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By David M. Bresnahan
July 23, 2002

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in the long and heated gun rights debate, foes are coming together in the effort to arm pilots in the post Sep. 11 era -- but one man is trying to prevent a vote -- but one man is trying to prevent a vote.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D - Calif., stood with Sen. Bob Smith, R - NH, at an event few if any could have predicted or imagined July 10. Anti-gun Boxer signed on as a co-sponsor to pro-gun Smith's S. 2554 designed to train and arm pilots.

Despite the historic alliance, general media reports tend to be negative, predicting the effort to arm pilots will fail. Often such reports say the Senate will never let the bill out of committee, and go on to say that President Bush is against it.

Even though the House has passed similar legislation on a 310 - 113 vote, the Senate has allowed Smith's bill to languish in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where the chairman, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D - S.C., opposes it and has refused to schedule a hearing.

Media reports that Bush is opposed to the bill have simply been repetition of remarks made by the President from months ago. The media have not reported on the President's stand on the bill as it now stands.

Friday a Bush staffer told that if Smith's bill does get passed by the Senate the House and Senate will need to iron out the differences between the two versions, and Bush will offer input to the committee members.

"I think you'll see an effort to come up with something all sides can live with. That's that political process," he said. Another positive sign from the Bush administration is the ouster of John Magaw as head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Magaw was highly criticized for his opposition to giving pilots guns in the cockpit.

Magaw refused to implement existing law that enabled pilots to carry guns. Both the Gun Owners of America (GOA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been critical of Magaw and voiced optimism that his replacement might be ready to change the armed pilots policy of the agency. "

GOA (Gun Owners of America) has been asking President Bush to take Magaw to the political woodshed for months because of his staunch refusal to enforce the law arming pilots," said GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt. "We hope that the change in leadership at the TSA will bring about a substantive change in policy regarding the pilots' ability to defend their aircraft."

The NRA in a press release said the forced resignation of Magaw was "encouraging to those millions of Americans who support arming pilots against terrorist hijackers." There are currently 17 co-sponsors of S. 2554, and both the GOA and NRA are asking the public to contact their senators and ask them to join the co-sponsor list.

A source in Smith's office confirmed that if Hollings does not move the bill to debate in his committee it is likely it will be added to some other bill as an amendment in order to bring it to a vote in the full Senate where it is reported to have sufficient support to pass.

David M. Bresnahan - All Rights Reserved

David M. Bresnahan [email protected]  is an award-winning independent investigative journalist. He maintains an archive of his work at  and offers a free e-mail alert so you will not miss any of his news stories or commentaries.