Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio attacks President Obama's foreign and domestic policy decisions in an ad titled "Safe." (Marco Rubio)

“Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they’re plotting to attack us. Instead of fighting to fund our troops, he fights to fund Planned Parenthood. He spies on Israel and cut a deal with Iran. His plan after the attack on San Bernardino? Take away our guns. And while ISIS is beheading people and burning them in cages, he says climate change is our greatest threat.”

— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking in a campaign ad, “Safe”

Ominous orchestral music plays in the background of this ad, as Rubio attacks President Obama’s foreign and domestic policies.

Some of the claims he makes are not readily fact-checkable. For example, it’s true the military budget has decreased under Obama (partly because he pulled troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq) and that Obama has vowed to veto bills that strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood – but the two points aren’t comparable. The Israel-Iran comparison doesn’t make much sense; virtually no foreign government is off limits for the National Security Agency’s surveillance — including Israel and Iran — and security and military ties between Israel and the United States have grown closer than ever during the Obama administration.

Instead, we will focus on two claims that stood out as the most curious: that Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo who are “plotting to attack” America, and that Obama’s plan after the shooting at San Bernardino was to “take away our guns.”

What evidence supports these claims?

The Facts

Guantanamo ex-detainees

There has been a long dispute over the likelihood of recidivism among detainees released from Guantanamo Bay. During the 2013 Senate debate over whether to loosen restrictions on transferring detainees, we awarded Two Pinocchios to the claim that recidivism is “climbing steadily” among those released.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released a semiannual report since 2012 on the rate of recidivism. There are two categories in the report: ex-detainees who are “confirmed of re-engaging” and those “suspected of re-engaging.” “Confirmed” means there is “a preponderance of information which identifies a specific former GTMO detainee as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.”

“Suspected” is defined as: “Plausible but unverified or single-source reporting indicating a specific former GTMO detainee is directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities. For the purposes of this definition, engagement in anti-US statements or propaganda does not qualify as terrorist or insurgent activity.”

“Terrorist” or “insurgent” activities include planning terrorist operations — similar to what Rubio described (“plotting to attack us”). It’s not exactly clear how the administration makes the  “confirmed” or “suspected” determinations.

The latest report on detainees transferred as of July 15, 2015, shows 117 of 653 (17.9 percent) were confirmed as reengaging and 79 of 653 (12.1 percent) were suspected of reengaging.

The report also divides the numbers between the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. The breakdown shows most of the former detainees were released under the Bush administration. Further, most of the ex-detainees confirmed or suspected of reengaging were released under the Bush administration.

Rubio’s campaign cited individual instances of ex-detainees who have reengaged or have attempted to reengage in terrorist activities.

Yes, this has occurred under Obama’s administration. But it’s important to note that 6 percent of all ex-detainees confirmed or suspected of reengaging were released under Obama. The rest were released under Bush. (Five percent of ex-detainees confirmed as returning to terrorism were released under Obama and 7.6 percent were under Bush.) See the data below, from the latest ex-detainee report:

Total Pre-Jan. 22, 2009 (Bush) Post-Jan. 22, 2009 (Obama)
Detainees transferred
Confirmed of Re-engaging
Suspected of Re-engaging
653
117 of 653 (17.9%)
79 of 653 (12.1%)
532
111 of 532 (20.9%)
73 of 532 (14.1%)
121
6 of 121 (4.9%)
6 of 121 (4.9%)

 

Gun control plan

According to Rubio, Obama’s gun plan after the San Bernardino shooting was: “Take away our guns.” That’s an odd statement, since Obama literally said during the announcement of his plan: “This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.”

Rubio’s campaign pointed to Obama’s gun plan released Jan. 6, 2016, and the statements in reaction to the December 2015 San Bernardino shooting.

But in the statements Obama made on the day of the shooting and following days, Obama did not mention gun confiscation. On the day of the shooting, Obama said: “There are some steps we could take not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently: common-sense gun safety laws, stronger background checks.”

The next day, he said: “We’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure we can take basic steps that would make it harder – not impossible, but harder – for individuals to get access to weapons.” (Related: We’ve explored Obama’s inconsistent wording in his responses to mass shootings.)

