Young's bill aims to arm airline pilots

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Alaska Rep. Don Young is sponsoring a bill to allow airline pilots to carry guns into the cockpit of commercial airliners, saying armed pilots could be the last line of defense against terrorism.

''Nothing else can provide the deterrence or effectiveness of a gun wielded by a highly trained individual,'' said Young, Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Under the measure, pilots who wish to carry firearms would undergo government-funded training and have to prove their psychological fitness. They also would be deputized as federal law enforcement officers.

''Not everybody is psychologically capable of carrying a weapon,'' Young said. ''It is a huge responsibility. But those that wish to voluntarily, and go through the training, should have every chance in the world to protect those passengers, as captain of the ship.''

The Air Line Pilots Association and the National Rifle Association support the idea of arming pilots.

''Remember, this is just another piece of emergency equipment, is all it is,'' said Northwest Airlines pilot Stephen Luckey, a spokesman for the pilots' association.

The Association of Flight Attendants, along with gun-control groups, have reservations. Opponents worry, among other things, that hijackers may seize a pilot's gun, that an errant shot might hit an innocent passenger or crewmember, or that the added responsibility may distract the pilots from their primary duty to fly the plane.

''We're against it until we know that they're going to come into the cabin and defend us and the passengers,'' said Dawn Deeks, a spokeswoman for the flight attendants group.

If the only on-board security measure is an armed pilot who doesn't leave the cockpit, ''then there are going to be a whole lot of dead people in the back of the plane,'' she said.

Other opponents include the Bush administration.

The aviation security law enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks leaves it up to the administration to decide what weapons, if any, should be carried in the cockpit. The administration is expected to come out in favor of nonlethal weapons such as tasers, which fire high-voltage rays.

Young's bill would let Congress, not the president, decide whether pilots should be allowed to carry guns.

Luckey, the spokesman for the pilots, said he believes measures taken after Sept. 11 have improved security, but not enough.

The strengthening of cockpit doors, required by last fall's aviation security bill, won't keep out a determined terrorist, he said.

''A door isn't a door when it's open,'' he said. ''We have to open that door for operational necessities and personal relief during flight.''

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