May 6, 2002
PILOTS vs. BUREAUCRATS
More than 20,000 airline pilots presented a petition to Congress last week, demanding the right to carry guns in the cockpit to prevent future terrorist hijackings. Pilots from all of the major unions, including the large AirLine Pilots Association, overwhelmingly favor having the choice to carry a gun when they fly. These pilots are the men and women who actually stand in harm's way in the event of future hijacking attempts, and surely we should trust their judgment over the judgment of armchair bureaucrats and pundits in Washington. Yet the Transportation department continues to ignore both the wisdom of pilots and federal law by refusing to implement rules allowing firearms in the cockpit.
Pilots already fought this fight last November. Congress passed an armed pilots provision as part of a larger airline safety bill, and the President signed the legislation. Transportation Secretary Mineta, however, has a long history of opposition to gun rights as a Congressman- and his anti-gun bias is interfering with his ability to do his job. He is no longer a lawmaker. His job now is to implement the laws passed by Congress. Yet like the IRS, the Transportation department simply won't follow laws it doesn't like. This illustrates perfectly how we have come to be governed by unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats who constantly undermine the legislative process.
The case for arming pilots is simple: the fundamental duty of any pilot is to ensure the safe operation of his aircraft. Safety is utterly compromised if a terrorist takes control of a plane or violently attempts to do so. Armed pilots act as a last line of defense for themselves, their passengers, and people on the ground. Firearms in the cockpit also serve as a strong deterrent against hijacking attempts.
The arguments against arming pilots are very weak and motivated by an irrational fear of guns. Our pilots are entrusted with the safety of very precious human cargo every time they fly. It is ludicrous to believe that men and women with the skills, temperament, and judgment to fly incredibly complex planes cannot be trusted with simple handguns- and also highly insulting to professional pilots. The arguments about bullets piercing the fuselage are silly, because small bullet holes clearly are less of a worry than a takeover of the flight deck by terrorists! Furthermore, aircraft engineers can point to dozens of incidents where commercial aircraft landed safely even with much larger holes in the cabin.
Legislation I introduced last September simply repeals current Transportation department regulations that prevent airlines from training and arming pilots. This approach puts the decision to arm pilots directly in the hands of the private individuals and companies that actually fly and own the aircraft that are at risk from hijacking. The weaker legislation already passed by Congress allows the Transportation department to establish and run a certification program for pilots wanting to carry guns, which requires active participation by the foot-dragging Mineta. Clearly he will do everything possible to prevent implementation of any government-run armed pilots program.
Pilots, airlines, and understandably nervous travelers deserve more from the federal government. No amount of airport security can guarantee that a terrorist will never again board a domestic flight with a weapon. Since armed marshals can't be on every flight, pilots are the last line of defense against future terrorist acts in the skies. Why on earth does our government insist on disarming the same pilots we otherwise trust with our lives?