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Armed Pilots Bill Flies Through House

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Virtually every poll on the subject of arming properly trained pilots as a last line of defense against terrorist hijackers has shown overwhelming support for the idea—both from the general public and commercial airline pilots—and now the overwhelming majority of U.S. Representatives are officially on record as supporting this idea, as well. On Wednesday, July 10, the U.S. House passed H.R. 4635 on an exceptionally strong bi-partisan vote of 310 - 113. NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox, responding to Wednesday’s action, stated, "Passage of H.R. 4635 is meaningful progress in efforts to prevent the prospect of another terrorist takeover of a commercial passenger airplane."

When H.R. 4635 was originally introduced by U.S. Representatives John Mica (R-Fla.) and Don Young (R-Alas.), it sought to establish a program to train and equip all commercial airline pilots who wished to be prepared to use firearms as a last resort to defend the cabins of commercial aircraft from hijackers. During committee debate, however, the bill was amended, and when it was brought to the House floor this week, the legislation had changed to a two-year test program that would have allowed for up to 1,400 pilots to take part. Wednesday saw a great deal of debate on the House floor, as several amendments were discussed.

Of paramount concern was an amendment offered by U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Or.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) that returned the scope of the legislation to include any properly trained pilots, and made the program permanent. The DeFazio-Thune Amendment was agreed to on another strong, bipartisan vote of 251 - 172. Passage of this amendment was possible thanks to the strong floor leadership of its authors, as well as Representatives Joe Barton (R-Tex.), Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), John Mica, George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), and Don Young.

Of course, most of the more strident opponents of our Right to Keep and Bear Arms continued to put their anti-gun extremist agenda above the interests of airline security, and those voting against H.R. 4635 included many familiar names, including the House Minority Leader, Representative Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), and Representatives Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), and Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.). But there were some surprise supporters of the bill who can normally be counted on as automatic anti-gun votes, including Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.).

With the House passage of H.R. 4635, the focus on arming pilots now moves to the U.S. Senate, where that chamber’s version of the bill, S. 2554, faces a more difficult journey. That bill is currently languishing in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where the Committee Chair, Senator Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), opposes the legislation and has refused to even allow it to be scheduled for a hearing. But even the Senate has seen one of its most anti-gun members come out in support of arming pilots. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has written, promoted, and voted for many anti-gun bills during her tenure in the Senate, has signed on to S. 2554 as one of 14 co-sponsors.

Even though Senator Hollings appears poised to do everything in his power to derail the bill, NRA remains committed to working with supporters of H.R. 4635 and S. 2554 to ensure the armed pilots program becomes reality. NRA-ILA’s Cox commented, "Soon after September 11, many pilots and their unions contacted the NRA appealing for our help in their effort to protect their cockpit from future terrorist attacks. We were happy to assist them in the passage of H.R. 4635. We will continue our efforts to ensure Senate passage of this measure." And with the inclusion of language that provides for self-defense training for flight attendants, the Association of Flight Attendants has also thrown its support behind the House and Senate bills. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the Associated Press, "There’s going to be overwhelming pressure on the Senate to pass this [legislation]."

One of the few voices opposed to arming pilots is the radical gun-ban organization the Violence Policy Center (VPC), which has denounced the actions of the House of Representatives, and is calling on the Senate to reject allowing pilots the option of being equipped to defend against a repeat of the attacks of September 11. VPC legislative director Kristen Rand stated, "If firearms are absolutely necessary, they should [only] be carried by trained air marshals," thus rejecting the idea that pilots, who are trusted to fly complicated aircraft, can also be trusted with firearms as a last line of defense against terrorist hijackers. Rand must be aware of the widely known fact that there are not enough air marshals to protect every flight. And if she actually understands the legislation, she’d know the training armed pilots would go through would be similar to the training air marshals receive. Yet her organization is blinded by its hatred of firearms: Would VPC actually prefer the horrific scenario of hijacked airplanes being shot down by our own military rather than give pilots a fighting chance against terrorists?

Quick action in the Senate on S. 2554 is critical, so now is the time to contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to support this legislation. Please contact your U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to cosponsor S. 2554, work to ensure the bill is brought up for consideration, or support it being offered as an amendment to legislation being considered on the Senate floor. Those on the Internet can find additional contact information by using our "Write Your Representatives" tool.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.