Lawmaker to scrutinize U.S. policy of arming pilots

CHARLOTTE -- The head of a congressional homeland security panel said Friday that a program to arm pilots should get more scrutiny after a US Airways captain's gun discharged last weekend during a flight to Charlotte.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas and chair of the House Homeland Security Committee's transportation security subcommittee, said she plans to get more facts on the incident in a briefing as early as next week and might call for a congressional hearing on the program.

"The tragedy of a one-time accident is it could have been a one-time catastrophe and loss of life," Jackson Lee said. "This is a wakeup call. Even if it's one incident, oversight, procedures and protocols need to be strengthened."

The shooting also has pilots and others renewing criticism of a federal law that requires a pilot to remove his gun and holster, place a lock on the trigger and secure them in a bag before leaving the cockpit.

The US Airways captain, James Langenhahn, was stowing his gun when it discharged last Saturday morning, firing a bullet through the cockpit wall and fuselage, according to a Charlotte airport police report.

The TSA has said the shooting last Saturday was the first in the program's history, and the flight from Denver, which had 124 passengers and five crew members, landed safely. Langenhahn, TSA and US Airways have declined to discuss the incident, citing a TSA investigation.

Pilots pushed hard after 9-11 for the right to carry guns on flights. In the TSA program, pilots take a written test, undergo psychological screening and background checks, and spend a week in Artesia, N.M., for weapons training.

The TSA declined to say how many pilots are allowed to carry guns, saying only that it is "thousands."