Bush’s armed-pilot plan
called ‘bad joke’

By Jon Dougherty

A commercial pilots’ group that strongly supports allowing flight crews to carry firearms has criticized a White House plan to arm only a small number of fliers and instead wants lawmakers to pass legislation authorizing guns in cockpits.

“The White House proposal to arm about 1 percent of our nation’s airline pilots on a trial basis is a joke, but it’s a very bad joke considering the approaching anniversary of the 9-11 attacks,” said Capt. Tracy Price, chairman of the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance, or APSA, in a statement today.

Price and other supporters of arming pilots were responding to the Bush administration’s reversal yesterday of its earlier decision not to back guns for pilots over fear that allowing pilots to carry firearms would flood airports with guns at a time when airport security is being tightened due to potential terrorist attacks.

The administration said it would likely back a plan introduced by lawmakers this summer that calls for arming 1-2 percent of pilots – or about 1,400 of them – in a trial program that would last up to two years.

Under provisions of the plan, at the end of the trial the head of the Transportation Security Administration – now headed by James Loy – would decide whether to end the program, expand it or continue it in its present form.

But Price and other supporters of the issue have called the plan inadequate, advising that the small number of pilots would not be enough to seriously discourage potential terrorist hijackers. And they say the slow pace of adding more air marshals to the federal ranks means arming pilots is imperative.

Also, APSA and other pilots’ groups have said it would be cheaper for the government to authorize and train pilots to carry guns rather than hire and train tens of thousands of new air marshals.

Legislation approved by the House in July would mandate that pilots be allowed to carry arms, taking the decision away from federal bureaucrats. Price said his organization is supporting a similar measure in the Senate that could come up for a vote today.

“The White House appears to be trying to offer this program as a means of reducing the strong momentum for passing a real armed-pilot bill in the Senate,” Price said. “The proposal for a small ‘test program’ is completely unacceptable now, just as it was when it was floated in the House . . . last summer.”

The Senate version (S. 2554), authored by Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., has bipartisan backing.

“We call upon the Senate to follow the bipartisan lead of senators like Bob Smith, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and pass a strong bill to arm pilots and get it to the president’s desk for his signature prior to Sept. 11,” Price said.

The APSA official praised Smith and Boxer for “valiant efforts” to get the bill to the floor, possibly as an amendment to legislation that would create a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, currently under debate in the chamber.

“While APSA is pleased to see that the White House now acknowledges that pilots must be armed with firearms,” said the group’s statement, “we find their proposed program to be completely inadequate.”

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