CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Terrorism must be defeated in Baghdad, Belfast and Bali -- and from Bartlesville to Boise City.
So reasons Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, whose House Bill 2115 moves to the Oklahoma Senate after passing in the House of Representatives. The bill revises a state law by highlighting terrorism as crime against citizens as well as against government.
The idea came from a New York law passed in 2004 that the Bronx district attorney is using to try a group of gang members. Balkman said gang violence was the second-leading cause of Oklahoma City murders in 2005.
"Gangs are a growing problem throughout Oklahoma and they use terror as a weapon," he said recently upon the bill's House passage. "It's time law enforcement treats gang members like the terrorist thugs they are."
Balkman pointed out this week, though, that the bill does not specifically mention gangs. It defines terrorism, in part, as "an act of violence resulting in damage to property or personal injury perpetrated to coerce a civilian population; or ... to coerce a government."
If HB 2115 becomes law, the maximum sentence for terrorism would rise from life in prison to life without parole. Current law already says anyone convicted of causing a death while committing a terrorist act automatically would be guilty of first-degree murder, and that all acts of terrorism are felonies.
Balkman said most crimes, even violent ones, wouldn't be defined as terrorist acts because "there's no intention to coerce a group of people." Gang violence could qualify, he said, because it can grip and affect an entire neighborhood.
"These people are terrorizing our population," he said. "They are domestic terrorists."
The House passed the bill 80-15, with six not voting. Rep. Bob Plunk, D-Ada, said he voted no because he didn't have enough time to fully consider the bill. It came up during a week of marathon House sessions that sometimes approached midnight.
But Plunk also has reservations about stretching the definition of terrorism. The representative considers terrorist activities as a foreign organization coming to this country to recruit members, infiltrate the nation's security or to commit violent acts.
"We must protect what we have and do what we can against terrorism," Plunk said. "But just because it has a title (of terrorism) doesn't mean everyone agrees."
University of Oklahoma law professor Randall Coyne considered the bill "too vague" after reading it because "almost anything can be contrived as terrorism." Many crimes are coercive by their nature, he said, and any individual or group of people can be reckoned among "the population."
Would stalking someone or harassing a group of older women with knitting needles be considered terrorism?
"If I place them in fear of bodily harm, then that is already a crime," said Coyne, who specializes in criminal and constitutional law and legal aspects of terrorism. "It trivializes what terrorism really is, and terrorism is a very serious problem."
Balkman agrees terrorism is serious, which he says is why he authored the bill.
"An important function of government is the safety of its citizens, and I believe this bill will protect our citizens," he said. "If anybody knows about terrorism, Oklahoma does because we've seen it."
James S. Tyree is CNHI News Service Oklahoma reporter.
CNHI News Service
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