Thomas Sowell

In a stunning reversal, California's liberal Senator Barbara Boxer has come out in favor of allowing airline pilots to carry guns if they wish, while the Bush administration opposes it. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed a bill to permit pilots to carry guns by a vote of 310 to 113.

Although Sen. Boxer is a staunch supporter of gun control, on this particular issue she clearly understands that it is better to have an armed pilot than to have to order a military plane to shoot down one of our own commercial airliners, full of innocent people, because hijackers have taken it over and are ready to do a repeat of last Sept. 11.

We can only hope that the administration is as willing as Sen. Boxer to re-think its position of opposing the arming of pilots. But the Department of Transportation remains closed-minded on the issue. When asked by Congressman Don Young, "Do you really think that 9/11 would have happened if our pilots had been armed, as they should have been armed?" a spokesman for the Department of Transportation replied: "Our position remains unchanged." It was reminiscent of the famous line: "'Shut up,' he explained."

Opponents of allowing pilots to be armed have portrayed horror movie visions of pilots and terrorists shooting it out in the aisles of airliners. But the main reason for arming pilots is not so that they can re-enact the gunfight at the OK corral. The main reason for having guns for self-defense anywhere is deterrence. In John Lott's landmark scholarly study titled "More Guns, Less Crime," he points out that most instances of the successful use of a gun in self-defense do not involve actually firing it. Just showing an aggressor that you have a firearm is usually enough to make him back off. Having it widely known in advance that people in certain places have guns is a huge deterrent to those who might otherwise be inclined to start trouble in those places.

Communities that have passed laws permitting any law-abiding citizen to carry a gun usually have immediate declines in crimes in the wake of such laws. Both criminals and terrorists prefer to attack unarmed civilians.

Even mass killers labeled "irrational" by the media and by shrinks almost invariably start shooting in places where other people are unarmed, like schools or offices. And they stop when they encounter someone else who is armed. If not, they get stopped, like the assassin at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4th.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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