WASHINGTON – A campaign by airline pilots to carry guns in cockpits has gained the support of two key House Republicans despite the opposition of Bush administration officials.
House aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica of Florida said he and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Don Young of Alaska would introduce legislation next week to allow trained pilots to carry guns.
"Some of us feel pretty strongly on the issue of allowing pilots and crews that are at risk to defend themselves," Mica said. "We don't know what the next attack might look like."
Mica's subcommittee has scheduled a hearing Thursday, when pilots plan to submit petitions with thousands of signatures to the White House. Through Friday, according to their Internet site, they had obtained 34,146 signatures.
The airline security law passed last fall allows the government to decide whether pilots should carry guns.
Two top administration officials, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, both oppose arming pilots. Mineta has said newly reinforced cockpit doors prevent terrorists from commandeering airplanes.
Mineta's personal views aside, Transportation Department officials have yet to decide whether to arm pilots, spokesman Chet Lunner said. He said he expected a decision shortly.
Responded Mica: "We may have a difference of opinion. If the majority of folks in Congress agree with us, we'll change the law."
Airline pilots have pushed for the right to carry arms since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Earlier this month, officials of five pilots' unions sent a letter to President Bush asking him to arm pilots who volunteer to carry the guns and go through background checks and training.
American Airlines Capt. Denis Breslin said other post-Sept. 11 security actions -- reinforcing cockpit doors, inspecting all bags for explosives, improving passenger screening at checkpoints -- don't go far enough. If those procedures don't foil a hijacking, military fighters acting on the orders of two Air Force generals can order a plane shot down, the Pentagon has said.
"If any one of those layers fails and a bad guy gets on an airplane -- and they will -- what are we left to defend ourselves with?" said Breslin, a commercial airline pilot for 24 years and a member of an Allied Pilots Association committee pushing for guns. "Doesn't it seem reasonable to insert just one more preventive step before an F-16 launches a missile at a passenger plane?"