NRA Embraces Deceptive Description Of GOP Rep's Guns-For-Felons Proposal

Gun Group Falsely Claimed Program Is Only Aimed At Non-Violent Felons

The National Rifle Association is falsely characterizing a legislative proposal from Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) that would allow felons to petition the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for restoration of their gun ownership rights, saying the option would only be available to “non-violent felons.”

In fact, any felon could apply to have their right to own a firearm restored under Buck's proposal, which is why the ATF program that used to provide that option was defunded in the early 1990s -- research showed that even violent felons had won their appeals, and in some cases went on to commit new violent crimes.

For the past 23 years, standard language in appropriations legislation -- first inserted by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- has prohibited the ATF from using budget money on a program that allowed people who had lost their legal right to buy or own a gun because of a felony conviction to apply for restoration of that right. That longtime prohibition was challenged on June 2, however, when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives adopted by voice vote a rider introduced by Buck that would re-fund the program.

During a floor speech, Buck argued for support by citing an example of a man who is prohibited from owning a gun because he wrote a bad check 40 years ago. He declared, “This bill does not intend in any way shape or form to allow a violent criminal to possess a firearm, only those non-violent criminals that ATF deems are not a danger.”

But in fact, there is no language in the proposal that limits the right to appeal to non-violent felons. Buck's rider merely reverses the prohibition on funding, changing the words "none of the" funds to "such" funds in the following line: "Provided, That such funds appropriated herein shall be available to investigate or act upon applications for relief from Federal firearms disabilities under section 925(c) of title 18, United States Code."

Despite this, the NRA and some conservative media outlets have run with the blatantly false talking point that the program would only apply to “non-violent felons” in coverage trumpeting Buck's proposal.

The Washington Examiner wrote, “The House this week voted to let non-violent felons win back their gun rights.” The NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, promoted the erroneous claim on its website. The NRA's “official journal,” America's 1st Freedom, wrote that “many deserving Americans might soon be able to buy firearms again,” in an article headlined, “House Votes On Gun Restoration For Non-Violent Felons.”

During the June 5 broadcast of the NRA's TV show, Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards described the rider as “a measure in the House to restore funding for non-violent felons to try to restore their rights.”

On the June 5 broadcast of the NRA's radio show, also called Cam & Company, Edwards claimed Buck's proposal was about “the restoration of rights for non-violent felons,” adding, “This has been a law in the United States, there's been a process by which non-violent felons can apply to have their rights restored, but there has not been a way for those individuals to actually do that for the past several decades because of Senator Chuck Schumer and a rider.” Later in the show, Edwards said of the rider while introducing an interview with Buck, “This could actually lead to the restoration of rights for some non-violent felons.”

The claim that the program is limited to non-violent felons is baseless. In fact, Schumer's motivation to defund the program in 1992 was the concern that it was being used by violent felons who went on to commit more crimes.

In a 2000 report, the Violence Police Center (VPC) used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain 100 random records of felons who successfully used the program to restore their ability to purchase a gun. One-third of the records involved individuals who committed violent or drug-related crimes, including, “five convictions for felony sexual assault; 11 burglary convictions; 13 convictions for distribution of narcotics; and, four homicide convictions.” In one case, a felon convicted of transferring explosives to terrorists in Libya successfully petitioned the ATF to restore his ability to purchase a gun.

VPC also determined that some individuals who successfully used the program were subsequently accused of committing violent crimes. According to the report (emphasis original), “The VPC found that of those granted 'relief' from 1985 to 1992, 69 were subsequently re-arrested for crimes that included: attempted murder; first degree sexual assault; abduction/kidnapping; child molestation; illegal possession of a machine gun; trafficking in cocaine, LSD, and PCP; and, illegal firearms possession or carrying.”

Although the rider was adopted by the House by a voice vote, it has not been considered in the Senate.

Image via Flickr user Geoffrey Fairchild under a Creative Commons License.