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PolitiFact Florida Checks Out Gov. Scott on Syrian Refugees; Open-Carry Laws


The recent attacks in Paris have intensified the debate over how many Syrian refugees should be allowed into the U.S.  Those reactions included letters from 28 governors to the president, asking that no more refugees be allowed into their states until the vetting process is cleared to make sure there are no terrorists among the migrants.

Gov. Rick Scott is one of those. He told Fox News recently, "This is something that they are making the decision, whether we like it or not, to send 425 refugees to our state without giving us any information."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

So who decides how many come to Florida?
Scott said that the federal government made the decision to send 425. While the federal government is in charge of resettlement, the actual number comes from agencies within local communities in Florida. (Politico also noted this in a report on Scott's comments.) At the beginning of each federal fiscal year, the State Department works with nine national volunteer agencies to allocate the number of refugees per agency. They take into account factors such as whether the refugees have family members in certain states, their employment and educational backgrounds, and if they have any health concerns, according to Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. In Florida, there are 25 local affiliates that are a part of those national groups. The local affiliates in Miami, Tampa, Clearwater and other cities inform the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the U.S. State Department how many refugees from across the globe the affiliates can handle for the fiscal year. For the current year, the total added up to 3,942, according to DCF. And that’s the number that the federal government signed off on for Florida. Recently, the government asked states if they could accept more refugees. On Nov. 9, Lawrence Bartlett, a State Department official, wrote a letter to DCF noting that Obama increased the maximum number of Syrian refugees and would ask the nonprofit groups how many additional refugees they could take. Local affiliates told state and federal officials they could take an additional 425 refugees. Technically, those 425 aren’t all guaranteed to be Syrians, according to DCF, but the Syrian crisis is what prompted the request. So far, federal officials haven’t approved any particular number for Florida. "We don’t know how many Syrians will be resettled into any one state or city at this point," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told PolitiFact Florida. "Regarding the local agencies' letter saying they can take an additional 425 refugees, it is likely that we can expect there will be a similar letter approving that number as well. Those 425 refugees will come from all over the world." That means that officially, the federal government hasn’t decided yet to send 425 refugees to Florida, but it appears possible that that will end up being the number -- although they may not all be Syrians. When we asked Scott’s office about his media appearances quoting the 425 figures, it pointed us to more cautious wording that Scott used in a Nov. 16 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking them to cut off funding for the resettlement: "Please be aware that several organizations have requested that our state Department of Children and Families support the relocation of possible 425 Syrian refugees to Florida, as they receive federal funding to house those refugees in our state." Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz told PolitiFact Florida that "in his letter he was very clear to say ‘possible 425.’ ... The governor is very concerned -- it could be 425. All we know is it is possibly 425." Scott has a point when he says the refugees get sent to the states "whether we like it or not." The Refugee Act of 1980 says the federal government is expected "to the maximum extent possible" to take states’ concerns into account, but there are no legal consequences if federal officials ignore governors such as Scott. State officials don’t have veto power, because the federal government has the sole authority over immigration decisions, including refugees. Our ruling Rick Scott says the federal government is "making the decision, whether we like it or not, to send 425 refugees to our state" from Syria. Scott’s statement makes it sound like federal officials came up with a number of refugees and dictated that Florida must take them in. That’s misleading, because the number came from local resettlement agencies, which reported to the federal government how many additional refugees they could handle within the next year. Those refugees might or might not all be Syrians, though it seems likely they would be. Scott has a point that the power to resettle refugees lies with the federal government, and he can’t halt the refugees from coming to Florida. We rate this statement Half True.

Next up, the former president of the National Rifle Association is defending bills in the Florida Legislature that would allow the open carry of handguns. Marion Hammer says the vast majority of states - 45 in all - already allow the practice.

Now Hammer, who is currently executive director of United Sportsmen of Florida, refuted a counter-argument by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. His group, the Florida Sheriffs Association, says it's not really accurate to say those 45 states allow open carry because there are various rules and restrictions in place.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling: 

Marion Hammer
Credit AP Photo
Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, speaks in favor of gun legislation in Tallahassee in 2007

Laws across states
The bills filed in the state Legislature would allow anyone with a valid concealed weapons permit to also carry their handgun openly, a practice currently prohibited by law. Obtaining a license for concealed carry already includes requirements for registration, fingerprinting and firearm training. Florida has about 1.4 million concealed weapon permit holders. Both bills are pending approval by committees before the 2016 legislative session. Hammer told PolitiFact Florida that her figure came from the NRA’s own research of state laws. According to that analysis, there are four other states that prohibit handgun open carry in public places like Florida — California, Illinois, New York and South Carolina. The District of Columbia does not allow it, either. Hammer is equating the lack of an outright ban in other states with the other 45 states allowing the practice, but it isn’t quite that cut and dried. There are different rules and restrictions in different places, and some so-called open carry states can be very specific about what’s required. The Florida bills address the open carry of handguns, so that's the context of Hammer's column. There are other states that allow the open carry of handguns while restricting long guns, such as rifles and shotguns. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence agrees with the NRA on the same five states that prohibit open carry. But the center points out that Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey prohibit the open carry of long guns, just as Florida, California, Illinois and D.C. do. But New York and South Carolina allow open carry for long guns, while preventing it for handguns. So Hammer’s statement that 45 states allow the open carry of firearms, period, is imprecise. 00000174-124e-d47e-a1f7-526ff43f0000Further, 15 states require a permit or license to open carry, while eight more have other restrictions on how, when or where you are allowed to do so. Some municipalities restrict open carry in ways their state doesn’t. In Pennsylvania, open carry is generally allowed without a license, but Philadelphia does require a license. There are even more caveats about specific states and where they land on the open carry spectrum. For example, gun rights group OpenCarry.org doesn’t include Texas on its list of open carry states, because its recently passed law doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2016. Like Florida’s proposed change, the state’s concealed carry license will become an open carry license for handguns as well. There are also states that could be categorized differently depending on how you interpret the local laws. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action noted Arkansas is hard to categorize. The state decriminalized the open or concealed carry of a loaded handgun in 2013, but the state’s ban was not repealed. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a nonbinding opinion that the law was intended to protect people traveling through or across the state, even though open carry was still technically against the law. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes you generally can’t carry openly or concealed in Arkansas with the gun "readily available for use with a purpose to employ (it) as a weapon against a person." All the groups we consulted agreed California is not an open-carry state because it banned open carry of loaded handguns starting in 2012, but there’s still more to the story. If you live in a California county with less than 200,000 people, you can ask the local sheriff or police chief to give you an open-carry license at his or her discretion. Of course, the license is only good for that county, but there’s wiggle room in saying California prohibits open carry. Our ruling Hammer said, "Forty-five states allow open carry of firearms." Groups both for and against stricter gun laws told us there are five states that have laws banning open carry for handguns: California, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina. It’s worth remembering, however, that the laws in some open-carry states are not as permissive as Hammer makes it seem. Several states have restrictions on the open carry of certain types of firearms, and in some places the rules are stricter than others.   We rate Hammer’s statement Mostly True.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.