Ten Myths About Gun Control
By Glen Otero, PhD
For about a generation now, crime has run rampant in America. Since the 1960s our rates of violent assault, murder, and rape have led the industrialized world. More recently we have been able to cut these violent acts sharply back by a return to an older policy: strong punishment for violent offenders. This policy emerged from data discovered in the 1980s, and it is proving a powerful remedy to one of society’s chief ills.
Even as this policy has been vindicated by the clearest evidence, opponents of tough criminal justice laws deny its efficacy. Instead, a competing idea has grown up to explain violence among us. And with that idea has grown up a new policy to combat crime. This policy seeks to displace tough punishment of the guilty. Indeed it does not even address itself directly to those who commit crimes. Rather it addresses a tool that criminals, as well as millions of law abiding citizens, sometimes use.
This new policy is gun control. Across our country a new regime of gun control is emerging in a dozen forms. The movement exploits every celebrated act of violence to advance its agenda. The attention given to these incidents overwhelms the hundreds of thousands of offsetting cases in which guns are used as defensive weapons to save the lives and property of the innocent.
At the Claremont Institute, we are devoted to the Constitution, and we take seriously therefore its Second Amendment: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."
In many things today, we are too ready to think that the principles of the American Revolution are relics of an irrelevant past. Neglect and defiance of the Second Amendment is one of the worst examples. But before we consign the right to keep and bear arms to the ash heap of history, let us look at some contemporary facts that suggest that the founding principles reflect truths that have not died.
—Larry P. Arnn
 See "Ten Myths on Crime," by Joseph Bessette, The Claremont Institute, 1992 (GSP #13).
 Consider the puzzled tone of New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield, in an article this August : "The nation’s prison population grew by 5.2 percent in 1997," Butterfield wrote, "even though crime has been declining for six straight years." The headline read: "Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops," New York Times, August 9, 1998, p. 18 (emphases added).
This is arguably the most pervasive untruth associated with firearms. It is true that there is a great deal of gun-related violent crime in this country, including homicide, robbery and assault. Additionally, the proliferation of firearms in this country has been steadily increasing. These two facts have led many to believe that the increase in guns in this country is responsible for the increase in violent crime. However, decades of data collecting and analysis reveal that nothing about a guns/crime relationship is self-evident.
In 1978 the National Institute of Justice initiated a study to examine the relationship between firearms and violence. Upon reviewing the criminological research to date, the authors of the study concluded that there were no strong causal connections between private gun ownership and the crime rate. Furthermore, they added that there was no good evidence supporting the idea that homicide occurs just because guns are readily available, or its corollary, that many homicides would not occur were guns less available.
Since 1978, criminological studies examining the relationship between violent crime and private gun ownership have typically found no significant positive effect of gun ownership on the violent crime rate. Some studies actually find a negative relationship. In other words, areas with high gun ownership experienced less crime than comparable areas with lower firearm ownership. Studies that draw a causal inference from a gun/homicide correlation usually fail to take into account the possible reverse relationship. That is, these studies do not address the possibility that high crime rates may have stimulated higher gun ownership, and not just the reverse.
The national homicide, gun homicide, robbery and gun robbery rates, as well as the percentage of guns involved in aggravated assault, have not significantly increased from what they were in 1974. However, the number of firearms in this country increased 75 percent between 1974-1994, for a total of nearly 236 million guns. While the number of guns steadily increased in this country between 1974-1994, half of that time the homicide and robbery rates were decreasing, the other half they were increasing, resulting in no net change. The proliferation of firearms during this period cannot be held responsible for an increase in the violent crime rate when in fact there has been no such increase. Furthermore, since 1994, the homicide rate has continued to drop, hitting a low in 1996 not seen since 1969.
