NRA concerns hold up passage of state anti-terrorism bill

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

OLYMPIA -- An anti-terrorism bill remained stalled in the state Senate yesterday -- stuck there by Republican leaders who want special language in the bill to protect gun owners.

"This bill is needed," said Dick Van Wagenen, policy adviser to Gov. Gary Locke. "It's a shame the Senate leadership allowed the gun lobby to kill it."

The National Rifle Association and supporters in the Republican-led Senate are blocking the bill until they get an amendment that specifically excludes firearms from the description of weapons of mass destruction.

"It's key we find ways to make sure our constitutional rights are protected," Sen. Larry Sheahan, R-Rosalia, said yesterday.

NRA lobbyist Brian Judy said House Bill 1210 sets a bad precedent.

" 'Weapons of mass destruction' has had a very specific meaning," Judy said. "It's generally understood to mean biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear.

"We just feel it's inappropriate to lump firearms into that category."

The bill missed Friday's cutoff for non-budget bills, but the Senate could revive it at any minute with a majority vote. A meeting involving the key players was scheduled for today. But the regular legislative session ends Sunday, so time is rapidly running out.

"There is nothing in this bill that would impact the Second Amendment or any law-abiding citizen," fumed state Attorney General Christine Gregoire, who requested the bill, together with Locke. "How could the NRA be against a terrorism bill? I do not understand it at all."

Nearly 100 people were evacuated from a Tacoma mail distribution center at around 1 a.m. yesterday, after workers discovered a suspicious powder. The substance at first tested positive for plague or botulism, but subsequent, more reliable tests showed no signs of biotoxins.

Because the incident happened on federal property, the U.S. Attorney's office would file any related charges under federal law, not state law. Federal officials and federal law would also probably take precedent in any deadly terrorist attack on Washington state soil.

But Gregoire said the Legislature needs to pass the anti-terrorism bill, in part because state law is ill-equipped to prosecute hoaxes calculated to stir up terrorism fears and waste law enforcement time.

"We need to hold those people accountable," she said. Right now, she said, state and local officials have to rely on malicious harassment statutes to crack down on hoaxes.

Also, Gregoire said, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told states' attorneys general that they need anti-terrorism laws as a backup to federal laws. At least 31 other states have already passed anti-terrorism laws.

The House bill defines a weapon of mass destruction as a device, object or substance used by a person intending to kill multiple people while also significantly disrupting government or civilian life and "manifesting extreme indifference to human life."

Wagenen and Gregoire said the definition is neither casual nor overly broad.

"The governor and attorney general believe a terrorist who uses a gun is a terrorist, just as is a terrorist who uses an airliner or a truck or a biological agent," Wagenen said.

Sheahan said he believes the House and Senate may be able to negotiate a compromise on an amendment that will satisfy the NRA's concerns. Fighting terrorism is important, he said.

"But our constitutional rights are important too," Sheahan said. "I don't think the two things are mutually exclusive."

Rep. Al O'Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace, sponsored House Bill 1210, which passed in the House last month with a 77-20 vote. The former Seattle police officer said local and state officials need a state law to pursue terrorists and hoaxers aggressively.

"The system works better when they have local and state statutes," O'Brien said. If the Senate doesn't pass the bill, he said, "It'll just make it harder for law enforcement to investigate terrorist activities."


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