No guns in cockpits.
The federal government's transportation security chief has joined his boss, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, in opposing the idea of allowing commercial airline pilot to have guns in the cockpit. Some pilot groups and members of Congress take the opposite view. Mineta and security chief John Magaw are on the right side in this debate.
Magaw has 40 years in law enforcement - including 26 years in the Secret Service - and is a former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He knows a thing or two about security issues. He concluded that U.S. air marshals are better equipped than pilots to deal with terrorists aboard an airliner.
Pilots' main chore is to face forward in the cockpit and control the airplane. Besides, Magaw says, the airlines have installed stronger cockpit doors on U.S. airlines, which will lessen the likelihood that a terrorist could invade the cockpit of a commercial airliner.
Too, Magaw says, in an emergency, an airline pilot should focus on maneuvering the plane, either to safely land it or to knock a terrorist off balance. The last thing needed is a shootout, he says, which could damage the aircraft or injure passengers, which would probably lead to lawsuits.
Magaw also points out that giving thousands of pilots permission to carry guns would raise formidable training and airport-security issues.
Last year's Aviation and Transportation Security Act gave Magaw the authority to decide whether pilots should be allowed to carry guns. Now, some gung-ho members of Congress want to pass a bill to overrule Magaw. Congress was right the first time. It should leave the decisions on aircraft security to the experts, not to politicians.
If being armed would make pilots feel more secure in the post-Sept. 11 world, then stun guns should suffice. They use a compressed gas charge to fire small probes tethered to a device that supplies an electric charge. The dartlike probes can penetrate almost any clothing, including leather jackets. United Airlines has already ordered 1,300 stun guns for use once it gets the go-ahead from the government.
Other airlines are expected to follow suit. Flight attendants want stun guns in airliner cabins, but Mineta rightly opposes that idea because of the potential danger of a terrorist seizing such a weapon and endangering passengers.
After Sept. 11, it's easy to understand why pilots want lethal weapons.
But with impenetrable cockpit doors, stun guns and air marshals, U.S. airlines would have sufficient in-flight security without endangering either the plane or the passengers.