A simple calculation demonstrates that a very small fraction of the existing guns are actually involved in any crime. The criminologist Gary Kleck estimated the percentage of circulating guns actually involved in a crime for 1993. Let us assume, as he did, that each of the 1,134,102 fatal and nonfatal gun-related incidents in 1993 were committed with a different gun. This is a conservative assumption that undoubtedly overestimates the actual number of guns involved in violent crime. This number, divided by 228,660,966, the number of guns in circulation that year, means that less than 0.5 percent of all guns were used in a crime. Adjusting the calculations to accommodate crimes involving only handguns yields a little over 1 percent of the circulating handguns in 1993 being involved in a crime. Further analysis by Kleck estimates that less than 1 percent of all guns will ever be used in a crime. Approximately 99 percent of all guns are never involved in any crime.
Sources: Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). "Murder and Nonnegligent Manslaughter." FBI Uniform Crime Reports for the United States, 1996-1997. Available: http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/CIUS/96CRIME/96CRIME.PDF (26 October 1998). Lisa D. Bastian and Patsy A. Klaus, "Criminal Victimization in the United States: 1973-92 Trends," U.S. Department of Justice, 1994. J. Wright, P. Rossi, and K. Daly, Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in the United States, (New York: Aldine, 1983).
In 1995, Robert Walker, a lobbyist for Handgun Control Inc., claimed that 1,400 children are killed as a result of fatal gun accidents each year. But that shocking claim is contradicted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the National Safety Council (NSC). According to these agencies, 181 children 0-14 years of age were victims of fatal gun accidents in 1995. Since 1970, the first year data is available from the NSC and the NCHS, fatal gun accidents involving children under fifteen have not even approximated one half the number Walker claimed.
Statistics quoted as representative of gun accidents involving preadolescents (children under fourteen) are often inflated by including adolescent and young adult incidents as well. This is a serious error since adolescents and young adults are the highest risk categories for firearm accidents. Lumping together children and adults seriously distorts the incidents attributed to preadolescent children and infants. After properly separating children from adults, one finds that while the number of guns increased 75 percent between 1974 and 1994, the number of fatal gun accidents involving children ages 0-14 years decreased 65 percent over the same period.
Understandably, fatal gun accidents involving children tend to generate heavy publicity. This disproportionate press coverage often implies that the majority of accidental deaths of children is caused by firearms. In reality however, between 1993-1996, fatal gun accidents accounted for less than 4 percent of all the accidental deaths involving children under fifteen. Furthermore, firearm accidents involving children under age 10 constituted just over 1 percent of accidental children deaths in this age group from 1993-1995.
Sources: David B. Kopel, ed. Guns, Who Should Have Them?, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995). "10 Leading Causes of Death, United States 1993-95." Available: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/osp/leadcaus/ustable.htm (4 May 1998). "Deaths Due to Unintentional Injuries, 1996 Type of Event and Age of Victim." Accident Facts. 22 Sept. 1997. Available: http://www.nsc.org/lrs/statinfo/afp08.htm#H (22 October 1998). Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997).
The availability of guns is often presumed to increase the suicide rate. In fact, our suicide rates are higher than our homicide rates. Nonetheless, between 1974-1994, while the civilian gun stock increased 75 percent, the total suicide rate in this country fluctuated very little and amounted to 12 deaths per 100,000 persons in 1974 and 1994. Evidently, the remarkable increase in the number of guns in this country has not increased the rate of suicide.
If gun availability does influence suicide, one would have to explain why countries with strict gun control laws, such as West Germany, France, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg, Norway and Canada, have higher suicide rates than the U.S. If we group the suicides and homicides together as an indicator of handgun availability, the U.S. falls below the international median in this statistic. The view that gun availability has a direct effect on total suicide rates, here and abroad, is not supported by any empirical evidence or technically sound studies.
It is worth noting, however, that the rate of suicides committed with guns, or the gun suicide rate, increased slightly from 6.7 to 7.2 deaths per 100,000 persons in the last twenty years. Similarly, the percentage of suicides committed with guns increased slightly from 55.4 percent in 1974 to 60.3 percent in 1994. The slight increase in the rate and percentage of gun suicides demonstrates that increased gun availability does correlate with an increase in the number of suicides committed with guns. Additionally, nine of thirteen studies conducted between 1984 and 1993 also found a positive association between gun levels and the gun suicide rate. However, only one of the studies found a direct correlation between gun levels and the total suicide rate, and there is reason to believe that this study is flawed technically, having used an invalid method to measure gun availability. A study of state level data in 1990 also found a direct correlation between gun levels and gun suicides but not total suicides.
