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Fact-Checking the Gun Debate

Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida has found some half truths in recent statements about gun control from Florida leaders.

Gun violence is back on the front burner of American political discussion -- in the wake of the killings of 26 students and teachers last month at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun control laws are part of that discussion -- with the president coming out in favor of closing background check loopholes and a ban on assault -style weapons and high capacity magazines.

Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio went on Fox News and  said that the President's plan is not going to solve the problem of  gun violence.

"Washington, D.C.  had some of the strictest gun laws in the country. And when they passed them, violence skyrocketed."

Angie Holan of "PolitiFact Florida" says Rubio got it half right.

"We pulled the statistics on crime Washington, D.C. since they passed the gun law, which was 1976, and what we found was that they did go up, and then they went down, then they went up and then they went down again," Holan explained. "We rated Rubio's statement half true because we found a more complicated picture than what his comments implied... I think the point to take away from this is there's not a straight line between gun laws and crime rates, that there are lots of other factors at work here."

Also part of the new gun debate is mental illness. How can we better identify people with mental health problems and better keep them away from guns?

A  Florida member of the new group "Mayors Against Illegal Guns" --   Mike Ryan of Sunrise -- says that Florida's Baker Act is not doing a good job of that.

"Now someone committed involuntarily for 72 hours under the 'Baker Act' (as a danger to themselves or others) will have their guns returned to them by the police automatically and immediately upon discharge after 72 hours AND their commitment is never entered into a background check database," said Ryan. "As a result, there is also no impediment or second thought given to someone being released and purchasing a gun."

Again, PolitiFact says -- half true.

"A 2009 Florida Attorney General's opinion says they should get their guns back, but actual practices vary. Many law enforcement agencies require court orders in at least some cases. Because a Baker Act commitment is not a finding of mental illness, it is not recorded in the background check databases for gun purchases."