Newsweek Suggests NRA on Side of Terrorists in Amtrak Gun Policy Fight

Posing the question, "Will Gun Measure Threaten Amtrak [with] Terror Attacks," Newsweek's Michael Isikoff informed readers of a legislative battle to allow passengers aboard Amtrak to transport unloaded firearms in their checked luggage.

Isikoff pitted supporters of gun rights, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA) against "security-minded" legislators worried about gun use in terrorist attacks on the nation's railways:

Just how much clout does the gun lobby have on Capitol Hill? This week may prove to be a crucial test: A House-Senate conference committee is about to take up a massive transportation-funding bill that is pitting advocates of gun rights against security-minded members worried about the threat of terrorist attacks on Amtrak trains. Tucked into the measure is a controversial National Rifle Association-backed amendment that would cut off $1.5 billion in subsidies to Amtrak unless the federally backed national passenger-train company reverses its post-9/11 security policies and permits train passengers to travel with handguns and other firearms as part of their checked luggage.


"Deadly terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid in 2004 and the 'commando-style' terrorist attack on a major rail station last November in Mumbai have emphasized the importance of passenger rail security in large urban areas," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Peter King, the panel's ranking Republican, in a recent letter to House conferees urging them to reject the amendment. According to Thompson and King, Amtrak has twice revised and enhanced its security policies in recent years after the Madrid and Mumbai attacks revealed a "significant firearm specific threat" from terrorists to passenger trains.

(In last year's Mumbai attacks, which Indian authorities have blamed on the Pakistani-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba,  10 terrorists struck in 13 places in the city, including the city's main railway station, and killed 174 people. In the railway part of the attack, two of the terrorists indiscriminately fired at passengers with AK-47 assault rifles.)

Thompson and King argue that the new measure could make Amtrak similarly vulnerable. But NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam calls those arguments "bogus."

The implication is clear: the NRA wants a policy in place that might help terrorists commit mass murder on the Metroliner. 

While he did quote let Arulanandam articulate his defense of the NRA position, Isikoff didn't consider how current security protocols for Amtrak may be insufficient to prevent an armed terrorist attack.

For example, while some passengers are randomly screened by Amtrak officials, there is no airport-style security to check passengers and/or their unchecked carry-on luggage for weapons. Passengers aboard commercial flights can be reasonably certain that the only firearms on board are securely on the person of undercover air marshals, while Amtrak's lack of screening eliminates that certainty for train passengers.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.