Lawyers for a Coast Guard officer accused of plotting a massive terror attack urged a federal judge Monday to throw out the firearms charges against their client, signaling a possible defense strategy when the case goes to trial next month.
Federal prosecutors have alleged Lt. Christopher Hasson was amassing weapons to prepare for a major terror attack, bent on killing civilians “on a scale rarely seen in this country.” They also say the 30-year veteran stockpiled assault weapons and compiled a hit list of TV journalists.
Yet, they did not charge Lt. Hasson, 50, with any terrorism-related offenses. The indictment was limited to charges of possessing a controlled substance and the possession of an illegal silencer.
If convicted on the gun and drug charges, Lt. Hasson could face up to 31 years in prison.
Lt. Hasson’s attorneys sought to chip away at the firearm charges Monday, by arguing his ownership of a silencer is protected under the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“The Second Amendment speaks of arms, and the courts have found arms have a broad definition,” said Cullen MacBeth, one of Mr. Hasson’s attorneys.
Mr. MacBeth told the court that silencers were part of using a weapon effectively and therefore it met the definition of a firearm under the Constitution
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom argued that silencers are not covered under the Second Amendment because they are not integral to firearms usage. Under the defense’s argument, he said, nearly anything associated with a gun could be considered a firearm, including “large-capacity magazines” or earmuffs worn by gun users for hearing protection.
“Silencers are not covered by the Second Amendment,” he said. “Even if they were, this challenge would fail.”
After listening to a full day of testimony in the Greenbelt, Maryland, federal courthouse, U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel said he will issue a ruling later this week.
Lt. Hasson’s trial is scheduled to start Oct. 21.
Both sides presented expert witness testimony to bolster their arguments.
Defense attorneys made a repeated point of detailing a silencer’s uses beyond muffling of a gunshot. Although the domestic terrorism accusations were never specifically addressed, Lt. Hasson’s defense team aimed to undercut those accusations.
One defense witness, former ATF agent Daniel O’Kelly ticked off uses for a silencer, including hearing protection and increased accuracy.
“You can’t hurt anyone with a silencer unless you hit them over the head with it,” he said.
Mr. O’Kelly also told the court silencers do not effectively muzzle the sound of a gunshot. He compared to the sound of a shooting a silencer-fitted gun to the noise made by lawnmower or power tool.
Later in the hearing, Lt. Hasson’s attorneys again sought to draw a distinction between terrorism allegations and the actual charges brought by the government.
Mr. MacBeth told the court the only accusation lodged against Lt. Hasson was possession of Tramadol, a highly powerful and illegal pain killer.
“The only alleged unlawful contact — consumption of Tramadol — is just that, alleged,” he said. “The government has not put on any evidence that Mr. Hasson is dangerous.”
Lt. Hasson has been detained in federal custody since his arrest. A magistrate approved a plan to release him back to his family in Virginia, but Judge Hazel overturned the decision.
Judge Hazel said that the time Lt. Hasson posed a danger and “no conditions or combination of conditions will reasonably ensure the safety of the community.”
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