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By Caryn Shinske January 9, 2012

Bill Pascrell claims no legislation has taken guns away from Americans in past 20 years

There’s another gun battle heating up in Congress that not only divides politicians on the right to bear arms, but to carry them across state lines without penalty.

And New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8th Dist.) doesn’t want that to happen.

During a Nov. 16 House hearing, Pascrell spoke against the proposed National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011. If H.R. 822 becomes law, states that allow people to carry concealed weapons would be required to recognize other states’ valid concealed carry permits. At least 40 states already have some form of reciprocity for out-of-state concealed carry permits. The bill has been referred in the Senate to the Committee on the Judiciary.

In opposing the bill, Pascrell said, "We haven't had any legislation which took away one gun in the past 20 years from anybody in this country -- not one."

Pascrell’s spokesman, Paul Brubaker said the congressman was specifically referring to federal legislation, noting that his "point would have beeen clearer had he specified that he was referring to nonviolent, law-abiding gun owners."

PolitiFact New Jersey found Pascrell’s argument somewhat on target.

But two gun-rights organizations we spoke with say two laws do take guns from people.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Virginia-based Gun Owners of America, and Joe Waldron, legislative director for the Washington state-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, both said a provision of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 banned semiautomatic weapons with detachable devices. That, in effect, takes a weapon away from someone who wants it, they said.

Brubaker disagreed.

"The 1994 federal assault weapons ban prohibited for 10 years the possession, transfer, and manufacturing of semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices," Brubaker said in an email. "However, there was a grandfather clause in the bill, and semiautomatic assault weapons that were legally-owned before the ban went into effect were NOT restricted. Those weapons could be transferred and sold within the confines of federal and state laws. … Neither the assault weapons ban, nor any federal prohibition of particular guns from being imported, resulted in the federal government taking legally-owned guns away from Americans."

Waldron also pointed to The Domestic Violence Gun Ban, more commonly called the Lautenberg Amendment for its author, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). The amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 bans anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense from owning or possessing a firearm, even if the person had it before the conviction. The law requires that person to immediately surrender the weapon – but not necessarily to law enforcement.

That person’s gun and ammunition should be transferred  to a "third party who may lawfully receive and possess them, such as their attorney, a local police agency, or a federal firearms dealer. In addition, such firearms and ammunition are subject to seizure and forfeiture," according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website.

The result of the Lautenberg Amendment "is that people have been disarmed of weapons within the past 20 years and they’ve been sent to prison when they’ve been caught in possession," Waldron said.

The consequences of one’s actions are central to the issue, according to ATF spokesperson Ginger Colbrun. As an example, she said that if a gun owner is convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, the person’s actions are to blame for him no longer being allowed to possess a weapon -- not the law.

"It really is semantics when you look at it," she said. 

But the person still has to give up the gun and to some, that's taking it away.

Our ruling

Pascrell said there hasn’t been any legislation in the past 20 years that took a gun from anyone in the United States. Gun advocates disagree, pointing to the federal crime bill and the Lautenberg Amendment as examples. But the facts are a gun can't be taken from someone who never had it, and having to surrender a gun because of a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction can be construed as it being taken away. We rate Pascrell’s claim Half True.

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Editor's Note: This story was initially published by accident with a Mostly True ruling. The correct ruling is Half True.

Our Sources

Congressional Record 112th Congress (2011-2012), minutes from House hearing on National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, Nov. 16, 2011, accessed Dec. 13, 2011

Legislative Digest of H.R. 822, accessed Dec. 15, 2011

Email and phone interviews with Paul Brubaker, communications director for Rep. Bill Pascrell, Dec. 13, 15, 20 and 21, 2011; Jan. 3, 2012

The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, "Packing Heat on Your Street," September 2011, accessed Dec. 14 and 23, 2011

Email interview with Marty Langley, spokesman, Violence Policy Center, Washington, DC, Dec. 14, 2011

Phone interview with Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, Dec. 14, 2011, accessed Dec. 14, 2011

U.S. Department of Justice Fact Sheet, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, accessed Dec. 14, 2011

Email and phone interviews with Joe Waldron, legislative director, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Dec. 14, 2011

Bill text of H.R. 822, accessed Dec. 14 and 22, 2011; Jan. 5, 2012

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence,  accessed Dec. 27, 2011

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website, accessed Jan. 3 and 4, 2012

Phone interview with Ginger Colbrun, spokesperson, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jan. 5, 2012 

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Bill Pascrell claims no legislation has taken guns away from Americans in past 20 years

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