Transportation Security Administration rules out guns in cockpits
Transportation Security Administrator John Magaw announced today that, after much consideration, the administration has decided not to allow airline pilots to carry guns.
"I will not authorize firearms in the cockpit," Magaw told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on aviation security today after Senate Commerce Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., raised the issue. "They're there to fly, not to fight," Hollings said. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., a cosponsor of legislation introduced in September that would allow pilots to be armed, immediately asked the administration to reconsider its decision.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., a key sponsor of House legislation introduced May 1 to allow pilots to carry firearms, said, "We would be derelict not to move this legislation forward, especially given what we know now," as he referred to potential new security threats. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to mark up the firearms bill Thursday.
Also at the hearing, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said "we fully intend to meet that goal" of screening all checked baggage with explosive detection systems (EDS) by Dec. 21, as called for in the aviation security law Congress passed following the September terrorist attacks. However, Magaw said airports would have either EDS or explosive trace detection, a handheld technology used by baggage screeners, since "the two technologies are comparable." Last month, Mineta announced the agency would deploy 1,100 EDS systems and 4,700 trace detection systems to meet the goal.
In related news, Magaw announced the agency has picked five airports to serve as pilot test sites for explosive detection equipment. Airports in Norfolk, Va., and Hagerstown, Md., will use trace detection entirely, while baggage at the airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., will use explosive detection systems. Airports in Dallas and Grand Rapids, Mich. will use a combination of the two methods.
Senators also grilled the transportation officials about whether airports were given adequate notice about potential security threats before the Sept. 11 attacks, and called for increased coordination among airports about security threats.
Mineta also noted the administration's support for the Senate seaport security bill (S. 1214) and urged the House to move quickly on its version so a conference could be convened. Mineta also expressed concern that the administration would not get the full $4.4 billion request to beef up transportation security, but Hollings assured him Congress would find the money.