After Jail, Cunningham to Fight Wild Animals

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., shakes hands with supporters before boarding the Sea Fighter (FSF1) Navy vessel on Monday, Aug. 1, 2005 for a media tour, in San Diego. The Sea Fighter is a high-speed, highly automated test ship that the Navy is hoping will be a test bed for future combat ships. It can reach speeds of over 50 MPH. and would carry a smaller crew. (AP Photo/Sandy Huffaker) (National Journal)

Former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., who in 2005 pleaded guilty to accepting more and larger bribes than any other member of Congress in history, has appealed to the judge who sentenced him to help him regain his gun rights when he leaves prison.

In a remarkable May 2 letter to U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in San Diego, Cunningham said he needs guns for the ex-con life he plans in a secluded cabin in the Ozarks — far away from Southern California and Washington, where his corruption made history. He said he will use the guns for hunting and fishing to feed himself. He also claimed he needs firearms to make money in sporting competitions and to protect himself from rabid cougars.

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"I plan to live in a small cabin near Greer's Lake and write my books, several I have finished in prison," he wrote in the rambling letter, adding, "I competed nationally in trap, sheet [sic] and sporting clays would rather be in the woods hunting and fishing than anything else. I will live in a very remote part of Arkansas and not much threat from people but they do have a lot of black bears, cougars, and history of rabies." Greers Ferry Lake, in the foothills of the Ozarks, is noted for its large walleye and striped bass and its duck and waterfowl hunting.

Judge Burns responded in a letter on May 14, turning down Cunningham's request as beyond his authority. Both letters were initially reported by San Diego journalist Seth Hettena. The judge noted that most felons lose the right to own firearms because of the Gun Control Act of 1968.

"You would like to hunt and compete in trap and sport shooting contests. But there is neither a hunting nor sport shooting exemption in the federal gun ban," Burns wrote. He noted that Cunningham would have to appeal to the Treasury secretary and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for relief. But he added that Congress since 1992 "has refused to provide funding to the ATF" to review such applications.

For Cunningham, the letter is but the latest in a remarkable string of prison pleadings that indicate the disgraced former lawmaker blames everybody but himself for his plight. In other letters over the last year, he blamed his lawyers, the Justice Department, other defendants, and medications he was taking at the time he pleaded guilty. He complains bitterly that "the IRS has me poor for the rest of my life and they and DOJ has taken my home, savings, congressional retirement, [Thrift Savings Plan], Navy Federal Credit Union savings and my military retirement." In his last letter, he endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for president.

He also made a pointed reference to his former status as a naval aviator and the only Navy ace in the Vietnam War. In arguing he should be allowed to carry guns when he is out of prison, Cunningham wrote: "I flew aircraft that could disintegrate your building with a half second burst and now can't carry a 22 cal. Pls help me your honor. I don't have much left but this little thing is a big thing for me."

He said in the letter from the federal penitentiary in Tucson, Ariz., that he is scheduled to be released in December to a halfway house — six months before the scheduled June 4, 2013, completion of his 100-month sentence.

"This dark period in my life is about to get a little lighter but do not think it will ever get sunny."

He said he wants to spend time with his 99-year-old mother, his brother, and his family "away from the Union Tribune" — a reference to The San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley News Service, the newspaper and news organization that exposed his corruption.

At the time of his sentencing, Cunningham emotionally promised Judge Burns to spend the rest of his life "seeking to atone and seek forgiveness." But that pledge lasted less than an hour when he was taken to his cell after the court session and told U.S. Marshals that he was "being ram-rodded" and was not guilty. That theme has continued in his letters, one of which last year said he was the victim of a "grave injustice" brought on by "several media reporters who reminded me of ravening wolves trying to devour our family." He added that his lawyers coerced him to plead guilty to charges that were "95 percent not true."