U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island and former mayor of Providence, has joined current mayors of cities around the country to fight a gun-permit bill pending in Congress.
The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 822), sponsored by U.S. Rep. Clifford Stearns, R-Fla., would require all states to recognize out-of-state permits for carrying concealed weapons.
The House approved the bill 272 to 154 on Nov. 16, 2011. Cicilline and Rep. James Langevin, also a Democrat from Rhode Island, both voted against it. The bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (A similar measure was narrowly defeated in the Senate in 2009.)
Federal law restricts who can own or possess a firearm, and bans possession by anyone convicted of a felony. But the rules for getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon vary from state to state.
Nine states, including Rhode Island, don’t recognize out-of-state gun permits, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
In a Nov. 18 fundraising letter e-mailed to constituents, Cicilline attacked Republicans and "Tea Partiers" for supporting the Right-to-Carry bill.
"Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives -- with the enthusiastic support of Sarah Palin, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and the Tea Partiers -- once again turned their backs on the 14 million unemployed Americans in our country," the letter says, "and instead chose to focus their efforts on expanding the rights of sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines."
Sex offenders? Terrorists? Child predators and abusers?
"I told you: you wouldn’t believe it," the letter continues.
Actually, we weren’t sure what to believe. So we decided to check it out.
We focused on the second part of the statement: "expanding the rights of sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines.’’
The phrase "expanding the rights’’ suggests that these criminals currently have the right to carry concealed weapons. But do they?
Cicilline and his staff offered numerous examples, both hypothetical and real, to argue that, under the bill, criminals in each of the four categories could legally carry a concealed firearm into a state such as Rhode Island, which would amount to "expanding their rights."
We checked what they offered and will summarize our findings, looking at the categories separately.
Under federal law, anyone convicted of a crime of domestic violence, including misdemeanors, or anyone subject to a court restraining order cannot legally own or possess a firearm.
Cicilline’s staff provided us with information from Mayors Against Illegal Guns about four cases (in Missouri, Idaho, Florida and Pennsylvania) in which domestic abusers were granted concealed weapon permits and went on to commit murder.
In three of the cases (those from Florida, Idaho and Missouri), authorities failed to enforce the federal law banning domestic abusers from possessing weapons, according to the summaries provided. In none of those cases did the abusers have the right to carry concealed weapons. So the Right-to-Carry Act can’t expand a right they don’t have.
But in the Pennsylvania case, our research confirmed that the killer was granted a concealed weapons permit, despite a prior restraining order for domestic abuse. There were nothing to prohibit the state from granting the permit because the restraining order had been withdrawn.
So in the domestic abuse category, one of the four examples that Cicilline’s staff provided -- the Pennsylvania case -- supports his claim that some people with a record of domestic abuse can legally carry a concealed weapon.
Adults who sexually prey on children are prohibited by federal law from owning or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony.
And sex crimes against children are almost always felonies.
But the term "child predator," Cicilline’s staff said in a follow-up e-mail, speaks more broadly about crimes that "lead up to or are related to child molestation.’’
They referred us to laws regarding sex-crimes against minors in states such as Florida, Georgia and New Hampshire, where there are no laws preventing such criminals from getting concealed weapon permits.
We believe that some of the examples Cicilline’s staff provided, including a Georgia law that makes unwanted sexual touching of a 16-year-old a misdemeanor, stretch the meaning of the term "child predator."
But in New Hampshire, an adult who lures a child into engaging in sex for pornography -- a misdemeanor in that state -- is clearly a child predator.
So that example met the test.
Federal law prohibits sex offenders convicted of felonies from owning or possessing firearms.
But Cicilline’s staff noted that someone convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense involving another adult would not automatically be barred from getting a concealed weapon permit in some states.
In New Hampshire, for example, it’s a misdemeanor for correctional officers to engage in sex with someone over whom they have authority.
Ann Rice, a New Hampshire deputy attorney general, said conviction for such a crime would not automatically bar someone from getting a concealed weapon permit.
