WASHINGTON – Legislation allowing commercial airline pilots to carry guns in the cockpit passed the House Wednesday, but it is not likely to get a hearing in the Senate.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mt., the main proponent of the bill has said that he would like to offer the measure as an amendment to some other legislation in order to enhance its chance of passage. He has not yet chosen which legislation yet, but it could be attached to a transportation bill.
But opponents, like Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C, say the amendment is unlikely to pass, and could hurt the chances of passage of the bill to which it is attached.
The legislation, approved by a vote of 310-113 in the House Wednesday, would allow guns for more than 70,000 pilots if they agreed to undergo training. Lawmakers stripped out provisions that would have limited the program to some 1,400 pilots, about 2 percent of those flying.
The guns-in-cockpits question is among a host of aviation security issues that arose after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The White House, which has been trying to improve security in every public area from airlines to stadiums, has rejected the guns in the cockpit proposal, saying that cockpit crews should focus on flying planes and let air marshals worry about security.
"We believe that aviation security has been improved in several ways, including strengthened cockpit doors and additional federal air marshals on airlines," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said after the vote. "It is not necessary to arm pilots. Their primary responsibility is to fly the airplane."
The measure also would require more self-defense training for flight attendants and give the Transportation Security Administration 90 days to act on an airline's request to equip pilots with non-lethal weapons such as stun guns.
"Today, armed F-16s are prepared to shoot down any commercial jet that is hijacked by terrorists," said Transportation Committee chairman Don Young, R-Alaska. "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 training requirement led the Association of Flight Attendants to support the final bill, spokesman Jeff Zack said. The union had opposed earlier versions.
Pilot unions have lobbied for the right to carry guns, but the airline industry has opposed the idea, saying stronger cockpit doors and the presence of air marshals provide protection against hijackings.
The industry also is concerned about what would happen if a passenger or crew member were hit by an errant bullet, or what kind of damage could be done to the airplane and its systems, said Michael Wascom, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.