TEN MYTHS ABOUT GUN CONTROL

Table of Contents

MYTH 1 -- Public opinion polls
MYTH 2 -- The purpose of a handgun
MYTH 3 -- Armed citizens don't deter crime
MYTH 4 -- Licensing and registration
MYTH 5 -- Foreign gun control works
MYTH 6 -- Crimes of passion and guns
MYTH 7 -- Semi-autos should be banned
MYTH 8 -- No `right' to own a gun
MYTH 9 -- Concealed carry laws are dangerous
MYTH 10 -- Gun control reduces crime
Ten Myths About Gun Control

"We will never fully solve our nation's horrific problem of gun violence unless we ban the manufacture and sale of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons." --USA Today, December 29, 1993
"Why should America adopt a policy of near-zero tolerance for private gun ownership?. .. (W)ho can still argue compellingly that Americans can be trusted to handle guns safely? We think the time has come for Americans to tell the truth about guns. They are not for us, we cannot handle them." --Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1993

These editorial opinions expressed by two of the nations most widely read newspapers represent the absolute extreme in the firearms controversy: that no citizen can be trusted to own a firearm. It is the product of a series of myths which--through incessant repetition--have been mistaken for truth. These myths are being exploited to generate fear and mistrust of the 60-65 million decent and responsible Americans who own firearms. Yet, as this document proves, none of these myths will stand up under the cold light of fact.

MYTH 1:"The majority of Americans favor strict new additional federal gun controls."

Polls can be slanted by carefully worded questions to achieve any desired outcome. It is a fact that most people do not know what laws currently exist; thus, it is meaningless to assert that people favor "stricter" laws when they do not know how "strict" the laws are in the first place. Asking about a waiting period for a police background check presumes, incorrectly, that police can and will actually conduct a check during the wait. Similarly, it is meaningless to infer anything from support of a 7- or 5-day waiting period when respondents live in a state with a 15-day wait or a 1-6 month permit scheme in place. Asked whether they favor making any particular law "stricter," however, most people do not. Unbiased, scientific polls have consistently shown that most people:
Oppose costly registration of firearms.
Oppose giving police power to decide who should own guns.
Do not believe that stricter gun laws would prevent criminals from illegally obtaining guns.
In 1993, Luntz Weber Research and Strategic Services found that only 9% of the American people believe "gun control" to be the most important thing that could be done to reduce crime. By a margin of almost 3-1, respondents said mandatory prison would reduce crime more than "gun control." This poll, unlike many others, allowed respondents to answer more honestly by using open ended questions without leading introductions. The result was an honest appraisal of the attitude of the American people: "gun control" is not crime control.
One clear example of a poll done which used biased questions and flawed procedures was conducted by Louis Harris Research Inc. (LHRI) in the summer of 1993. The poll reported unprecedented levels of gun abuse by high school students. However, after examining the poll, Professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University, the nation's leading scholar on crime and firearms, called the findings "...implausible, being inconsistent with more sophisticated prior research." Prof. Kleck found the Harris findings of students who had been shot at or who had actually shot at someone to be insupportable by crime and victimization statistics as reported by the Department of Justice: "Even if the percent of handgun crime victimization had doubled from the average for the 1979-1987 period, the LHRI results would still be overstated by a factor of 100." In the end, he labeled the LHRI poll "advocacy polling."1