In this category, we verified that the type of case cited by Cicilline’s staff supports his statement.
Federal law bars anyone arrested, charged or convicted of acts of terrorism from owning or possessing a firearm. The Right-to-Carry bill clearly would not expand their rights.
But Cicilline and his staff offered a broader definition of "terrorist" to support the congressman’s claim.
They said people convicted under state terrorism laws, adopted in several cases after the Sept. 11 attacks, and people on the federal government’s terrorist watchlist could be considered "terrorists" or "suspected terrorists."
(In his fundraising letter, Cicilline uses the terms interchangeably, twice referencing "terrorists" and once "suspected terrorists." In the statement we checked, he said "terrorists.")
First, let’s look at the state "terrorism" laws. Examples provided by Cicilline’s staff include a "terroristic threatening" statute in Kentucky that makes it a third-degree misdemeanor to threaten to seriously injure someone or to cause substantial property damage.
We confirmed that someone convicted of "terroristic threatening" in Kentucky could, indeed, be eligible for a concealed weapon permit after three years. Florida has a similar statute, though it’s never prosecuted anyone under it.
But are they "terrorists" as one would commonly understand the term? We don’t think so.
Now, let’s consider people on the terrorist watchlist.
During a conference call, Cicilline said there are "thousands of people engaging in terrorism" who have never been convicted of any act of terrorism or other offenses that would disqualify them from possessing a firearm. And in states with lax gun permitting laws, he said, these "terrorists" can and do get concealed weapons permits
So, if the Right-to-Carry bill becomes law, he reasons, they could legally bring their concealed weapons into Rhode Island.
In addition, Cicilline and his staff referred us to a May 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office citing FBI data that showed that individuals on the watchlist were involved in firearm or explosives background checks 1,228 times from 2004 through 2010.
The GAO found that 91 percent of those transactions were allowed to proceed because no felony convictions or other disqualifying factors were found.
The GAO expressed concerns that "there was no basis to automatically prohibit a person from possessing a firearm or explosive because the person’s name appeared on the terrorist watchlist," Eileen R. Larence, director, Homeland Security and Justice at the GAO, said in an e-mail.
But being on the terrorist watchlist isn’t the same as being a terrorist.
It turns out there were more than 400,000 unique names and over 1 million entries on the terrorist watchlist at the end of 2009, according to The Washington Post. The list at one time mistakenly included the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose name was later removed.
So, under the Right-to-Carry Act, it’s possible that people on the terrorism watchlist could legally carry a concealed weapon in states where they currently cannot.
Does that mean that the rights of "terrorists" would be expanded? Again, no because they are not necessarily terrorists.
What about Cicilline’s argument that, for the purposes of determining who has the "right" to a carry a concealed weapon, there is no real distinction between a terrorist and a "suspected terrorist"?
We believe there is a distinction. Otherwise, the more than 400,000 people named on the terrorist watchlist in 2009 could have been considered terrorists.
(It’s worth noting that among the more than half-dozen cases of shootings Cicilline’s staff provided to back up his claims, none involved a state legally granting a concealed weapons permit to a convicted terrorist, or to someone who, at the time, was a terrorism suspect.)
In this category, we concluded that the examples cited by Cicilline’s staff were based on an overly broad definition of "terrorist" and did not support his claim.
Cicilline said the Right-to-Carry bill would expand rights of "sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines."
In three categories -- sex offenders, child predators and abusers -- we agreed that in some narrow exceptions involving misdemeanor crimes, his statement was true.
But we found that his statement didn’t meet the test on the fourth. To apply the "terrorist" label to all 400,000 people on the government’s watchlist, or to those convicted of a misdemeanor "terroristic" threat, is, at best, an exaggeration.
Further, by saying the Republicans "chose to focus their efforts" on expanding the gun rights of "sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers," he implied, with a heavy dose of hyperbole, that this was their intent.
Because the statement "is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context," we rule it Half True.
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