A bill to expand the list of convicted felons barred from owning firearms in Idaho was pulled back from a vote on the House floor Thursday amid concerns that the new restrictions included reliance on an overly broad state code definition of “terrorism.”
A lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, strong supporters of the bill, said its withdrawal could signal no action on it again this year. A similar measure died in legislative committee last year, as have other versions in previous years.
Under the latest proposal, those convicted of terrorism, gang involvement, human trafficking or hijacking would be added to the list of felons banned from owning firearms, even after fulfilling the terms of their punishment. The House State Affairs committee recommended passage on Feb. 10 and moved it to full House for a vote.
But the committee’s chairman Thursday asked for House consent to return the bill to committee for possible modifications.
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At issue for legislative gun rights supporters is how the bill deals with terrorism convictions. They cite the case of two Oregon ranchers whose terrorism conviction led to a 41-day occupation in early 2016 by militants at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
Father and son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of arson on public lands under the federal terrorism statute enacted in 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombing. In October 2015, they were sentenced to mandatory-minimum five-year prison terms after losing a legal effort for lesser sentences.
A group of armed anti-government militants took up occupation of the refuge in protest to their imprisonment. The standoff ended in a shootout where one occupier was killed. Some were charged with conspiracy and federal weapons charges; seven were acquitted last fall. Others are currently on trial for similar charges.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said Friday her concern with new restrictions grew out of the Hammond convictions as well as how terrorism is defined in state code. Boyle was one of several lawmakers who visited the Malheur occupiers during the standoff in a show of support.
State law last amended in 2002 and cited in the new bill defines terrorism as dangerous criminal acts intended to “intimidate or coerce” citizens or a government entity or that “affect the conduct of a government by the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
“Just about anything you do is going to intimidate somebody,” Boyle said. Under that definition, community protests similar to one in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 in response to the shooting of a black youth could be deemed terrorist acts, she said.
The state’s terrorism definition “is too broad, absolutely,” Boyle said. “And with this definition under that (new) code, it removes your ability to ever have a firearm again, or anyone in your home. So you have basically disarmed that entire household for the life of the person that has the felony.”
Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who chairs House State Affairs, asked the House Thursday to return the bill to committee. He said it might be revised to address what terrorism-related offenses merit inclusion.
“We didn’t want to have a big battle up on the floor about it, so we’ll have that battle (in committee) first to determine whether or not we want to move forward with it,” he said.
Michael Kane, who presented the bill in committee on behalf of the Idaho Sheriffs Association, said it could be too late in the session to work up an amended bill. The language in question is not part of the bill he presented.
“I don’t know what I can do about that, but I’m exploring options,” Kane said. “It might be that I just have to come back next year. We’ll just continue trying to find a way forward.”