A more direct measure of the public's attitude on "gun control" comes when the electorate has a chance to speak on the issue. Public opinion polls do not form public policy, but individual actions by hundreds of thousands of citizens do. For example, in 1993, the voters of Madison, Wisconsin, were presented with a referendum calling for a ban on handgun ownership in that city. Pollsters predicted an overwhelming win for the gun banners. When Second Amendment rights activists rallied opposition and educated the electorate on the facts about gun ownership, the referendum was defeated. In the 1993 gubernatorial elections, the incumbent governor in New Jersey and the front-runner in Virginia made "gun control" a central theme of their campaigns. Both candidates lost to opponents who stressed real criminal justice reforms, not "gun control." In November 1982, Californians rejected, by a 63-37% margin, a statewide handgun initiative that called for the registration of all handguns and a "freeze" on the number of handguns allowed in the state. Again, pre-elect ion pollsters reported support for the measure. That initiative was also opposed by the majority of California's law enforcement community. Fifty-one of the state's 58 working sheriffs opposed Proposition 15, as did 101 chiefs of police. Nine law enforcement organizations, speaking for rank-and-file police, went on record against the initiative.

Increasingly, the American people are voicing support for reform of the criminal justice system. The NRA also actively supports initiatives calling for mandatory jail time for violent criminals. In 1982, the residents of Washington, D.C., enacted an NRA-endorsed mandatory penalty bill, actively opposed by the anti-gun D.C. City Council, that severely punishes those who use firearms to commit a violent crime . In 1988, the residents of Oregon approved, by a 78-22% margin, an NRA-supported initiative mandating prison sentences for repeat offenders after the state legislature and governor failed to act on the issue. In 1993, the residents of Washington state overwhelmingly approved the "three strikes you're out" initiative calling for life sentences without parole for anyone convicted of a third serious crime. NRA's CrimeStrike program was instrumental in collecting the needed signatures to put that question on the ballot.

In 1993, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association conducted a scientific poll of its members. Sixty-five percent of the respondents identified "gun control" as the least effective method of combating violent crime. Only 1% ide ntified guns as a cause of violent crime, while 48% selected drug abuse, and 21% said the failure of the criminal justice system was the most pressing cause. The officers also revealed that 97% support the right of the people to own firearms, and 90% said they believed the Constitution guarantees that right.

The SSPBA findings affirmed a series of polls conducted by the National Association of Chiefs of Police of every chief and sheriff in the country, representing over 15,000 departments. In 1991 the poll discovered for the third year in a row that law enforcement officers overwhelmingly agree that "gun control" measures have no effect on crime. A clear majority of 93% of the respondents said that banning firearms would not reduce a criminal's ability to get firearms, while 89% said that the banning of semi-automatic firearms would not reduce criminal access to such firearms. Ninety-two percent felt that criminals obtain their firearms from illegal sources; 90% agreed that the banning of private ownership of firearms would not result in fewer crimes. Seventy-three percent felt that a national waiting period would have no effect on criminals getting firearms. An overwhelming 90% felt that such a scheme would instead make agencies less effective against crime by reducing their manpower and only serve to open them up to liability lawsuits.

These are the only national polls of law enforcement officers in the country, with the leadership of most other major groups adamantly refusing to poll their membership on firearms issues.

1 Kleck, "Reasons for Skepticism on the Results from a New Poll on: The Incidence of Gun Violence Among Young People," The Public Perspective, Sept./Oct. 1993.

MYTH 2: "The only purpose of a handgun is to kill people."

This often repeated statement is patently untrue, but to those Americans whose only knowledge of firearms comes from the nightly violence on television, it might seem believable. When anti-gun researcher James Wright, then of the University of Massachusetts, studied all the available literature on firearms, he concluded: "Even the most casual and passing familiarity with this literature is therefore sufficient to believe the contention that handguns have `no legitimate sport or recreational use.' "
There are an estimated 65-70 million privately owned handguns in the United States that are used for hunting, target shooting, protection of families and businesses, and other legitimate and lawful purposes. By comparison, handguns were used in an estimated 13,200 homicides in 1992 --less than 0.02% (two hundredths of 1%) of the handguns in America. Many of these reported homicides (1,500-2,800) were self-defense or justifiable and, therefore, not criminal. That fact alone renders the myth about the "only purpose" of handguns absurd, for more than 99% of all handguns are used for no criminal purpose.

