- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

The House by a wide margin passed a bill yesterday that would allow airline pilots to carry guns in the cockpits of their planes as a "last line of defense" against terrorists.
However, the bill faces opposition from the Bush administration and powerful members of the Senate.
"Today, armed F-16s are prepared to shoot down any commercial jet that is hijacked by terrorists," said Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, Alaska Republican, before the 310-113 vote. "It is imperative that under these new circumstances, we must allow trained and qualified pilots to serve as the last line of defense against such a potential disaster."
The legislation would allow any of the nation's more than 70,000 airline pilots who volunteer for training and who can pass a background check to carry a gun while flying. An amendment stripped out a two-year test program and a 2 percent limit on the number of armed pilots.
The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, who said ongoing terrorist threats show the need for fast action, rather than a two-year delay.
He also said eliminating the 2 percent limit would create a greater deterrent for terrorists.
"You're going to create the element of uncertainty for these people," he said.
The bill also would require more self-defense training for flight attendants and give the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) 90 days to act on an airline's request to equip pilots and flight attendants with nonlethal weapons, such as stun guns.
Republicans gave the bill the strongest support, led by Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee.
Mr. Mica said another major act of terrorism could be even more devastating than the September 11 attacks.
"We're still trying to recover economically," he said.
Many Democrats objected that pilots might be unqualified to carry guns and that the cost of training and monitoring them was too expensive. A better option would be to use sky marshals, they said.
"I am not convinced that law enforcement is a proper role for airline pilots," said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, said training pilots would cost at least $8,000 per pilot each year, which could be spent more efficiently on sky marshals. He also objected to the idea of eliminating a two-year test program for armed pilots.
Similar concerns have been raised by the Bush administration and powerful senators. Among them is Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
President Bush and Mr. Hollings have said airline pilots should focus on flying airplanes and sky marshals should handle security.
The airline industry was divided on the issue.
The Air Line Pilots Association urged its members before the vote to call their members of Congress to support arming pilots. The association also donated $764,000 to federal lawmakers since Jan. 1, 2001, primarily to Democrats who could represent swing votes.
However, the Association of Flight Attendants opposes arming pilots.
"This bill tells terrorists, 'We'll sacrifice the passengers and the cabin crew, but not the plane,'" union President Patricia Friend said. "And as a cabin crew member and frequent passenger, I resent that."
The Association of Flight Attendants, like other opponents of the legislation, say an errant bullet by an unqualified pilot could kill a passenger or damage a critical electrical system.


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