Daily Breeze

April 02, 2004

Boxer urges passage of bill to arm pilots

By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Accusing a federal agency of "dragging its feet" on arming airline pilots against terrorists, Sen. Barbara Boxer joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers Thursday pushing legislation to speed up the program.

The bill, co-sponsored by Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to train pilots within 90 days after they apply for the voluntary program.

Pilots with a military or law enforcement background and recent firearms training could be armed immediately if they pass a psychological test.

The legislation would also allow pilots to keep possession of their firearms when they are traveling aboard a plane but not flying it, ending a requirement that the guns be stowed in the plane's cargo hold. Critics contend the requirement makes the guns vulnerable to theft or loss.

Similar legislation was introduced in the House.

The lawmakers said that only about 2 percent of the 100,000 pilots eligible for the year-old program have been armed. They contend thousands more would apply if the process were streamlined.

"From the day this legislation was signed into law, the TSA has slow-walked this program," said Boxer, an early advocate of arming pilots after the Sept. 11, 2001, airborne attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "We need to fast walk. The terrorists are alive and well."