Terror bill stirs debate over status of firearms - Potential for any firearm to become a 'weapon of mass destruction'

By David Postman and Sarah Lorenzini
Seattle Times Olympia bureau


3/15/03

"It's obvious the anti-gun people in the Legislature saw an opportunity to try to make a point," said
Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce.

OLYMPIA, WAŚ An anti-terrorism bill has spurred debate among lawmakers: Is a gun a weapon of mass destruction?

The fight could jeopardize the sweeping bill proposed by Gov. Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire to create six new terror-related crimes with harsher penalties than allowed under current state law.

A group of House Democrats wants House Bill 1210 to specifically include firearms as weapons of mass destruction, to make it clear that a terror-related gun crime would be punishable by the stiffer penalties.

Darneille (D) said her amendment would add the words "including, but not limited to, a firearm" in the definition of a weapon of mass destruction. Fourteen Democrats are co-sponsoring the amendment.

Buck (R) responded by preparing an amendment that would define those weapons as "any chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agent, object, or device."

The sponsor of the amendment to make that change says she was responding to the 23-day shooting spree last year in the Washington, D.C., area.

The two sniper suspects had ties to Western Washington.

"I tried to push the envelope on this bill to see if it would cover those guys if they had chosen to take out the rest of their aggression in Washington (state)," said Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma. "And the answer, quite frankly, was no."

A gun-rights group and a gun maker say that including firearms in the anti-terrorism bill is a veiled approach at gun control.

"It's obvious the anti-gun people in the Legislature saw an opportunity to try to make a point," said Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce.

Among other things, the bill would make possession of a weapon of mass destruction a class A felony. The legislation defines a weapon of mass destruction as a "device, object, or substance that a person intends to use to cause multiple human deaths." No specific weapons are mentioned.

The Attorney General's Office says that under the proposed legislation, someone could be prosecuted for using a gun in a terror-related crime if it could be proved the suspect intended to use the weapon to cause multiple deaths to "disrupt the conduct of government or of the general civilian population" and to cause that disruption by "manifesting extreme indifference to human life."

The federal government asked each state to create some form of anti-terrorism legislation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Last year an anti-terrorism bill passed the House but failed in the Senate, where it was stopped by Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle. Kline, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he worried that civil rights would be lost under the legislation.

This year the bill was given better odds since Republicans now control the Senate.

Darneille said her amendment would add the words "including, but not limited to, a firearm" in the definition of a weapon of mass destruction. Fourteen Democrats are co-sponsoring the amendment.

Buck responded by preparing an amendment that would define those weapons as "any chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agent, object, or device."

Connecticut gun maker Colt's Manufacturing wrote legislative leaders last week, saying Darneille's move "is an attempt to regulate gun control."

The company said the amendment would "permit any gun to be considered a weapon of mass destruction."

Joe Waldron, a lobbyist for the Gun Owner's Action League and other gun-rights groups, said the bill is "poorly worded" and should be changed to include Buck's amendment.

That, he said, meets "everybody else's definition other than those in Olympia."

A statement from Gregoire's office yesterday said attempts to identify guns as weapons of mass destruction are "unnecessary and threaten to sidetrack important legislation on terrorism into a debate about gun control."

 

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