It should be reemphasized that the increases in the number of suicides committed with guns and the gun suicide rate represent firearms being chosen more often in suicides, and not an increase in total suicides. So, while people in this country are more frequently choosing firearms as the means of self-destruction, the number of total suicides remains relatively unchanged.
Sources: Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). Don B. Kates Jr. and Gary Kleck, The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence, (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997).
Comparing the U.S. to the low guns/low crime societies of the United Kingdom or Canada is one of the most common arguments among gun control advocates. In rebuttal, gun control opponents typically reference high guns/low crime nations such as Switzerland and Israel. However, these comparisons miss the mark. The futility of pairwise comparisons between nations’ crime rates relative to their gun ownership becomes apparent once one realizes that there are countries with every permutation: the US (high guns/high crime); Switzerland and Israel (high guns/low crime); Japan (low guns/low crime); and Mexico (low guns/high crime). Any two countries can be compared or contrasted to make any point desired.
A simple thought experiment will illustrate this point: Three countries, X, Y and Z have very strict anti-gun laws. Should we assume their homicide rates to be very low? In fact, X, Y and Z have homicide rates 100-150 percent greater than the U.S. (compare the U.S. homicide rate at 9.5 people killed/100,000 to X’s 19.7/100,000 in 1993). Should we suppose that X, Y and Z have one common feature that is responsible for their homicide rates? Since X, Y and Z are low guns/high crime societies, should we assume that guns are not causing the homicides? If so, why not?
X, Y and Z are actually Russia, Taiwan and South Africa, respectively. But which one characteristic, the same in Russia, Taiwan and South Africa throughout the past and present, is responsible for their homicide rates? Attempting to distill the cause of homicide down to one factor such as guns, in each of these very diverse countries, is difficult if not impossible.
Gun control advocates claim that the crime rate is low in the UK because the British have fewer guns than Americans. But European countries have always had lower violent crime rates than the US, even before strict gun control laws were passed. Moreover, many violent crime rates in Europe and elsewhere are increasing faster than in the U.S. right now.
Furthermore, the logic of the low guns/low crime rate fails when one considers that the UK’s homicide rate is lower for non-gun homicides as well. Clearly, fewer homicides committed with knives, sticks, etc. cannot be attributable to gun control.
Very little can be concluded from international studies focused on the guns/crime relationship. Not surprisingly, most of the research is technically weak. The best available homicide and suicide data collected from 36 countries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when analyzed by Gary Kleck, demonstrates that there is no significant correlation between gun ownership and homicide.
To summarize, there is no consistent global correlation between gun availability and violent crime rates.
Sources: Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control. (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). Don B. Kates Jr. and Gary Kleck, The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence. (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997).
In an attempt to identify and isolate ‘bad’ guns, monikers like ‘assault weapon’ and ‘Saturday Night Special’ were created. In fact, the term ‘assault weapon’ does not exist in firearms technical literature, but was created by gun control advocates no earlier than 1985. An ‘assault weapon’ is loosely defined as a semi-automatic firearm with a ‘military appearance’. Many semi-automatic rifles, pistols and even shotguns can fit this vague description. Other weapons having a hi-tech or a futuristic look, although not related to any military firearm, may also be considered ‘assault weapons’. Assault rifles, on the other hand, are clearly defined in the Defense Department’s Defense Intelligence Agency manual Small Arms Identification and Operation Guide as ‘short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges’. In short, assault rifles are military issue combat rifles that can fire automatically. These military assault rifles and other machine guns have been tightly regulated ever since 1934, with the passage of the National Firearms Act. None of the current ‘assault weapon’ laws applies to these long-prohibited firearms.
