week, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge shot down the first real
opportunity the Bush administration had to prove it is serious about
dramatically enhancing domestic security in the wake of the Sept. 11
Ridge said he didn't approve of the use of firearms by airline pilots to defend their cockpits from terrorist hijackers. His point of view was echoed by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, and is likely shared by President Bush, as well as John McGaw, head of the newly created Transportation Security administration.
What this all means is that in the months following the hijackings, the mindset in Washington hasn't changed much. Arrogant career bureaucrats, despite the government's abysmal record, still insist they – and they alone – are the best protectors of an increasingly vulnerable population.
Their high estimation of themselves defies logic, fact and popular opinion.
For months, commercial airline pilots – who are trusted with billions of dollars worth of aircraft and millions of lives each year – have said they need a gun to help them defend cockpits.
FAA officials this week told me most people who responded to a request for public commentary regarding armed pilots agree. They think pilots should be armed, either with lethal or so-called "less-than-lethal" weaponry.
Expert after expert has said a gun in the cockpit is worth four or five hijackers outside the cockpit any day.
Yet the Bush administration is superciliously claiming that the learned opinion of pilots, experts and the public are of no consequence. Guns in cockpits "don't make sense" to the administration, so there won't be any.
Meanwhile, the Beltway boys and girls will be safe and secure with their own armed protection. Heck, President Bush even tucked away a hundred or so of them in a mountain somewhere outside of Washington, D.C., just to ensure that those of us who survive nuclear terrorist attacks will still be subject to federal firearm background checks.
It may be more difficult now, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, for terrorists to get aboard airliners and hijack them. But because of the administration's stance, if such hijackings do occur again, our leaders have guaranteed that pilots will be able to do as much about it then as they were able to do before.
Is the administration worried about legal liability? Maybe, but here's a solution: To enhance national security, the administration could direct the FAA to approve regulations protecting airlines and pilots from civil suits for injuries caused to others while protecting passengers. Simple, fast, clean.
In fact, the government already has such protections in place. Americans are being told by robotic bureaucrats that there is nothing we can do about the pervert passenger screeners who grope our spouse or children at airports. If we complain at all, we're told that such groping is simply "part of the new reality of flying." If we complain at the airport, we risk being thrown in jail.
Well, the potential to become a casualty is also one of the "new realities of flying." Our rules and regulations ought to reflect that reality.
Ironically, as Ridge and Co. forbid pilots from being armed, federal air marshals are boarding flights with guns in increasing numbers. Do you suppose if one of them inadvertently shot a passenger, while attempting to thwart a hijacking, he would be successfully sued? Or would the government simply say, "You can't sue him, he was just doing his job."
Then again, maybe this decision has nothing to do with common sense or what is and is not possible. Maybe it's just about control and power. Funny, isn't it, how – regardless of which of the two major parties is in power – official Washington can't fathom any solution to a problem that doesn't include having Uncle Sam in control of the outcome.
The Bush administration has all the authority it needs to make the next attacks just a little harder, by allowing our pilots to be armed.
obviously, though, officials have to first be serious enough about real
airline security to want to do it.
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