Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Gun claims examined by PolitiFactRI often misfire

The push for tougher gun control legislation continues in the General Assembly Tuesday, April 9, as state officials hold a news conference at the State House to promote a package of bills covering such issues as background checks, firearms safety, weapons sales and modifying penalties for existing gun laws.

The gun control debate sparks a lot of rhetoric, some of which has set the Truth-O-Meter twisting.

Nationally, PolitiFact has examined at least 130 claims related to the gun debate, with supporters of gun control having a better record for making accurate claims. But that record is far from perfect.

An analysis of those rulings found that "when politicians or groups make claims about current laws being insufficient -- a common tactic for gun control supporters -- they often earn Half True ratings because they leave out important details or take things out of context.

"By contrast, claims about the Obama administration's plans for gun control, often made by people and groups opposed to gun control, typically earn a False or Pants on Fire," PolitiFact found.

PolitiFact Rhode Island has looked at a handful of gun claims and found a mixed bag of truthfulness.

The person who has been judged most often on gun violence is U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, who helped found Mayors Against Illegal Guns when he was mayor of Providence.

When Cicilline said during a State House rally that more than 40 percent of sales nationally are made without background checks, we gave him a Half True because it's based on data that are nearly 20 years old, and experts disagree on whether that number is still valid.

He also earned a Half True when he attacked the proposed federal National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require all states to recognize out-of-state permits for carrying concealed weapons.

Cicilline said it would expand "the rights of sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines."

That would only be true if state officials were not following federal law, which prohibits anyone convicted of a crime of domestic violence or a felony sex crime (against a child or adult), or anyone who has even been arrested on a terrorism charge from owning or possessing a firearm.

We also examined two Facebook posts in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

One said that "Last year, handguns killed 48 people in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 58 in Israel, 21 in Sweden, 42 in West Germany and 10,728 in the United States." It got a Half True because the numbers were from 2008, not "last year." Newer numbers show a similar trend, with the risk of being murdered by a gun far higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries.

A related claim that "Switzerland (where the government) issues every household a gun . . . has the lowest gun related crime rate of any civilized country in the world!!!" garnered a Pants on Fire because Switzerland's gun homicide rate was the fourth highest  among 24 countries in western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Only Greece, Ireland and the United States had higher rates.

The Providence City Council collectively earned a False when it passed a resolution calling for "a ban on the sale, use, and possession of all semi-automatic firearms within Providence," based on the "fact" that "Semi-automatic weapons, whether pistol or rifle, were designed for use by the military on the battlefield."

We found that, historically, the U.S. military did not embrace semi-automatic weapons until decades after they were developed and, even today, there are many semi-automatic weapons available to consumers that were not designed for battlefield use.

Most recently, when state Rep. Linda Finn, D-Middletown, proposed a bill that would require Rhode Island residents to register their guns with local officials and pay a $100 fee per weapon, she said she wanted police to know, if called to a house or confronting a driver, if a firearm might be in factor.

"Rhode Island could tell you who has a camper, but we couldn't figure out who has a gun," she said.

We judged that statement to be Mostly True. There are times when information on gun ownership is available because the names of thousands of people who have permits to carry a pistol or revolver are contained in lists maintained by local police or the Attorney General's office. Their use is restricted, but the information is, in some instances, accessible.

To see our rulings, search "guns" at PolitiFactRI.com.