Other critics who have made a similar claim about Obama’s plans have pointed out his statements (prior to the San Bernardino shooting) praising gun-control policies in other countries that instituted firearm-buyback programs. In particular, Obama and other gun-control advocates have heralded Australia as a model nation for its policies to curb gun violence.

In 1996, a gunman killed 35 people in a popular tourist area in Tasmania. Prior to the shooting, Australia’s gun laws were relatively lenient, with large variations in regulations across the states and territories, according to a report published by the Law Library of Congress. In response to the shooting, the Australian federal government, states and territories passed a sweeping national gun-control plan under conservative Prime Minister John Howard.

The new regulations tightened licensing, registration and storage requirements, created a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases and banned semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns. Australia also created a compulsory national buyback program through which the government purchased 650,000 prohibited firearms.

There is evidence that Australia’s regulatory changes in response to the 1996 shooting helped reduce gun suicide and homicide deaths, according to a report by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. However, gun deaths were falling in the early 1990s before the shooting, so there may have been other factors that led to the reduction in deaths, researchers wrote.

Obama has praised the Australian approach several times in the wake of mass shootings that occurred before San Bernardino. Here are some instances:

  • “Couple of decades ago, Australia had a mass shooting, similar to Columbine or Newtown. And Australia just said, ‘Well, that’s it. We’re not doing — we’re not seeing that again,’ and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since…. Now, we have a different tradition. We have a Second Amendment. We have, historically, respected gun rights. I respect gun rights. But the idea that, for example, we couldn’t even get a background check bill in to make sure that if you’re going to buy a weapon you have to actually go through a fairly rigorous process so that we know who you are, so you can’t just walk up to a store and buy a semi-automatic weapon — it makes no sense.” (June 11, 2014)
  • “This doesn’t happen with this kind of frequency in other countries. When Australia had a mass killing — I think it was in Tasmania about 25 years ago — it was just so shocking to the system, the entire country said, ‘Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws.’ And they did. And it hasn’t happened since.” (June 22, 2015)
  • We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours.  So we know there are ways to prevent it. (October 1, 2015)

But Obama’s gun control plan released Jan. 4, 2016, or his speech about it the next day, did not include a buyback program. In fact, some experts have concluded Obama’s plan doesn’t have much teeth. It’s still up to Congress to take such a drastic — and unlikely — action.

[Update: In a Jan. 10, 2016, interview on ABC’s “This Week," Rubio explained he was referring to how Obama’s “proposal for everything is to infringe on the Second Amendment. There’s a terrorist attack in San Bernardino; before even the facts are known, he immediately jumps and says, we need gun control. … This is what he resorts to." When host George Stephanopoulos pressed Rubio further on the claim he made in the campaign ad that Obama had proposed to “take away our guns," Rubio said: “Well, if he could, he would. Obviously he knows he’s constrained by the Second Amendment so what he tries to do is chip away at it every chance he gets. … He is trying to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens by continuing to put new restrictions on our gun rights."]

The Pinocchio Test

Rubio said that Guantanamo detainees released under Obama are now “plotting to attack us.” There have been instances of confirmed or suspected reengagement among detainees released under Obama. As of July 5, 2015, there were six ex-detainees confirmed of reengaging and six detainees suspected of reengaging — out of 196 total ex-detainees who are confirmed or suspected. That means the vast majority (94 percent) of recidivists were those released prior to Obama taking office.

Rubio also says that Obama’s gun-control plan after San Bernardino is to “take away our guns.” While Obama has praised mandatory gun buyback programs and the tough gun laws imposed in Australia, this was not included in his recent gun-control plan. It’s also not a plan that he announced after the San Bernardino shootings.

The lack of context in Rubio’s point about recidivism places it in the realm of Two Pinocchios. However, his assertion that Obama’s gun-control plan is to “take away our guns” qualifies for Four Pinocchios. Gun confiscation or a buyback program is nowhere in Obama’s plan. Overall, we reward Three Pinocchios to Rubio’s latest campaign ad.

Three Pinocchios

 


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For more recent fact-checks about gun laws:

Fact Checker: Obama’s claim that Internet gun sellers ‘operate under a different set of rules’

Fact Checker: Marco Rubio’s claim that no recent mass shootings would have been prevented by gun laws

Fact Checker: Obama’s inconsistent claim on the ‘frequency’ of mass shootings in the U.S. compared to other countries