WASHINGTON, July 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted Wednesday in favor of anti-terror legislation designed to let commercial airline pilots carry firearms in the cockpit.
Lawmakers approved the measure by a vote of 310-113.
"Do you really think that 9/11 would have happened if our pilots had been armed, as they should have been armed?" said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
The bill would allow firearms for more than 70,000 pilots if they agree to be trained and certified by the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA. It also provides liability relief to the pilots and airlines for damage which may be caused by the use of such guns aboard planes.
"It is imperative that under these new circumstances, we must allow trained and qualified pilots to serve as the last line of defense against such a potential disaster," Young said.
But the bill lacks the support of key Senate leaders. The White House also opposes the measure, saying the presence of air marshals and stronger cockpit doors are safer options. Opponents fear stray bullets could strike passengers or damage the cockpit.
"I find it incredulous that we would ask the TSA to take on the additional responsibility for training pilots when we should be concentrating our resources on putting federal air marshals on 100 percent of all flights," said Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.
"Allowing the federal government to compel private employers to let their employees serve in a dual capacity as law enforcement officials is virtually unprecedented."
Pilots, concerned about hijackings, have requested they be allowed to carry firearms in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that claimed more than 2,800 lives.
The Allied Pilots Association, APA, the pilots' union of 14,500 American Airlines pilots praised the House vote.
"Only lethal force can deter lethal intent," said First Officer Al Aitken, a member of the APA's Committee for Armed Defense of the Cockpit and an American Airlines pilot.
"Americans trust pilots with their lives every day. Arming them with a lethal weapon is simply an extension of that trust."
Airline flight attendants have requested government permission to carry non-lethal weapons such as stun guns and batons.
In the Sept. 11 attacks, four airliners were commandeered. Three were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center one into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers apparently tried to wrest control of the aircraft from hijackers.