By far the most commonly cited reason for owning a handgun is protection against criminals. At least one-half of handgun owners in America own handguns for protection and security. A handgun's function is one of insurance as well as defense. A handgun in the home is a contingency, based on the knowledge that if there ever comes a time when it is needed, no substitute will do. Certainly no violent intent is implied, any more than a purchaser of life insurance intends to die soon.

MYTH 3:"Since a gun in a home is many times more likely to kill a family member than to stop a criminal, armed citizens are not a deterrent to crime."

This myth, stemming from a superficial "study" of firearm accidents in the Cleveland, Ohio, area, represents a comparison of 148 accidental deaths (including suicides) to the deaths of 23 intruders killed by home owners over a 16-year period. 2

Gross errors in this and similar "studies"--with even greater claimed ratios of harm to good--include: the assumption that a gun hasn't been used for protection unless an assailant dies; no distinction is made between handgun and long gun deaths; all accidental firearm fatalities were counted whether the deceased was part of the "family" or not; all accidents were counted whether they occurred in the home or not, while self-defense outside the home was excluded; almost half the self-defense uses of guns in the home were excluded on the grounds that the criminal intruder killed may not have been a total stranger to the home defender; suicides were sometimes counted and some self-defense shootings misclassified. Cleveland's experience with crime and accidents during the study period was atypical of the nation as a whole and of Cleveland since the mid-1970s. Moreover, in a later study, the same researchers noted that roughly 10% of killings by civilians are justifiable homicides. 3

The "guns in the home" myth has been repeated time and again by the media, and anti-gun academics continue to build on it. In 1993, Dr. Arthur Kellermann of Emory University and a number of colleagues presented a study that claimed to show that a home with a gun was much more likely to experience a homicide.4 However, Dr. Kellermann selected for his study only homes where homicides had taken place--ignoring the millions of homes with firearms where no harm is done--and a control group that was not representative of American households. By only looking at homes where homicides had occurred and failing to control for more pertinent variables, such as prior criminal record or histories of violence, Kellermann et al. skewed the results of this study. Prof. Kleck wrote that with the methodology used by Kellermann, one could prove that since diabetics are much more likely to possess insulin than non-diabetics, possession of insulin is a risk factor for diabetes. Even Dr. Kellermann admitted this in his study: "It is possible that reverse causation accounted for some of the association we observed between gun ownership and homicide." Law Professor Daniel D. Polsby went further, "Indeed the point is stronger than that: 'reverse causation' may account for most of the association between gun ownership and homicide. Kellermann's data simply do not allow one to draw any conclusion."5

Research conducted by Professors James Wright and Peter Rossi,6 for a landmark study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, points to the armed citizen as possibly the most effective deterrent to crime in the nation. Wright and Rossi questioned over 1,800 felons serving time in prisons across the nation and found:

81% agreed the "smart criminal" will try to find out if a potential victim is armed.
74% felt that burglars avoided occupied dwellings for fear of being shot.
80% of "handgun predators" had encountered armed citizens.
40% did not commit a specific crime for fear that the victim was armed.
34% of "handgun predators" were scared off or shot at by armed victims.
57% felt that the typical criminal feared being shot by citizens more than he feared being shot by police.
Professor Kleck estimates that annually 1,500-2,800 felons are legally killed in "excusable self-defense" or "justifiable" shootings by civilians, and 8,000-16,000 criminals are wounded. This compares to 300-600 justifiable homicides by police. Yet, in most instances, civilians used a firearm to threaten, apprehend, shoot at a criminal, or to fire a warning shot without injuring anyone.

Based on his extensive independent survey research, Kleck estimates that each year Americans use guns for protection from criminals more than 2.5 million times annually. 7 U.S. Department of Justice victimization surveys show that protective use of a gun lessens the chance that robberies, rapes, and assaults will be successfully completed while also reducing the likelihood of victim injury. Clearly, criminals fear armed citizens.

