Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Dianne Feinstein
Posted on 2013-02-07
FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Whitehouse, Mrs.
Boxer, Mr. Menendez, and Mr. Lautenberg):
S. 261. A bill to establish and clarify that Congress does not
authorize persons convicted of dangerous crimes in foreign courts to
freely possess firearms in the United States; to the Committee on the
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce the No Firearms for Foreign Felons Act of 2013. This bill would close a loophole in current law, by ensuring that people convicted of foreign felonies and crimes involving domestic violence cannot possess firearms. We must close this gap in our laws before it is exploited by terrorists, drug gangs, and other dangerous criminals who threaten our communities.
Under current Federal law, people who are convicted in the United Sates of violent felonies like rape, murder, and terrorism are prohibited from possessing firearms. But, shockingly, Federal law does not bar criminals convicted of these same violent crimes in foreign courts from possessing guns. This outrageous loophole for foreign convicts is the result of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Small v. United States.
In that case, the Court analyzed the 1968 Gun Control Act, which states that anyone who has been convicted of a felony ``in any court'' cannot possess firearms. The Court concluded that the phrase only applied to American courts, despite the fact that the Gun Control Act had been applied to foreign felonies since 1968, the year it took effect.
At the time, the Supreme Court was very much aware that its ruling could have serious consequences. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent, ``the majority's interpretation permits those convicted overseas of murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, terrorism, and other dangerous crimes to possess firearms freely in the United States.'' But whatever one may think of the Court's ruling, it is now the law of the land.
We must make every effort to close this dangerous loophole and the bill I am introducing today would do just that.
Under this bill, section 921 of Title 18 would be amended to state that ``[the term `any court' includes any Federal, State, or foreign court.'' Similar changes would be made in other sections of the Gun Control Act. Where there are references to ``state offenses'' or ``offenses under state law,'' the bill would expand these terms to include convictions of offenses under foreign law.
In other words, the bill would make it clear that if someone was convicted in a foreign court of an offense that would have disqualified him from possessing a gun in the U.S., then they will be disqualified from gun possession under U.S. law. The only exception will be if there is reason to think the conviction entered by the foreign jurisdiction is somehow invalid.
[[Page S526]] Under the bill, a foreign conviction will not constitute a ``conviction'' under the Gun Control Act, if either: the foreign conviction resulted from a denial of fundamental fairness that would violate due process if committed in the United States, or the conduct on which the foreign conviction was based would be legal if committed in the United States.
I expect that these circumstances will be fairly rare, but the bill does take them into account and will provide a complete defense to anyone with an invalid foreign conviction. In any event, it is clear that we should not keep in place a dangerous policy which essentially treats every foreign conviction as invalid.
Ensuring that foreign convictions count as convictions under U.S. law is important for a second reason. When someone with a felony conviction is arrested for another crime, the government may charge that person with being a felon in possession of a firearm or may seek a sentence enhancement. However, if a foreign conviction is not treated as a conviction under our law, then the defendant may receive a significantly lower sentence than is appropriate given the number of convictions on his record.
Particularly in these times, America cannot continue to give foreign- convicted murderers, rapists, and even terrorists the right to buy firearms in the United States.
With each passing day, we run a risk that foreign felons are exploiting this loophole in our law. This is unacceptable.
Criminals convicted in foreign courts should not be able to have guns when U.S. law forbids those convicted of the same crimes on U.S. soil from possessing guns. We should not wait for lives to be lost before we act to close this loophole.
I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.
______ By Mr. DURBIN: S. 262. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide equity for tuition and fees for individuals entitled to educational assistance under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs who are pursuing programs of education at institutions of higher learning, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.