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Rand Paul Wants to Allow Every Airline Pilot to Carry a Gun

The former presidential candidate, who is now facing a potentially tough reelection fight in Kentucky, is pressing Congress to pass legislation allowing all pilots aboard commercial flights in the US and internationally to carry a pistol in the cockpit.

by Sarah Mimms
Apr 13 2016, 9:15pm

Foto di Tannen Maury/EPA

"Flight attendants please prepare for takeoff. Lock and load."

That could be the future under legislation pushed by Senator Rand Paul this week.

The former presidential candidate, who is now facing a potentially tough reelection fight in Kentucky, is pressing Congress to pass legislation allowing all pilots aboard commercial flights in the US and internationally to carry firearms.

Paul has long advocated for allowing all US airline pilots to carry firearms to prevent potential hijackings and terrorist plots. His bill, the Arm All Pilots Act of 2015, died in committee last year with no co-sponsors. But now Paul is reviving the legislation as an amendment, hoping for a vote as early as this week.

"I want every potential jihadist and terrorist in the world to know that our pilots are armed, and that if you come into the cockpit you will be shot," Paul told CNN of his legislation last year. "And so I think there is a deterrent effect from guns."

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Thousands of pilots are currently able to carry concealed weapons aboard their flights, under the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Flight Deck Officer program, which was passed after 9/11. The FFDO allows pilots and other flight crew members to take special training courses from federal Air Marshals and then, as deputized members of law enforcement, they may carry concealed weapons aboard their flights, although they have to keep their possession of a weapon in-flight quiet.

Paul's bill would reduce restrictions on those eligible for the program and create five new facilities to train them. Currently, only one facility in New Mexico handles training for the FFDO program. Paul's legislation would allow pilots to complete much of their training online, he told supporters in a fundraising email touting the legislation on Wednesday.

"As you can imagine — this is a crucial program in a time that our airline pilots are the primary target of hijackings and other terrorist attacks," Paul wrote.

Paul pointed out that the program is "highly cost-effective," arguing that it costs the federal government just $17 to deputize pilots under the FFDO, compared to the $3,000 bill for a Federal Air Marshal to fly on a single flight.

The FFDO program as currently structured has long been a source of contention. Although George W. Bush expanded the program during his presidency, the Obama administration has sought to cut funding for the existing program, arguing that the Transportation Security Administration's pre-flight screening of passengers and locks on cockpit doors make the program unnecessary.

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But former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the US Airline Pilots Association have voiced support for the program, as a last line of defense against terrorism. Andrew Danzinger, who flew Obama's plane on election night in 2008 and wrote a series of columns for the New York Daily News before his death last year, was also a strong advocate for arming pilots like himself.

"Gun control laws are subject to a great deal of debate, but there shouldn't be any disagreement about the desirability of pilots carrying guns in the cockpit," he wrote last year. "For the record, I'm 100% for it — as are most pilots."

Since the program began, there has been one incident in which a pilot accidentally fired a handgun in the cockpit while the aircraft was in flight.

In 2008, a US Airways pilot fired his .40-calibre semiautomatic Heckler & Koch USP aboard a US Airways flight from Denver to Charlotte as the plane was descending to land.

The bullet pierced the aircraft's skin, but the the plane landed safely and all 124 passengers and five crew were unharmed.

The pilot said he was stowing the gun when it went off as he and his co-pilot prepared to land. US Airways fired the pilot, and then later rehired him. The TSA later determined that the design of the agency-mandated holsters could potentially lead to an accidental discharge.