Pilots Carrying Heat

Last week's lopsided Senate vote to allow airplane pilots to carry guns shows both the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and some of the flawed thinking in stopping terrorists.

The NRA was unabashed in pushing for this cockeyed idea, forcing the White House and and many Senators to backpedal on their initial reluctance. The winning logic seems to have been that airline security is not yet where it should be, so pilots should be able to carry guns.

But as one airline official aptly noted last week: "Rather than attempting to smuggle a weapon onto a plane, a hijacker will simply try to get to the weapons in the cockpit."

Let's hope the vote won't result in less emphasis on efforts to get more air marshals on planes, or better screening of passengers and luggage.

Pilots are trained to fly planes, which is a full-time job, and not act as sheriffs enforcing the law west of the Pecos. At least the legislators wisely provided for a test program prior to arming 85,000 commercial pilots, for weapons training, and to put gun use in a hierarchy of options, including nonlethal alternatives such as stun guns. Setting up wireless communications, even video systems that allow pilots to see who's at the cockpit door, also were part of the legislation.

Even the staunchly opposed airlines got off the hook; pilots would be deputized as federal law enforcement officers, so airlines won't face liability.

Maybe cooler heads will prevail as the legislation moves toward passage, and Congress will just raise the budget for more air marshals, who are better trained and have the element of surprise in stopping a hijacker.

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