2 Rushforth, et al., "Accidental Firearm Fatalities in a Metropolitan County, " 100 American Journal of Epidemiology 499 (1975).
3 Rushforth, et al., "Violent Death in a Metropolitan County," 297 New England Journal of Medicine 531, 533 (1977).
4 Kellermann, et al., "Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home," New England Journal of Medicine 467 (1993).
5 Polsby, "The False Promise of Gun Control," The Atlantic Monthly, March 1994.
6 Wright and Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms (N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter, 1986).
7 Kleck, interview, Orange County Register,Sept. 19, 1993.

MYTH 4:"Honest citizens have nothing to fear from gun registration and licensing which will curb crime by disarming criminals."

"Gun control" proponents tout automobile registration and licensing as model schemes for firearm ownership. Yet driving an automobile on city or state roads is a privilege and, as s uch, can be regulated, while the individual right to possess firearms is constitutionally protected from infringement. Registration and licensing do not prevent criminal misuse nor accidental fatalities involving motor vehicles in America, where more than 40,000 people die on the nation's highways each year. By contrast, about 1,400 persons are involved in fatal firearm accidents each year.
Registration and licensing have no effect on crime, as criminals, by definition, do not obey laws. Indeed, a national survey of prisoners conducted by Wright and Rossi for the Department of Justice found that 82% agreed that "gun laws only affect law-abiding citizens; criminals will always be able to get guns."

Further, felons are constitutionally exempt from a gun registration requirement. According to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Haynes v. U.S., since felons are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, compelling them to register firearms would violate the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. 8 Only law-abiding citizens would be required to comply with registration--citizens who have neither committed crime nor have any intention of doing so.

Registration and licensing of America's 60-65 million gun owners and their 200 million firearms would require the creation of a huge bureaucracy at tremendous cost to the taxpayer, with absolutely no tangible anti-crime return. Indeed, New Zealand authorities repealed registration in the 1980s after police acknowledged its worthlessness, and a similar recommendation was made by Australian law enforcement. Law enforcement would be diverted from its primary responsibility, apprehending and arresting criminals, to investigating and processing paperwork on law-abiding citizens.

In the U.S., after President Clinton, Attorney General Reno, and others announced support for registration and licensing, police response was immediate and non-supportive. Dewey Stokes, President of the Fraternal Order of Police said ... I don't want to get into a situation where we have gun registration." Other law enforcement officers responded even more strongly. Charles Canterbury, President of the South Carolina FOP said, "On behalf of the South Carolina law enforcement, I can say we are adamantly opposed to registration of guns." Dennis Martin, President of the National Association of Chiefs of Police reported, "I have had a lot of calls from police chiefs and sheriffs who are worried about this. They are afraid that we're going to create a lot of criminals out of law-abiding people who don't want to get a license for their gun.

Finally, a national registration/licensing scheme would violate an individual's right to privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment and establish a basis upon which gun confiscation could be implemented. More than 60,000 rifles and shotguns were confiscated in April, 1989 from honest citizens who had dutifully registered their guns with the authorities in Soviet Georgia (Chicago Sun-Times, April 12, 1989, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, May 21, 1989). Could that happen in America? Gun prohibitionists in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., have already proposed using registration lists for such purposes. And, since 1991, New York City authorities have used registration lists to enforce a ban on semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Avowed handgun prohibitionist Charles Morgan, as director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, in a 1975 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Crime stated: "I have not one doubt, even if I am in agreement with the National Rifle Association, that kind of a record-keeping procedure is the first step to eventual confiscation under one administration or another."

Reasonable fears of such confis cation lead otherwise law-abiding citizens to ignore such laws, creating a disrespect for law and a lessened support for government. In states and cities which recently required registration of semi-automatic firearms, estimates of compliance range from 5 to 10%.

8 Haynes v. U.S., 309 U.S. 85 (1968).

MYTH 5: "Stiff `gun control' laws work as shown by the low crime rates in England and Japan, while U. S crime rates continue to soar."

