Myth No. 13: Gun control laws are especially needed to prevent the purchase of ";Saturday Night Specials.";
So-called Saturday Night Specials are small caliber, inexpensive handguns. These have been commonplace in the United States since the 19th century. Gun control advocates argue that cheap handguns serve little or no legitimate purpose and are used to commit most crime. These claims are wrong. Only 10 percent to 27 percent of crime involves handguns that fit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms definition of a Saturday Night Special (SNS). Since handguns are involved in only 10 percent of violent crime (another 2 percent involve other firearms), SNSs are involved in only 1 to 3 percent of violent crime. Criminals are no more likely to rely on SNSs than the share of SNSs in the handgun stock (about one in five), and therefore criminals cannot be said to prefer Saturday Night Specials. Because they are less expensive, most SNSs are probably owned by lower income people for protection, and any laws to ban them would disproportionately hurt the poor, who are the most frequent victims of crimes.
";‘Saturday Night Specials' are used in only 1 to 3 percent of all violent crimes.";
Myth No. 14: People don't need guns for self-protection because they can rely on the police.
One of the most prevalent myths is that people don't need firearms because law enforcement officers can protect them. But just how much protection against criminals can citizens expect?
Protection from Ordinary Crime. There are about 500,000 police officers in the United States. Adjusting for three shifts per day, vacations, desk duty, etc., leaves about 75,000 police on patrol at any moment to protect 250 million Americans.78 That's one police officer for every 3,360 potential victims. And experience shows that's not enough:79
- Every year nearly five million people are victims of violent crimes - murder, rape, robbery or life-threatening assault.
- 98 percent of the time, violent and serious property crimes do not result in a prison sentence.
- The median sentence actually served by state prisoners declined from 21 months in the 1950s and early 1960s to 13 months in 1988.
- The expected punishment for all serious crimes, taking into account the low probability of going to prison, declined from an estimated 24 days in prison in 1950 to 8.5 days in 1990.
Riots and Civil Emergencies. After the Los Angeles riots, Korean-American merchants said they had no choice but to defend their stores and, in some cases, shoot at looters. Police, they said, ignored pleas for help that included attempts to flag down patrol cars and dozens of calls to the 911 emergency number80 Men with guns also defended Mann's Chinese Theatre and nearby businesses through the first night of rioting. At midnight the following night, a squad of National Guardsmen arrived but, after talking with the defenders and looking over what they were doing, the commander concluded that his men could be of greater use elsewhere, and they left.81
After Hurricane Hugo devastated the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix in 1989, National Guardsmen and local police did nothing to stop the looting. Some even took part in it. Only one shopping center was spared - because the owner had heavily armed men patrolling the roofs.82
Lack of a Right to Government Protection.
Gun control laws implicitly assume that the criminal justice system has the duty and the ability to protect individuals. Our judges have ruled otherwise.83 For example, New York State's highest court ruled in 1968 that a victim who was attacked after seeking police protection to no avail had no right to protection. The court refused to create such a right, saying it would impose a crushing economic burden on the government.84
For the most part, federal courts have agreed. The Supreme Court held in an 1856 case85 that local law enforcement officers had a general duty to enforce laws, not to protect a particular person. In 1982,86 a federal court of appeals said:
. . . [T]here is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. It is monstrous if the state fails to protect its residents against such predators, but it does not violate the due process clause of the Fourteen Amendment or, we suppose, any other provision of the Constitution. The Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: it tells the state to let people alone, it does not require the federal government or the state to provide services, even so elementary a service as maintaining law and order.
These rulings are probably consistent with the original intent of the founding fathers. Some legal scholars argue that the framers of the U.S. Constitution assumed that law-abiding people would largely be responsible for their own safety.87 They note that under English common law, which is the basis for U.S. law, the sheriff's main jobs were collecting taxes and enforcing government decisions. Keeping public order was a secondary duty.
© 1996 NCPA