WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- The Senate on Thursday passed a controversial amendment to the Homeland Security bill that could hasten America's pilots being able to arm themselves in the cockpit.
After two hours of debate, the amendment passed by an 87-6 vote. Reps. John Mica, R-Fla., and Don Young, R-Ark., originally proposed the legislation in the House, which passed the bill 310-113 on July 10.
"We were surprised at the level of bipartisan support it received," an aide to Mica said.
"Originally, there was a clause that only 2 percent of pilots who wanted to would be trained and armed ... [Representative Peter] Defazio, (D-Ore.), came forward and basically said, 'It makes sense for any pilot who wants to be armed to be given that option,' and the 2 percent limit was removed."
"It's a terrible comment on our times that this kind of equipment, this kind of effort has to be put forth," said Smith. "But that's the world we live in -- where there are people who are determined to kill us and have no qualms about killing themselves in the process."
The George W. Bush administration reversed course earlier in the day, saying it would go along with arming commercial pilots, provided that a long list of safety and training concerns were addressed. It suggested a "detailed, effective" training program to be designed and tested before an estimated 85,000 pilots are allowed to carry weapons.
The chief opposition to the amendment came from Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., who opposed the measure as an unnecessary and dangerous solution. According to his press secretary, Andy Davis, Hollings succeeded in including a requirement that cockpit doors remain locked.
"[Hollings] goal is to make the cockpit an 'impenetrable fortress'," said Davis. "As the one in charge of this area, he consulted with El-Al (the Israeli national airline), and wants to do what they recommended, which is to use Kevlar cockpit doors, keep the cockpit locked during flight, and give flight attendants extra training."
Director of the Homeland Security Office, Tom Ridge, and Director of the Transportation Security Administration, John McGaw, among others, also expressed concern over the legislation. With the proper security measures, the additional presence of a gun on the plane does not help, they said.
Smith, however, said he was proud of his accomplishment: "I am grateful and heartened that the Senate has passed this crucial amendment. The pilots, flight attendants and families of the victims of 9/11 have been wonderful and supportive -- and tonight's passage of this amendment is the best way we can pay them back."
Unless this amendment is approved by the House, the issue will have to go to a House-Senate conference for resolution.