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Jewish World Review July 15, 2002/ 6 Menachem-Av, 5762

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

This is your captain speaking: 'I am armed and you are safe' | Given the amount of energy required for thinking, and my aptitude for staring into middle space, I confess to an affection for no-brainers, such as: Should airline pilots carry guns?

Wait, wait, I'm tearing myself away from a mesmerizing galaxy of dust particles to make this public service pronouncement. Yah. Why not? Terrorists have box cutters and nefarious plans for murdering thousands by taking out helpless pilots. Here's an idea: Let's give pilots a way to defend themselves!

OK, that's a wrap. I'm exhausted. See you next week.

Would that life were so simple. Instead, during more than nine months since the savage attacks of Sept. 11, we've acted like we checked our brains curbside.

Anyone who has flown in recent months knows the drill: Little old ladies, comely blond women and Al Gore get frisked and searched while government decoys carrying fake guns and bombs slip through the gate 25 percent of the time, according to recent nationwide tests.

At the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the slip-through rate was 41 percent. LAX, you'll recall, is where Egyptian gunman Hesham Mohamed Hadayet mowed down two travelers at the El Al ticket counter on the Fourth of July. It doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine that a madman who takes a gun to an airport with a 41 percent slip-through rate could wind up on an airplane.

But not to worry; we're in safe hands. Our security folks are on top of this one: Hadayet is Egyptian; may have terrorist ties; is believed to have met with Osama bin Laden; is a known anti-Semite, and picked a national U.S. holiday to attack people at the Israeli airline ticket counter. They'll be closing in on a motive any day now.

Let's tighten our little thinking caps a minute. Guns and bombs get through; security checkers are busy fondling the random paying (duped) customer; pilots are defenseless That's not an ellipsis, but the dots that need connecting.

Fortunately for those still forced by business or circumstance to fly, some members of the U.S. House of Representatives sharpened their pencils this week. Wednesday, the House voted 310-113 in favor of a bill that would allow commercial pilots to sign up for an armed-pilot program.

As proposed, the program would be voluntary. Some pilots might opt out, but those comfortable with the idea of having a final shot at life - rather than being carved up by hijackers or radically deplaned by the U.S. Air Force - may take a training course and lock and load.

The bill still faces the Senate, where it isn't likely to do as well owing to fierce opposition from key players combined with an uncharacteristically wimpy White House. Both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge are against arming pilots, as is John W. Magaw, head of the Transportation Security Administration.

Why? I'm not sure. Dots too small? Logic too obvious? Politics too hot? From where I sit back in coach class, nothing is hotter than a radical, Koran-chanting Islamist who thinks that killing Americans is a sacrament and that 72 virgins awaiting in heaven is a fair trade off for ramming an airplane into a tall building.

That's also the sort of heat a fruitcake pilot could inflict any time the mood swings. As commander of a 400-ton missile loaded with explosive fuel, a commercial pilot is already in charge of a significant lethal weapon. By inserting ourselves inside said missile, we've already put our lives into his hands. And we're worried about a gun in the cockpit?

Given a choice between trusting the screeners, whose "security measures" would get them indicted for sexual assault in any other workplace, and a trained, armed airline pilot, in whom I already have placed my trust, I'll go with the latter.

In the nightmarish event that an armed lunatic takes over my airplane, I am fundamentally not interested in handgun-control rhetoric or in slippery slope arguments that, golly, before you know it, bus drivers and train engineers and who knows who else will want guns, too. Give a mouse a cookie and, barring literary interference from E.B. White, he runs away.

What I am concerned with is just one thing: stepping over a dead hijacker as I exit my safely landed airplane. Given the weaknesses in our current security system, arming pilots is the best insurance we have against another slaughter like Sept. 11. Given the obvious simplicity of this no-brainer, don't count on it.

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