Airline pilots need guns in the cockpit

In his Oscar-winning 1969 turn as Marshal Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit," John Wayne plays an exquisite courtroom scene with character actor Alfred Ryder.

Ryder, who plays a defense attorney, tries to prove the irascible lawman is a little too quick to use his six-gun. In questioning Wayne about the shooting that preceded his defendant's arrest, Ryder inquires, "As you advanced on the people around the campfire, was your gun loaded and cocked."

"Well," Wayne answers patronizingly with his one, unpatched eye open wide, "a gun ain't much good if it's unloaded 'n' cocked."

America's airline pilots suddenly have come to that realization in the wake of the New York-Washington terrorist attacks.

The Airline Pilots Association is asking Congress to make it legal for them to carry firearms in the cockpits of the planes they fly and to authorize the Federal Bureau of Investigation to train them to do so.

Although House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is cool to the idea, saying sky marshals should be able to keep pilots safe, many safety experts think it's an excellent idea.

Pilots on the Israeli airline El-Al have done so for years.

A sky marshal may take aim at a hijacker who announces himself not knowing he may have four or five hijackers on the plane. If the hijackers overcome the sky marshal, Wayne's point to Alfred Ryder becomes most evident.

Congress should act quickly and favorably on the request. Had the pilots on the four ill-fated flights that attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon and crashed in Pennsylvania had arms and the training to use them, they might have been able to keep control of their planes.