7/02 Tom Ridge Wrong About Arming Militia

Homeland Security Czar Ridge Wrong: We Should Arm the Militia
Larry Pratt

Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge has raised some rhetorical questions that, obviously, he believes should be answered in the negative. I disagree, however, and would urge him to re-think his position.

A story in USA Today (3/4/02) reports that Ridge was asked this question about arming pilots by J.J. Lowers, an airline captain from Orange County, California: “Why can I not have one last chance to save my passengers and crew?” Ridge replied: “Where do you stop?” If pilots carry guns, he said, railroad engineers and bus drivers would ask to do the same.

Well, maybe, maybe not. But what’s wrong with railroad engineers and bus drivers being armed? Is this, as Ridge seems to thinks, self-evidently a bad idea? I think not.

In a nationally-televised address about homeland security (6/6/02), President Bush proposed what he called “sweeping changes” to deal with the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks. Noting that we are “a different nation” after 9/11/01, the President said that in protecting our country we depend on “the skill of our people.” And we must do this because “thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us, and this terrible knowledge requires us to act differently.”

OK. So, let’s “act differently.” Because it is not that far-fetched that, post-9/11, trains and buses in America could be hijacked by terrorists.

According to Aerospace Daily (10/4/01), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), at a hearing two days earlier, said, to Coast Guard Admiral James Underwood, director of the Transportation Department’s Office Of Intelligence And Security, that he was “very concerned” that terrorists could turn a passenger train into a weapon of terror by hijacking it and ramming it into another train or a crowded train station, or by blowing it up.

In 1988, according to the Canadian newspaper The Hamilton Spectator (10/27/01), an Armenian train was hijacked by Azerbaijani terrorists. Three hundred passengers were held hostage for three days. And in 1994, in Cambodia, according to the Herald Sun newspaper (7/19/2000), the Communist Khmer Rouge hijacked a train, took several Australian hostages — who they held for two months in a jungle — and demanded $82,000 in ransom from that country’s government. These hostages were killed when the Cambodian military bombarded the place where they were held captive.

In early October of last year near Manchester, Tennessee, a man who had a Croatian passport and a box-cutter (sound familiar?), cut the throat of a Greyhound bus driver, causing a crash that killed six people. The Fort Worth Star Telegram (5/1/02) reports that Emanuel Kemp was convicted of raping and murdering a 34-year-old woman, “the lone passenger on a bus he hijacked in Fort Worth in 1987.” And in late December of last year, police found a small bus near Passaic, New Jersey, which had been hijacked by a trio of armed robbers. One robber had a nickel-plated handgun. Another robber had a large hunting knife. The third robber, a woman, had a hammer.

The Chicago Tribune (12/20/01) has reported that, in Pakistan, “a group of captured Al Qaeda fighters staged a prison bus hijacking that ended with more than a dozen deaths and the escape of 20 prisoners.” In Israel, according to the Reuters news service (6/7/02), bus driver Mickey Harel survived a suicide bomber which was the fourth time in 20 months the bus he drove had been blown up by such a terrorist.

The Scotsman newspaper (3/29/99) reports that in Berlin, Germany, “worried Berliners are hiring body guards for their children amid a dramatic rise in crime against their youngsters.” One service offered for a fee is from a security firm that would transport a family’s child or children to and from school on a bus “where the driver is armed with a pistol, a truncheon, a stun gun and a mobile phone.”

Finally, according to the London Times (4/1/97): “A latter-day highwayman met his match when he tried to hold up a bus on a council estate notorious for late-night violence. When he demanded the takings, the driver pulled out a revolver and fired three deafening shots. The robber staggered backwards, hit his head and knocked himself out.” But, the gun wasn’t even real. It was a replica of a pistol and the .22 rounds were blank.

In early March of this year, The Australian newspaper reported that “more than 60,000 additional gun permits are to be made available to Israeli civilians as authorities loosen licensing restrictions to meet a growing wave of terrorism. Armed civilians have played a significant role in killing terrorists during the Palestinian uprising.”

For example, when a Palestinian gunman recently attacked a Tel Aviv restaurant where a wedding party was being held, a 46-year-old civilian carrying a pistol shot the terrorist dead at short range. When a radio reporter asked the man who killed this terrorist if he was a member of the Israeli security forces, he said no, he was a shoe salesman!

This article notes there are already 265,000 guns in the hands of Israeli civilians, particularly in border areas and in occupied Palestine territory. Says Police Inspector-General Shlomo Aharonisky: “There’s no question that weapons in the hands of the public have prevented acts of terror or stopped them while they were in progress. Chance passers-by have killed terrorists in the midst of gun attacks.”

Responding to Sen. John Kerry’s concerns, mentioned at the beginning of this column, Admiral Underwood said he believed Kerry’s scenario is “highly unlikely.” But, of course, he undoubtedly would have said the same thing — pre-9/ll/2001 — about the possibility of men armed only with box-cutters being able to hijack planes and fly them into buildings, murdering thousands of Americans.

On NBC’s Meet The Press recently (6/9/02), Tom Ridge said, regarding the terrorist threat to our country, that we face an enemy who “thinks differently” than we do, an enemy who “values death” and that this war we are in causes us to have “an enduring vulnerability.”

Well, I agree. And so it is not that off-the-wall to think that this terrorist threat menaces our surface transportation network. So, I say: Arm train engineers, bus drivers and — if they want to fight domestic terrorism — shoe salesmen.