Cicilline Introduces Legislation to Close Hate Crimes Loophole

Feb 24, 2016

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) today introduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a new legislative proposal that addresses the connection between hate crimes and gun violence.

“The link between hate crimes and gun violence is clear. From 2010 to 2014, roughly 43,000 hate crimes involving a gun were reported in the United States. And we know that misdemeanor offenses are often signs of more serious violence to come,” said Cicilline, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee. “This is a really simple concept. If you threaten a black family because of their race, you shouldn’t be allowed to buy a gun. If you paint a swastika on the door of a synagogue, you shouldn’t be allowed to buy a gun. If you beat a gay person because they’re gay, you shouldn’t be allowed to buy a gun.”

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which Cicilline announced Tuesday morning during a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress, will close the Violent Hate Crimes Loophole that permits the sale of firearms to individuals who have been convicted of vandalizing a place of worship or assaulting someone based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

“Hate and bias-motivated crimes have a devastating impact not only on individual victims, but on the broader community of which that victim is a member. The use of guns as a tool of violence and intimidation in the commission of these crimes escalates that harm and creates an enormous risk that a hate crime will turn fatal,” said Chelsea Parsons, Vice President of Guns and Crime Policy at the Center for American Progress. “We are pleased to have worked with Congressman Cicilline on this crucial legislation that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous hate-motivated criminals and urge Congress to take up consideration of this bill.”

Although convicted felons are currently prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun under Federal law, and 30 states already have misdemeanor-level hate crimes or sentence enhancements in place, there are only six states that bar individuals convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from buying a gun.

A misdemeanor hate crime, which can include vandalizing public or private property, menacing, or assault, is often a precursor for more severe attacks. As Northeastern University researchers Jack Levin and Jack McDevitt say, “If the original criminal response fails to elicit the desired retreat on the part of the victim, then the offender frequently escalates the level of property damage or violence. A Black family moving into an all-White neighborhood is first warned; if they don’t heed the warning, then their windows are broken; and if they still refuse to move out, their house may be firebombed, or worse.”

Easy access to firearms continues to enable hate criminals and violent extremists across the United States. A 2014 study conducted by Indiana State University found that since 2001, lone wolf terrorists have increasingly turned to high-powered guns, rather than explosives, as their weapon of choice. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 59% of domestic terrorist attacks carried out between April 1, 2009 and February 1, 2015 were perpetrated with a gun. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) found roughly 43,000 hate crimes involving the use of a firearm in the United States between 2010 and 2014.

Examples of hate crimes involving the use of guns have garnered significant national attention in recent years. Last June, nine people were killed after a white supremacist opened fire inside Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Two police officers were shot and killed – their bodies covered with a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a swastika – in Las Vegas in June 2014. In August 2012, six people were killed and four injured after a white supremacist used a 9mm handgun to attack a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

"The connection between guns and hate is a powerful and dangerous one," said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Firearms are now the weapon of choice for hate criminals, and those weapons amplify the already horrific damage that hate criminals do. This is a serious problem that we as a society must face."

In addition to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act announced today, Cicilline is also the author of the Assault Weapons Ban of 2015 to prohibit the sale of military-style assault weapons; the End Purchase of Firearms by Dangerous Individuals Act to require all 50 states provide information on individuals who express a threat of violence to a mental professional or who are committed to a mental health institution to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; and the Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act to end the practice by which gun dealers who lose their license can convert their entire inventory to a “personal inventory” in order to liquidate it without conducting background checks on their customers. Since October, Cicilline, who is a founding member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has delivered a weekly address on the House floor on the importance of addressing gun violence.