The inability clearly to define an ‘assault weapon’ led to the banning of several specific makes and models of firearms in California as a result of the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Control Act in 1989. However, the legislation did not include several firearms similar to the 75 that were banned, and it contained a provision that allowed the Attorney General to add firearms to the list with a judge’s approval. These shortcomings in the legislation were deemed unconstitutional and struck down by the California Third Appellate Court of Appeals under the precept that they violated the principle of equal protection under the law. The court went so far as to say that the whole law may be unconstitutional and has asked a lower court to review it further. Part of the 1994 federal Crime Bill included the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use and Protection Act, a.k.a. the Clinton Assault Weapon Ban. That act is plagued with similar legislative shortcomings and is being challenged in a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Since 1994, President Clinton has taken advantage of the vague definition of an ‘assault weapon’ and the ambiguity of the legislation, in an attempt to ban more firearms. He recently issued an order that bars the import of several other ‘assault weapons’ that comply with the 1994 law. The ‘assault weapon’ debate is by far the most publicized and most controversial firearm-related topic to date. But a few examples will suffice to demonstrate that ‘assault weapons’ are not preferred by criminals:
Los Angeles: A study of drive-by shootings in Los Angeles indicated that out of 583 documented incidents, in only one was an ‘assault weapon’ used. Only 3 percent of the guns recovered by police in Los Angeles in 1988 were classified as ‘assault weapons’.
San Francisco: 2.2 percent of the guns confiscated in 1988 were military style semi-automatic firearms.
Oakland: 4.3 percent of the guns recovered by police in Oakland between 1985-1990 were of the ‘assault weapon’ category, while ‘assault weapons’ involved in gun-related homicides in that city amounted to 3.7 percent in 1991.
San Diego: Only 0.3 percent of the guns recovered by police in San Diego between 1988-1990 were classified as ‘assault weapons’.
California: In California, just over 3 percent of the guns recovered from homicides, aggravated assaults and drug dealers in 1990 were ‘assault weapons’.
Nationwide: Analysis of guns recovered by police nationwide between 1980-1994 demonstrates that on average, less than 2 percent of the guns used in crime are ‘assault weapons’. Just over 2 percent of all the felons in the United States incarcerated up until 1991 for committing violent crimes with a firearm used an assault rifle or ‘assault weapon’. Less than 1 percent of homicides are committed using an assault rifle. During the years 1975-1992 only 1 percent of police officers murdered in the line of duty were shot with firearms considered ‘assault weapons’ by California law.
Just as ‘assault weapons’ are not preferred by criminals, neither are ‘Saturday Night Specials’. Like the term ‘assault weapon’, the label ‘Saturday Night Special’ is also vague. For all intents and purposes, a ‘Saturday Night Special’ is an inexpensive, low caliber handgun, with a barrel that is under three inches long. Like ‘assault weapons’, the characteristics that define ‘Saturday Night Specials’ are cosmetic in nature. However, ‘Saturday Night Specials’, thus defined, are involved in less than 3 percent of violent crime, and only about 2 percent of all ‘Saturday Night Specials’ will ever be used in a violent crime. In support of this statistic, felons interviewed by Wright and Rossi admitted to actually preferring larger caliber handguns. These are not much harder to conceal and are considerably more powerful than ‘Saturday Night Specials’. The heated debate and copious legislation surrounding these ‘bad’ guns is striking, considering they are not the guns most utilized by criminals.
Sources: David B. Kopel, ed., Guns, Who Should Have Them?, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995). Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). Wright, J., and Peter H. Rossi, "The Armed Criminal in America: A Survey of Incarcerated Felons," National Institute of Justice, 1985.
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) predicted in 1987 that 83 percent of people in this country would be a victim of violent crime during their lifetime. Considering the violent crime rate has not changed significantly, about 80 percent of the citizenry, in possession of over 230 million guns, with nearly half the households having a gun, are going to come face to face with a violent criminal one day. This situation makes one think that there would be many instances of defensive gun use in this country. In fact, thirteen studies conducted between 1976 and 1994 estimated that there were between 770,00 and 3.6 million civilian defensive gun uses per year.
