Firearms are used to commit as many as 650,000 crimes each year. But firearms are also used to prevent crimes as many as one million times each year. In fact, criminals are three times more likely to be killed by armed victims who resist them than by the police. Would tougher gun control laws make our lives safer? Fair appraisal of the issue requires us to put aside some common myths.
- Myth No. 1: Guns cause crime. A careful review of 18 academic studies shows that there is no relationship between the number of guns and the amount of crime in the United States. International evidence tells a similar story.
- Myth No. 2: Gun control laws reduce crime. The nation already has 20,000 gun control laws, and the police arrest 220,000 people a year on weapons violations. Yet the violent crime rate is at an all-time high. Moreover, considering that fewer than 1 percent of all guns are involved in a crime and only 12 percent of all violent crimes involve a gun, gun control laws could have only a modest effect on crime - even if they worked exactly as intended, which they don't. For example, New Jersey, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., experienced sharp murder-rate increases after passing tough gun control laws. Canada, Taiwan and Jamaica reported similar experiences.
- Myth No. 3: Guns are of little help in defending against criminals. In fact, guns are a big help. Each year, potential victims kill from 2,000 to 3,000 criminals and wound an additional 9,000 to 17,000. And mishaps are rare. Private citizens mistakenly kill innocent people only 30 times a year, compared with about 330 mistaken killings by police. Criminals succeed in taking a gun away from an armed victim less than 1 percent of the time.
- Myth No. 4: Killing someone is the only reason to buy a handgun. The vast majority of gun owners cite protection from crime as one of the main reasons they own a gun. And for good reason. Americans use guns for self-protection about one million times a year. In 98 percent of the cases, they simply brandish the weapon or fire a warning shot.
- Myth No. 5: People who buy guns are more prone to violence and crime than are other people. Violence and crime are higher among black than white, lower-income than middle- or upper-income, young than middle-aged, single than married, and urban than rural individuals - all contrary to the pattern of gun ownership.
- Myth No. 6: Criminals mainly have guns in order to commit crimes. The number one reason criminals acquire guns is for self-protection against other criminals. Fewer than half of felons think handguns are important for use in committing crimes.
- Myth No. 7: Killings and other violent crimes were prevalent in the Old West because guns were so plentiful. Much of the violence on the frontier involved clashes with Indians, bandits and foreigners. Even so, the frontier was a lot safer than America is today. There was very little ordinary crime - less than in most cities in the East.
- Myth No. 8: Gun controls keep criminals from obtaining guns. In surveys of prisoners, a majority said that prior to imprisonment they had owned a handgun. But fewer than one in six guns had been purchased from a retail dealer. Three-fourths of the felons said they would have no trouble obtaining a gun when they were released, despite legal prohibitions.
- Myth No. 9: Required waiting periods would prevent some of the most vicious crimes. If the Brady bill were law, it would not have saved Jim Brady. Nor would it have prevented the Killeen, Texas, massacre or the slaughter at McDonald's in Stockton, Calif. However, an instant records check (to identify felons when they try to purchase guns from retail dealers) and better enforcement of existing laws (to turn criminals into convicted felons) might well prevent some vicious crimes.
- Myth No. 10: Most murders are committed by people killing friends or family members. The actual number is about one out of five. Most in-household killings are not crimes of passion. They're the culmination of years of abusive behavior, and often it is the abuser who is killed.
- Myth No. 11: The availability of guns contributes to crimes of passion. In about 90 percent of "crime-of-passion" domestic homicides, the police had been called in previously to break up violence. In half the cases, the police had been called in five or more times. There is no evidence that a significant number of homicides occur simply because a lethal weapon is handy.
- Myth No. 12: Automatic rifles and so-called assault weapons are too dangerous to be left in private hands. Over the past 50 years no civilian has ever used a legally owned machine gun in a violent crime. And despite their repeated use by drug dealers on "Miami Vice" and in the movies, no Uzi has ever been used to kill a police officer. Even gun control advocates concede that so-called assault weapons play a minor role in violent crime.
- Myth No. 13: Gun control laws are especially needed to prevent the purchase of "Saturday Night Specials." Inexpensive handguns are involved in only 1 to 3 percent of violent crimes, and criminals are no more likely to use one than any other type of handgun.
- Myth No. 14: People don't need guns for self-protection because they can rely on the police. About 83 percent of the population will be victims of violent crime at some point in their lives, and in any given year serious crime touches 25 percent of all households. Considering that, effectively, there is only one police officer on patrol for every 3,300 people, the odds are not likely to improve. And the courts have ruled that government has no duty to protect individual citizens from crime.
- Myth No. 15: Gun ownership is not a constitutional right. The Second Amendment reflects the founders' belief that an armed citizenry (called the "general militia") was a necessary precaution against tyranny by our own government and its army. The idea that government has a constitutional right to disarm the general citizenry is totally foreign to the intent of the Constitution's framers.
© 1996 NCPA