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Support For Armed Pilots Remains High—Opposition Waning

Friday, July 26, 2002

Support for legislation that would establish a program to arm pilots continues to gather momentum. A little over two weeks ago, the House passed by nearly a 3-to-1 margin its bill, H.R. 4635, which would establish an armed pilots program. Last week’s resignation of Undersecretary of Transportation for Security John Magaw—the head of the Transportation Security Administration(TSA), who was publicly opposed to the idea of training pilots how to safely handle a firearm on the flight deck—removed one of the bureaucratic obstacles to passage of this critical legislation. And this week, the U.S. Senate finally began discussing its armed pilots legislation, S. 2554, and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’sprevious opposition to the proposal seems to be waning.

On Tuesday, Secretary Mineta told the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that he had instructed Magaw’s replacement at TSA, Admiral James M. Loy, to examine the possibility of arming commercial airline pilots. And on Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on aviation security where the only real vocal opposition to arming pilots expressed by a lawmaker came from U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), who chairs the committee.

Hollings’s opposition to armed pilots is so extreme that he rejected a request to testify before Congress from the widow of a pilot who was killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Ellen Saracini, whose husband was killed when the plane he piloted, United Airlines Flight 175, was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the World Trade Center, was on The O’Reilly Factor Wednesday night. She told Bill O’Reilly that Senator Hollings would not let her testify before his committee. After O’Reilly asked if she had contacted Hollings directly, she stated, "I have a letter right here that was addressed to the senator. [U.S.] Senator Bob Smith (R-N.H.) wrote a letter, asking that I be able to testify and it was denied." When NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre heard from Ellen Saracini, and she told him of her not being allowed to testify, LaPierre sent a letter to Senator Hollings asking, "On behalf of our over 4 million members and the tens of millions of Americans who believe in pilots being given a practical and effective tool to defend the cockpit from terrorist attacks, I am appealing to you to give Ellen Saracini the opportunity to testify."

Fortunately, few lawmakers are willing to openly join Hollings in his opposition to S. 2554, while supporters of the bill continue to make themselves known. The bill now has 24 co-sponsors, and U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) announced he supports the bill after having spoken to two pilots recently when weather delayed his flight out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Quick action in the Senate on S. 2554 remains 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 its being offered as an amendment to other legislation being considered on the Senate floor. You can find additional contact information by using our "Write Your Representatives" tool.

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