The National Self-Defense Survey (NSDS), conducted by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz in 1993, has yielded the most accurate estimate of defensive gun use to date. While designing this landmark study, the authors corrected many flaws found in several previous surveys. In doing so, the authors constructed the first survey ever specifically designed to tally the number of defensive gun uses in this country. The survey revealed that between 1988-1993 civilians used guns in self-defense 2.2-2.5 million times per year, saving between 240,000- 400,000 lives each year. Based on their results, Kleck and Gertz estimated that the number of defensive gun uses is three to four times that of illegal gun uses.
While 2.2-2.5 million defensive gun uses per year compares favorably with the results obtained in the thirteen previous studies, it is roughly 35 times higher than the 65-80,000 defensive gun uses documented by the National Crime Victimization Surveys (NCVS) for the years 1979-1990. In addressing the disparity between the NSDS, the NCVS, and the results obtained with either survey, Kleck has pointed out several reasons why the NCVS, while a good survey for determining the number of criminal victimizations in this country, was very poorly designed to document the number of defensive gun uses. (The NCVS relies on questioning, conducted without anonymity, by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Department of Justice. One can understand the unwillingness of respondents to report the use of firearms—even if entirely justifiable—to the highest law enforcement agency in the country.)
Sources: Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). Don B. Kates Jr., and Gary Kleck, The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence, (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997). Michael R. Rand, "Guns and Crime: Handgun Victimization, Firearm Self-Defense, and Firearm Theft," U.S. Department of Justice, 1994.
Gun control as a whole has not worked to reduce violent crime rates in this country. A large amount of the research on gun control measures, particularly that referenced by gun control advocacy groups, is technically poor. Out of the 21 most accurate studies, 17 found that gun control laws did not reduce violent crime rates; two studies resulted in ambiguous results and two studies indicated a negative (inverse) effect on violent crime rates. Furthermore, of the 21 studies, the most comprehensive one tested the effects of 19 different gun control laws on six categories of violent crime. The researchers found that of 102 direct tests, only three demonstrated definitively that a particular measure worked in reducing the rate of a particular violent crime. Fifteen tests yielded ambiguous results; the remaining 84 tests yielded negative results. The authors concluded that the various gun control laws have no overall significant effect on violent crime rates. Summarily, the body of research on the effects of gun control laws cannot be considered supportive of their efficacy.
A gun control law that has spawned a lot of controversy is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act or Brady Bill. The Brady law requires a mandatory five-day waiting period between the purchase and acquisition of a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. During this waiting period it is determined whether the prospective purchaser of a handgun is a person prohibited ownership of handguns by any State or Federal law. Despite research demonstrating that waiting periods do not lower violent crime (see above), the Brady Act went into effect on February 28, 1994.
When the Brady Bill was signed into law, eighteen states and Washington D.C. were automatically exempt from the law because they already had stricter gun control laws. These exempt states and D.C. accounted for 63 percent of the nation’s violent crimes and 58 percent of the nation’s murders. Two of the originally exempt states, California and New York, have the highest and second highest number of murders and violent crimes, respectively. By 1997, ten more states had become exempt from the Brady Bill. The 28 exempt states and D.C. accounted for 75 percent of all violent crimes and 70 percent of the murders in the nation. In fact, California and New York have more violent crimes than the remaining 22 states subject to the five-day wait.
The Clinton Administration is constantly misquoting the Bureau of Justice Statistics regarding the number of persons denied handgun purchases under Brady. The numbers compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics need to be viewed with skepticism, since they often do not take into account states that have become exempt under Brady. Despite the number of persons claimed by the President to have been denied handgun purchases under Brady, the actual number is 3 percent, or less, of prospective owners per year. This means that 97 percent of persons attempting to purchase handguns from federally licensed dealers are law-abiding citizens. The actual number is undoubtedly higher since a study conducted by the General Accounting Office (GAO) determined that half of the denials in the first year of Brady enforcement were wrongly dispensed due to clerical errors and other technicalities, and later reversed.
