Justice Dept. May Favor Cockpit Stun Guns
W A S H I N G T O N, May 2 — Electrical shock devices such as stun guns show the most promise among non-lethal weapons for use by a flight deck crew trying to stop a hijacking, a Justice Department official said today.
But despite growing appeals from pilots to be allowed to carry firearms, the Bush administration has not yet taken a position on whether lethal weapons should be provided to flight crews, said Sarah Hart, director of the Justice Department's criminal research unit, the National Institute of Justice.
She spoke at a hearing called by Republican leaders of the House Transportation Committee. They have introduced a bill to allow pilots to carry firearms as a defense against events like the Sept. 11 hijack attacks.
The hearing also featured a pilot who said he had carried firearms on board in the 1970s, another pilot who had tested a stun gun on himself the previous evening, and a Boeing Co. safety expert who said most airplanes are well-made enough to withstand a few bullet holes.
The National Institute of Justice recently concluded a study assessing whether less-than-lethal weapons could be used by flight crews, Hart told the aviation subcommittee.
"We believe the electrical shock devices showed the greatest promise," because they could immediately incapacitate someone and be used in a confined space, she said.
But she added that the institute strongly recommended testing the weapons before allowing them on flight decks. Meanwhile, she said the administration has not decided whether pilots should carry lethal weapons, although some officials have expressed concerns about it.
"My understanding is that the administration has not taken an official position at this time," Hart said.
Both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge oppose allowing pilots to carry guns.
Some committee members were frustrated that the administration had not moved to certify either lethal or non-lethal weapons since Congress passed an aviation security measure giving officials scope to do so after Sept. 11.
"This bill was passed last fall. I can't believe they haven't come to a conclusion on whether pilots should be armed, and with what?" said Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat.
The Bush administration planned to decide the stun-gun issue as early as this week but senior Transportation Department officials said that action could be delayed while the issue plays out in Congress.
Many airline pilots want to be able to pack pistols in the air — and have already done so in the 1960s and 1970s after another spate of hijackings, a representative of the nation's largest pilot's union told the subcommittee.
"I can tell you without equivocation that many pilots are willing and prepared to assume the responsibility for training and carrying a weapon," said Stephen Luckey, a Northwest Airlines captain and chairman of the national flight security committee of the Air Line Pilots Association.
Luckey said he was one of about a dozen pilots who were selected in the mid-1970s by the FBI to carry a firearm.
Pilots handed a petition to Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the subcommittee. They said they had collected 44,576 signatures, including thousands from pilots, urging flight crews be allowed to carry guns in the cockpit.