McSally, R-Ariz., intends to introduce legislation when the Senate returns from the summer recess to create a law in the federal criminal code to address domestic terrorism.
Federal authorities use other laws, such as weapons offenses and hate crimes, to charge such acts.
McSally said in a written statement to The Arizona Republic that it is important to call domestic terrorism by its name — and to create laws to address it as such.
Her legislation, which is still being drafted, would characterize violent acts as domestic terrorism, would seek to combat domestic terrorism and would aim to make sure victims of domestic terrorism are properly recognized.
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“As someone who fought terrorism overseas, I understand the importance of calling out terrorism wherever it is,” McSally said in her statement. “Domestic terrorism is in our backyard and we need to call it and treat it under the law the same as other forms of terrorism.
“For too long, we have allowed those who commit heinous acts of domestic terrorism to be charged with related crimes that don’t portray the full scope of their hateful actions.”
The bill would provide McSally an opportunity to advocate for action in response to gun-related tragedies while distancing herself from the more extreme fringes of the Republican Party — and President Donald Trump — who have used divisive rhetoric when speaking of illegal immigrants, those seeking asylum, and four Democratic congresswomen of color.
McSally's proposal could face opposition from civil liberties groups if it gives the federal government new authority that critics believe would erode civil rights.
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The FBI defines domestic terrorism as an act committed by those inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies, whether they be political, religious, social, racial or environmental.
Investigators are treating the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in California, where a gunman killed three people and injured 13, as domestic terrorism. The motive in that shooting is unclear. Authorities are also treating the Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, as a case of domestic terrorism. The gunman posted a racist screed online and traveled to El Paso to target Hispanic victims.
Prosecutors oftentimes end up charging suspects in domestic terrorism cases with other offenses, given the absence of a specific federal crime.
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Paul Charlton, a defense attorney and former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, said the lack of a domestic terrorism law does not hinder prosecutors’ ability to prosecute such cases.
“I understand the visceral satisfaction involved in naming certain offenses domestic terrorism," Charlton said. "But there is no hole, or gap in the current criminal justice system that lacks for such a statute. If there are going to be changes, we would be better off focusing on sentencing enhancements for this kind of offense.”
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Martha McSally wants to make domestic terrorism a federal crime