Using crime rate data for all 3,054 counties in the U.S. between 1977 and 1994, John Lott completed an analysis of the Brady law’s impact during its first year. His research demonstrated that the law had no significant effect on murder or robbery rates, while rape and aggravated assault rates experienced significant increases.
The GAO also determined that in the first 17 months of Brady enforcement, only seven individuals were convicted of illegal attempts to purchase a handgun, and only three of these were sent to prison.
Additionally, the part of Brady that incorporates local police forces to do the federal government’s bidding has been ruled unconstitutional. Yet, the current administration wants to keep the five-day waiting period in effect even though that provision of the bill expired on November 30th of last year. Although the administration claims that it deters crime, the only thing Brady does for sure is criminalize the law-abiding citizen.
Sources: Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). David B. Kopel, ed. Guns, Who Should Have Them?, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995). Donald A. Manson and Darrell K. Gilliard, "Presale Handgun Checks, 1996," U.S. Department of Justice, 1997. Donald A. Manson and Darrell K. Gilliard, "Presale Handgun Checks, 1997," U.S. Department of Justice, 1998. Don Manson and Gene Lauver, "Presale Firearm Checks," U.S. Department of Justice, 1997. Sarah Brady, "Statement of Sarah Brady Re: New DOJ Report On Brady Law Success." Handgun Control, Inc. News Releases. (21 June 1998). Available: http://www.handguncontrol.org/e-main.htm (30 June 1998). "The ‘Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act’ Does It Live Up To Its Name?" ILA Research & Information Division Fact Sheet. (1 May 1997).
Available: http://www.nra.org/research/fsbrady.html (June 1998). John R. Lott Jr., More Guns, Less Crime, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998).
The infamous study that yielded this illogical statistic is just one of many that litter the public health and medical literature. Serious shortcomings in rationale and methodology plague the study. Nevertheless, the 43:1 ratio is arguably the gun control advocate’s most cited statistic.
The study’s authors start from the presumption that the effectiveness of gun ownership for self-defense can only be ascertained by contrasting dead intruders with dead innocents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Similar to police forces and other household security measures, the real benefits of gun ownership, demonstrated in the NSDS, are to be counted not in corpses but in lives saved and crimes deterred. In no way do the authors address this. In fact, the study only counted homes in which a homicide or suicide took place, ignoring gun-containing households that may have successfully defended themselves from criminal victimization with a firearm or had no incidents occur at all.
In an attempt to conjure up a risk factor due to having a gun in the home, the authors tallied the gun related deaths in the homes studied. In doing so, the authors included suicides. Of the 43 gun related deaths included in the study, 37 were suicides. The inclusion of suicides as gun related deaths would be reasonable if gun availability affected suicide rates. But, as explained in disputing Myth #3, gun availability does not influence suicide rates. The suicides would almost certainly have occurred by some other means in the absence of a gun. Additionally, the authors excluded many cases of lawful self-defense homicide. So, in deriving their risk factor of gun related deaths vs. self-defense homicides, the authors used an inflated numerator and an under-representative denominator.
Moreover, the Seattle-based homes investigated were not the average American households. The study group was teeming with high-risk households that contained a disproportionate number of people with histories of arrests, drug abuse and domestic violence. By studying these high-risk homes, one cannot make sweeping generalizations regarding the rest of this country.
Sources: Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). David B. Kopel, "The 43:1 Fallacy." Independence Feature Syndicate Opinion-Editorial. 1998. Available: http://www.i2i.org/SuptDocs/Crime/43_to_1_fallacy.htm
The utility of defensive gun use can be determined by referencing the NCVS database and analyzing crime incidents that occurred between 1979-1985. These files are the most detailed and representative account of the defensive actions of victims. According to the information in the database, guns are the most effective weapon and means of self-defense in thwarting robbery and assault. When using a gun in self-defense, 83 percent of robbery victims and 88 percent of assault victims were not injured. Furthermore, only one in four victims using a gun in self-defense was even attacked during a robbery or assault. These rates were by far the lowest compared to other weapons, bodily force, or nonviolent actions used in self-defense. Additional support for defensive gun use can be garnered from the NSDS. The NSDS, which has yielded the most detailed information on defensive gun use to date, concluded that only 5.5 percent of victims using guns in self-defense were injured.
