- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

Gun-rights groups and buyers of surplus military equipment won a victory this past week when the final defense authorization bill passed without a provision they feared would have made them turn in surplus guns, planes, jeeps and radios to the government to be rendered inoperable.
The section, which was in the Senate version of the bill, would have made it illegal for anyone to possess "significant military equipment" formerly owned by the military unless it had been demilitarized according to regulations set out by the Defense Department. Demilitarization means making the equipment inoperable.
The bill that passed the House didn't have the provision, and when House and Senate negotiators met to work out differences between the two versions the provision was dropped but not before it caused panic among museums, who said they would have to turn over exhibits like tanks and radios, among suppliers who make their living buying and selling surplus equipment, and among gun-rights groups, some of which saw the provision as a back-door gun grab.
A Pentagon spokesman said the goal was to address situations in which the Defense Department has sold surplus equipment like computers, only to discover that the computers still contained classified materials.
But Charles H. Cunningham, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist on Capitol Hill, said several reports from the General Accounting Office have found those problems could be addressed without such a sweeping provision.
It's the second year the demilitarization clause has appeared in the bill. It was stricken in the House-Senate conference last year, too.
"Perhaps the Department of Defense will finally get the message now that this section was stricken in the conference committee again this year," Mr. Cunningham said, noting that last year lawmakers specifically instructed the secretary of defense to come up with a solution that "will not affect legitimate owners of former military equipment."
Still, opponents say they expect the Defense Logistics Agency, based at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, to push for the language next year anyway.
"DLA seems pretty persistent in trying to force this down contractors' throats," said John Fausti, executive director of the National Association of Aircraft and Communication Suppliers Inc., whose members purchase and resell surplus aircraft and parts from the military. The association wrote a letter telling House and Senate negotiators their industry would be crippled if the section remained in the bill.
Both chambers approved the compromise bill on Thursday, with the House voting 382-40 and the Senate voting 96-2.
Negotiations had been held up for weeks over whether to form another commission, which President Bush had called for, to recommend a round of military base closings. In the end negotiators agreed to another round, but pushed the starting date back to 2005, rather than the president's target of 2003.

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