats slit.
An ex-cop recently told me about his work in simulated hijack training. One pilot aims at the cockpit door and prepares, if necessary, to greet the next Mohamed Atta with a serving of hot lead between the eyes. Meanwhile, as Magaw insists, the other pilot aims the jet at the nearest runway rather than into a doomed high-rise.
Second, “stun guns will suffice.” Unfortunately, they only disable assailants who can become “unstunned,” then re-attack the flight deck. Thick clothing also foils stun guns. Wouldn’t it be sad to lose the Sears Tower and its inhabitants because a terrorist wore a leather jacket to work?
Third, “the last thing we need is for a pilot’s gun to discharge and blow a fatal hole in his fuselage.” However, “let’s increase the number of federal sky marshals so they can shoot the next Marwan al-Shehhi.” Which is it?
Fourth, “bullets bring down airplanes.” In fact, Boeing engineers told the Los Angeles Times a passenger jet can descend and land with a 20-square-foot hole in its fuselage. Also, commercially available “frangible” bullets pierce flesh but pulverize when they strike hard surfaces, thus rendering this argument as fleeting as gunsmoke.
Fifth, “this is a wacky idea hatched by gun nuts.” Wrong. Until 1987, jet pilots could carry guns since airliners transported the U.S. Mail along with civilians. Since then, however, the mail has disappeared from commercial flights, along with pilots’ weapons. In other words: pilots could guard letters, magazines and mail-order catalogs when Osama bin Laden was learning to hate but now may not shield mere passengers on mail-free jets just ten months after bin Laden’s killer pilots murdered 3,056 innocents. Is it asking too much for today’s passengers to receive the same protection once afforded their postcards?
Sixth, “lawsuits will multiply if pilots accidentally shoot passengers.” Fair enough. But just think how busy, say, Delta Airlines’s legal department would be if instead of one or two mistakenly killed guests, it must handle the liability for an entire 767 whose passengers have been transformed into an Islamist fireball.
Seventh, “all these guns are just too scary to contemplate.” Yes, something could go awry if a pilot missed a terrorist and accidentally shot a traveler, most likely in first class. Of course, if a defenseless pilot’s windpipe were severed, September 11 taught us that the death toll would not be limited to just one or two first-class passengers. Instead, everyone from the expensive seats clear back to the rear bathrooms would be vaporized, along with hundreds or thousands of souls in some American skyscraper, government office building or — why not? — atomic power plant.
The biggest outrage is that the Bush administration believes armed pilots jeopardize airline passengers, yet it reserves the right to scramble F-16s to shoot shanghaied jets from the skies. Wouldn’t that be more dangerous to the flying public than the deterrent effect of pilots who could defend themselves, their aircraft and passengers from terrorist scum?