Despite the impression fostered by films and TV, the majority of confrontations are not very dramatic. According to the NSDS, 76 percent of the incidents were resolved without the victim firing a shot. In only 16 percent of the incidents did the victim attempt to shoot the criminal, with no more than 8 percent of all incidents resulting in the wounding or death of the criminal. In fact, only 18 percent of the gun defense victims faced a criminal in possession of a gun, and only 3 percent of the incidents resulted in both parties shooting at each other.
Contrary to the popular fear that a criminal is likely to seize the victim’s gun and use it against him, this situation occurred in about 1 percent of the incidents recorded in the NCVS. Furthermore, less than 2 percent of fatal gun accidents are defendants mistaking someone for an intruder.
Sources: Gary Kleck. Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc., 1997). Don B. Kates Jr., and Gary Kleck. The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence, (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997).
Most Americans who believe that more guns mean more crime are particularly afraid of people carrying handguns in public places and believe that carrying guns in public would escalate and foster violent conflict, turning fender-benders and other minor grievances into gunfights. In reality, a landmark study by John Lott and David Mustard has concluded that concealed handguns in the hands of law-abiding citizens deter violent crime while producing no significant increase in gun related accidents.
In an extensive and exhaustive study, Lott and Mustard used county level crime rate data for all 3,054 U.S. counties between 1977 and 1992. During that time, ten states adopted non-discretionary right-to-carry laws. That is, once an individual meets certain criteria for carrying a concealed handgun, a permit must be issued. The research accounted for many variables including income, poverty and unemployment levels, as well as arrest and conviction rates, prison term lengths and changes in handgun laws (e.g. waiting periods).
The researchers discovered that when a county adopted a right-to-carry law, murder fell by 8 percent, rape fell by 5 percent and aggravated assault fell by 7 percent. At the same time, handgun accidents did not increase significantly. It was estimated that if states without non-discretionary right-to-carry laws had adopted them in 1992, these states would have experienced 1,400 fewer murders, 4,200 fewer rapes, 12,000 fewer robberies and 60,000 fewer aggravated assaults. These reductions in violent crime would have saved victims over $5 billion.
Demographically, urban counties adopting right-to-carry laws experienced the largest drops in violent crime. Counties issuing the most concealed carry permits also experienced the largest drops in violent crime. According to Lott and Mustard, women and minorities benefited the most from right-to-carry permits.
Thirty-one states now have non-discretionary concealed carry laws that allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns for protection in public.
Sources: John R. Lott Jr, and David B. Mustard, "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," Journal of Legal Studies 26 (1997): 1-68. John R. Lott., More Guns, Less Crime. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998).
Scholarly analysis of decades of firearm-related data and research consistently demonstrates that guns do not cause crime. Yet, many Americans have a different opinion. How does such a gap between the truth in gun ownership and public opinion arise?
MediaWatch, a media watchdog organization, examined every gun control policy story on four evening shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN’s The World Today, and NBC Nightly News) and three morning broadcasts (ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today) between July 1, 1995 and June 30, 1997. MediaWatch calculated that in those two years 157 pro-gun control stories were aired compared to 10 stories opposed to gun control, while another 77 stories were neutral. This approximate 16:1 ratio in favor of gun control hardly depicts an unbiased media. Therein lies a major obstacle to spreading the truth about gun ownership. While adopting a decidedly biased anti-gun stance, the media also fails to promote firearm safety and education.
And judging from the depth and breadth of gun related myths in circulation, a firearm education is one thing this country desperately needs…and deserves.
Sources: "Gun Rights Forces Outgunned on TV: Networks Use First Amendment Rights to Promote Opponents of Second Amendment Rights." MediaWatch. July 1997. Available: http://www.mrc.org/news/mediawatch/1997/mw19970701stud.html (30 Oct. 1998).
Glen Otero is an Adjunct Fellow of The Claremont Institute and a Research Associate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Dr. Otero holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from UCLA.
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