Gun worries waylay state anti-terrorism bill
Olympia, WA - A dispute over listing firearms as "a weapon of mass destruction" is threatening passage of an anti-terrorism bill sought by Gov. Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
The underlying proposal, House Bill 1210, would create a half-dozen new terrorism crimes, including possession of a "weapon of mass destruction" with the intent of disrupting government. It would cover a gap in the law to include such acts as poisoning a public water system, said Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce.
But about 15 Democrats, including Olympia Reps. Sandra Romero and Sam Hunt, have signed their names to an amendment -- crafted by Tacoma Rep. Jeannie Darneille -- that would include firearms in the definition of weapons of mass destruction.
"If you're in a gathering of worshipers and someone comes in with a gun and lays waste to the congregation, that's in my mind a weapon of mass destruction," Romero said Saturday.
The always-messy politics when the death penalty is involved also are part of the emerging dispute on HB 1210. If it's not resolved by Wednesday's bill cutoff, the fight could doom the anti-terrorism legislation for the second straight year.
"If this bill eventually goes over to the Senate, my fear is the death penalty would be added," said Darneille, who would not mind if the dispute over guns stalls the entire bill in the House.
An anti-terrorism package died last year in the Senate, but Darneille said she's afraid the Republicans now in charge there might add the death penalty to the new crimes, which she opposes.
Her theory is disputed by both Rep. Al O'Brien -- the Mountlake Terrace Democrat who sponsored HB 1210 -- and Dick Van Wagenen, Locke's policy adviser on the issue.
"We were assured by federal officials that any terrorist crime that involved killing would be prosecuted federally," Van Wagenen said. "For that reason, we didn't see any reason to have a death penalty in this bill. ... We would oppose any such amendment in the Senate, if there would be one. ... I don't know of any basis for her speculation."
Van Wagenen added that, while he respects Darneille's positions on the bill, he is troubled by her "smokescreen tactics."
"I don't think the Senate would put that on," O'Brien agreed. "If they did, I think we could get it off."
Darneille, meanwhile, said she initiated her amendment out of concern that the bill might not cover such cases as the serial sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area that have been blamed on Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad. Their first suspected victim was a girl in Darneille's legislative district.
The shooting rampage closed schools and workplaces, and heightening the public's fear as would any terrorist act, Darneille said.
Buck, who wrote last year's doomed anti-terrorism crimes package, said he's pushing an alternative amendment to specifically exclude firearms, although he's willing to drop his proposal if Darneille drops hers. A letter to legislative leaders from a vice president of Colt's Manufacturing supports Buck's approach.
In the middle is O'Brien, a retired police officer, who is trying to get both Buck and Darneille to back off. "It puts the whole bill at risk," O'Brien said.
If needed, O'Brien might force the issue in a divisive floor vote in which members of his party would be forced to take sides -- something he said he doesn't want to do.
"It also would turn the debate on this bill into a debate over gun ownership. That's not where we want to go," O'Brien said. "It would be ugly. ... The intent of the Legislature would be lost."
O'Brien now plans to ask House Speaker Frank Chopp and other leaders to get more involved in the discussions.
Darneille said Gregoire already has spoken directly to her in an effort to get her to drop her proposed amendment, but Darneille said she isn't backing down. Even if she did, Darneille said, others who support it could offer the amendment, forcing the floor vote O'Brien wants to avoid.
"If the Ds are going to play this game, I expect to be able to drop and run my amendment," Buck wrote in an e-mail to the AG's office. "This will turn into an absolute ugly floor fight which I am more than willing to do. I would hope the governor's office will do everything in its power to see the amendment is withdrawn."
Both Locke and Gregoire had sought the original bill, and both oppose the amendments. Lawful gun owners are not affected by the original bill any more than someone who lawfully possesses an airplane or gasoline tanker truck that, in theory, could be converted to terrorist uses, Jerry Ackerman, an Attorney General's Office lawyer, wrote to Buck in an e-mail.
"It is only those individuals that criminally misuse firearms for terrorist purposes that will be affected by HB 1210," Ackerman wrote. "We believe that responsible, lawful firearm owners support bringing such individuals to justice."
But in his letter to legislative leaders, Richard Stevens III of Colt's Manufacturing wrote that Darneille's amendment "may impair constitutional rights" of gun owners.
"You don't have to specify it," O'Brien said, pleading for both sides to quiet. "This is not a gun-control bill."
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