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A leader of the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance says he personally opposes a strike to force the government to allow firearms in the cockpits, but he has heard rumblings about the possibility from others.

The group yesterday held a joint press conference with Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., in support of legislation he introduced to mandate that the government allow pilots to carry guns. The introduction of the bill came two days after the testimony of John Magaw, head of the Transportation Security Administration, who told the Senate he would oppose arming pilots. Magaw said he and the airline industry do not believe firearms in the cockpits are necessary to prevent terrorism. Instead, he said he is considering the use of non-lethal weapons and believes new regulations requiring fortified cockpit doors have made air travel safer since Sept. 11.

Magaw said he believes arming pilots may result in more danger to passengers and crew. He wants pilots to focus solely on flying the plane.

Meanwhile, the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance strongly supports Smith’s bill. Bob Lambert, board member of APSA, said the fortified doors between the cockpit and the rest of the plane are only a “temporary fix.” Any door can eventually be penetrated, he said. He believes pilots ought to have the right to carry firearms on top of safety measures the airlines suggest for a “multi-layer effect” toward safety.

Lambert pointed out that during the Cuban missile crisis era, pilots were allowed to carry firearms, and those policies did not result in increased danger to passengers and crew.

“This legislation will fix what is broken with the existing law that authorizes arming pilots,” said APSA Chairman Tracy W. Price. “The Bush administration has caved to pressure … and is refusing to do the will of the Congress and the American people. Sen. Smith’s bill – and a very similar bill introduced in the House by Congressmen Mica and Young – will mandate the program, forcing the administration and the airlines to do the sensible thing: arm airline pilots with firearms to offer a last resort, final line of defense against the terrorist threat.”

Polls conducted on the subject reveal an overwhelming support by Americans for the arming of pilots. According to APSA, 77 percent of even those who support gun control still agree that pilots should be allowed to carry firearms.

Smith’s bill includes language that would provide for defensive training for flight attendants as well as discreet systems for them to communicate with the cockpit. The bill also includes a study of non-lethal weapons for flight attendants to use in the passenger cabin.

“We have always advocated a multi-layered system,” said Price, “and these provisions in the Smith bill are well-considered and appropriate.”

APSA believes both the House and the Senate will pass Smith’s bill. As for support from the White House, Lambert said, “We’re convinced President Bush will sign it.”

The pilots’ organization is working closely with Smith to get the bill passed. As far as taking matters into their own hands and refusing to fly unless pilots are allowed to be armed, Lambert said, he personally does not support a strike, and APSA does not sanction a strike either. Although he said, “I’ve heard people taking about it.”

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