Transportation Secretary Urged to Arm Pilots Now

By Matt Pyeatt | July 7, 2008 | 8:28pm EDT

( - President Bush signed it into law nearly three weeks ago, but the provision allowing pilots to carry firearms is taking too much time to implement, according to two U.S. House Republicans.

Reps. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) hope a petition will pressure Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to hire an under secretary and speed up the process. President Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law Nov. 19.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said implementing the law is an urgent matter. "It gives you one more level of security when the others have been breached, which as we found on September 11 can happen," Pratt said.

"The petition is oriented to show popular support, particularly pilots, and the congressmen are trying to get a whole bunch of their colleagues to tell Mr. Mineta that the time has come," Pratt said.

Michael Jahr, communications director for Hostettler, said 34 members representing both parties, have signed the letter.

"The goal of the letter is to encourage the secretary, as he makes a decision in hiring an under secretary of transportation, to keep in mind what Congress put into law regarding the authorization of commercial pilots to carry firearms in the cockpits of their aircraft," Jahr said.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is opposed to the swift arming of pilots in the cockpit.

"We do have some serious concerns about recent proposals to arm airline pilots," Michael D. Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign, said.

Barnes said the Israeli airline El Al has a plan for preventing terrorism on aircraft that does not include arming pilots. "While we cannot draw exact parallels between El Al and the entire U.S. airline industry, we should closely examine all such models and learn from their experience," he said.

"At a minimum, we need to ensure that anyone armed on a plane meets strict qualifications and is trained as a sworn federal law enforcement officer," Barnes said. "Air marshals are an appropriate response to stopping terrorism in the air because they are law enforcement officers who are continually trained in firearms safety, appropriate use of force, and shoot/don't-shoot scenarios.

"Safety begins with prevention. We need to make sure that armed terrorists are not able to board aircraft in the first place. In addition to dramatically increasing security at the airport, there are tangible things we can do to make our homeland safer," he added.

Pratt said he expects there to be trouble in implementing the new law.

"Old ideas die hard. They should have evaporated on September 11, but Mineta was an anti-gun congressman and he is the boss of the FAA administrator (Jane Garvey) who is a Clinton holdover who actually withdrew regulations that had been in place that were fairly similar to the new law," Pratt said.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Garvey moved to eliminate the section of federal aviation regulation 108.11 which had established conditions for pilots to arm themselves. However, a nearly identical version of the armed pilots provision was included in the new law signed by Bush on Nov. 19.

Hank Price, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said the law would be implemented, but not for at least 90 days. "The new Transportation Security Administration doesn't receive full aviation security responsibilities until 90 days from now. They could not approve appropriate training, etc. until they receive full aviation responsibility," Price said.

"The Department of Transportation with the FAA as well as the new Transportation Security Administration absolutely intend to carry out the intent of the law that was passed on the 19th," he said.

Pratt believes the petition may make a major difference. "I can see Mineta sitting on it and the airlines themselves, which also have to cooperate by saying, 'yeah we want our pilots to be armed. We give permission.' They have to take that positive action. The airlines have indicated that they are not interested in having guns in the cockpits."

Jahr has a gentler perspective. "This is simply a courtesy, a reminder from members of Congress that this is a high priority to us at this time," he said.

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