Guns in the cockpit

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 30, 2002

A lot of reflecting will go on next week as Americans look back on the events of that dark day of Sept. 11, 2001. In addition to memorializing the thousands of our fellow countrymen murdered by terrorists, it will be hard not to think of how things might have turned out had we taken some common sense precautions prior to 9/11. For example, it is quite possible that events could have been dramatically different had airline pilots been allowed access to firearms in their cockpits for their defense and the defense of their passengers.

In the twelve months since the terrorist attacks on America, the nation has taken many steps to lessen the likelihood of a repeat of those terrible events. Mot of these steps are still in the development stages, like the new Department of Homeland Security that passed the House but has been

stalled in the Senate, and the implementation of high tech airline baggage and passenger screening, which have so far only reach a small number of America's airports.

It is ironic that nearly a year after Sept.11 the one measure that might have the greatest immediate impact on airline safety – arming airline pilots- has passed only the House and is stalled in the Senate.

From harding cockpit doors to hiring federal air marshals, slow progress is being made in increasing airline passenger safety. Yet the single most effective defense against

terrorist attempts to gain control of airliners could be put into effect rather quickly. By allowing airline pilots to carry a gun in the cockpit, we would create a significant deterrent to would-be hijackers and terrorist.

At present, if a terrorist is able to smuggle a weapon on board an aircraft, he will likely be the only person armed since air marshals are present

on only

two percent of all flights. This

places terrorist at a considerable advantage. However, armed pilots would have the opportunity to prevent attackers from gaining control of their aircraft, especially with the installation of hardened cockpit doors which would remove the terrorists' ability to take the flight crew by surprise.

Today, if terrorists were to try to seize control of an aircraft and threaten to use it as a weapon, as was done on Sept. 11, there are few options short of shooting down the aircraft. While the government has armed F-16's at the ready to do just

that, this is clearly not the best solution to protect the public both

in the air and on the ground. We must take steps to safeguard as many American lives as possible before terrorists can get the upper hand. This can be done by giving our pilots the means to protect their aircraft as a last defense.

On July 10, the US House passed the "Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act" (HR4635) by a strong 310-113 vote. I was pleased to support this common sense bill. The legislation would deputize qualified volunteer pilots of passenger aircraft and provide them similar training to that of the air marshal program in order to safely protect their aircraft. The effect would be immediate as the government would be required to begin training pilots within two months of the enactment of the legislation.

It is no surprise that pilots have voiced nearly unanimous support for using firearms to protect their passengers, their planes and themselves. Reinforced cockpit doors won't be completed until next year and air marshals will never ride on a majority of flights.

Pilots deserve the right to protect our skies from terror as the last line of defense. I am hopeful this legislation will also pass the Senate this year.

Congressman Terry Everett

Sept. 2, 2002