All criminologists studying the firearms issue reject simple comparisons of violent crime among foreign countries. It is impossible to draw valid conclusions without taking into account differences in each nation's collection of crime data, and their political, cultural, racial, religious, and economic disparities. Such factors are not only hard to compare, they are rarely, if ever, taken into account by "gun control" proponents.9
Only one scholar, attorney David Kopel, has attempted to evaluate the impact of "gun control" on crime in several foreign countries. In his book The Samurai, The Mountie and The Cowboy: Should America adopt the gun controls of other democracies?, named a 1992 Book of the Year by the American Society of Criminology, Kopel examined numerous nations with varying gun laws, and concluded: "Contrary to the claims of the American gun control movement, gun control does not deserve credit for the low crime rates in Britain, Japan, or other nations." He noted that Israel and Switzerland, with more widespread rates of gunownership, have crime rates comparable to or lower than the usual foreign examples. And he stated: "Foreign style gun control is doomed to failure in America. Foreign gun control comes along with searches and seizures, and with many other restrictions on civil liberties too intrusive for America. Foreign gun control...postulates an authoritarian philosophy of government fundamentally at odds with the individualist and egalitarian American ethos."10

America's high crime rates can be attributed to re volving-door justice. In a typical year in the U.S., there are 8.1 million serious crimes like homicide, assault, and burglary. Only 724,000 adults are arrested and fewer still (193,000) are convicted. Less than 150,000 are sentenced to prison, with 36,00 0 serving less than a year (U.S. News and World Report, July 31, 1989). A 1987 National Institute of Justice study found that the average felon released due to prison overcrowding commits upwards of 187 crimes per year, costing society approximately $430, 000.

Foreign countries are two to six times more effective in solving crimes and punishing criminals than the U.S. In London, about 20% of reported robberies end in conviction; in New York City, less than 5% result in conviction, and in those cases imprisonment is frequently not imposed. Nonetheless, England annually has twice as many homicides with firearms as it did before adopting its tough laws. Despite tight licensing procedures, the handgun-related robbery rate in Britain rose about 200% duri ng the past dozen years, five times as fast as in the U.S.

Part of Japan's low crime rate is explained by the efficiency of its criminal justice system, fewer protections of the right to privacy, and fewer rights for criminal suspects than exist in the United States. Japanese police routinely search citizens at will and twice a year pay "home visits" to citizens' residences. Suspect confession rate is 95% and trial conviction rate is over 99.9%. The Tokyo Bar Association has said that the Japanese police routinely "...engage in torture or illegal treatment. Even in cases where suspects claimed to have been tortured and their bodies bore the physical traces to back their claims, courts have still accepted their confessions." Neither the powers and secrecy of the police nor the docility of defense counsel would be acceptable to most Americans. In addition, the Japanese police understate the amount of crime, particularly covering up the problem of organized crime, in order to appear more efficient an d worthy of the respect the citizens have for the police.

Widespread respect for law and order is deeply ingrained in the Japanese citizenry. This cultural trait has been passed along to their descendants in the United States where the murder ratef or Japanese-Americans (who have access to firearms) is similar to that in Japan itself. If gun availability were a factor in crime rates, one would expect European crime rates to be related to firearms availability in those countries, but crime rat es are similar in European countries with high or relatively high gun ownership, such as Switzerland, Israel, and Norway, and in low availability countries like England and Germany. Furthermore, one would expect American violent crime rates to be more sim ilar to European rates in crime where guns are rarely used, such as rape, than in crimes where guns are often used, such as homicide. But the reverse is true: American non-gun violent crime rates exceed those of European countries.

9 Wright, et al ., Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America (N.Y.: Aldine, 1983).
10 Kopel, "The Samurai, The Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America adopt the gun controls of other democracies?' (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1992), 431-32.

see the remaining 5 myths here..... TEN MYTHS ABOUT GUN CONTROL