Armed Pilots: TSA 'Dragging its Feet' Implementing Law

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - The coalition that orchestrated two legislative victories to ensure that commercial airline pilots may carry handguns to defend their cockpits said Thursday that the federal agency charged with implementing the law is still resisting its orders from Congress.

"We've been involved in meetings for the last several weeks and, specifically, the last two days with TSA [the Transportation Security Administration] and there is, we fear, some foot-dragging that's going on," Capt. Tracy Price, chairman of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, told attendees at the 2003 Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday.

"We think that they are attempting to resurrect the idea of a limited test program instead of what Congress passed," Price continued, "which is a large program to arm large numbers of pilots."

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a former member of Congress who consistently received "F" ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA), has openly opposed arming pilots with handguns.

"I don't feel that we should have lethal weapons in the cockpit," Mineta said at a March 4, 2001, press conference.

Mineta is not the only one who has opposed implementation of the law, according to Charles Cunningham, director of legislative affairs for the NRA.

"One of the excuses the airline industry used to oppose it was liability for the pilot carrying guns [because] there could be a problem," Cunningham recalled. "Except that the legislation absolves them from liability.

"They actually sought to take out that provision so it would leave them an excuse to oppose it," he continued. "Of course, they were unsuccessful at that."

Diana Banister, vice president of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs, organized the publicity campaign to support the armed pilots initiative.

"What we did was effectively kept the drumbeat going all throughout the process," Banister explained. "Through talk radio ... talk television, print, the Internet, every medium we could got the message out there and that was delivered to Capitol Hill and the White House."

Brian Darling with the Alexander Strategy Group also worked on the armed pilots legislation as counsel for former Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.).

"We won because we had a strong message, we had a diverse coalition and a great issue," Darling observed. "It provides a good roadmap on how to win on conservative legislation."

Cunningham agreed. "One of the lessons of this issue is that we need to personalize things," Cunningham said, noting that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is a strident opponent of armed self-defense, but supported arming pilots because she flies back and forth from California weekly.

Banister told Thursday evening that a similar campaign may be necessary to "encourage" the TSA to put the law into practice as intended by Congress.

Cunningham said contacting members of Congress would probably be the most effective way for citizens to express their views on implementation of the armed pilots law.

"There's a lot of political pressure that needs to be applied in a lot of different directions. It's hard to influence bureaucrats because they're un-elected," Cunningham explained. "But you can work communicating with the president's office and with members of Congress.

"Members of Congress have oversight on TSA, as well as [control its] funding," he concluded. "Funding, actually, they seem to listen to more than the oversight."

Price also encouraged CPAC attendees to contact the White House and the TSA to express their views.

"We need the administration and the TSA to understand that it's not only the will of Congress but also the will of the American people that airline pilots are allowed to carry firearms to protect their passengers and crew," Price insisted. "It's a little silly [for the TSA] to say, 'Tracy, I trust you with the 130,000-pound 737, but I'm not going to trust you with a 9 mm handgun."

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