Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Arm the pilots! Lessons from the Miami Shooting 

Well, here's one for the critics of the homeland security department: A federal air Marshall successfully defended an Orlando bound flight from an apparent bomb threat:
An American Airlines passenger who claimed to be carrying a bomb was shot by an air marshal on a jetway ramp while trying to flee a plane arriving from Medellin, Colombia, at Miami International Airport on Wednesday, a U.S. official said.

The various news agencies are still trying to sort out what happened exactly, as I'm sure the feds are too, but one thing seems clear to me: something went right for once, in what has been a tough stretch for the homeland security department. Nobody is criticizing the actions of the Marshall yet, which probably means that he did the right thing. According to the description on Foxnews, it sounds like they gave the man plenty of opportunities to surrender peacefully, more than I would have given him at least. Shots were only fired after he had claimed to have a bomb, fled the plane, and then reached into his carry-on luggage, the very luggage he claimed contained explosives.

The debate over the proper level of security and use of force at airports has only gotten louder as we have moved away from the events of September 11th, but I hope that today's shooting will at least remind people briefly of the reasons for the security measures that we have in place. Dennis Kucinich is quoted in the Fox story as calling the incident "regrettable," but he smartly notes that we can't take things for granted anymore. He's absolutely right. This kind of shenanigan wouldn't have been acceptable even before 9/11, but anyone who wants to argue undo use of force now needs to think about the fact that a few men, without bombs or guns, managed to do a lot more than delay a flight to Orlando by an hour or two. I am baffled by the fact that, even after incidents like today or the shoe bomber some time ago, many people are still apprehensive about armed Marshalls on planes. Or, even scarier to some, armed pilots! Today, we saw a scene that could have ended much worse but was averted not in spite of the use of force, but because of it. If you are uncomfortable about a pilot or an Air Marshall flying with a gun, maybe you should think less about the government trained agents and more about the bi-polar guy next to you.

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