ILA Research & Information Division
"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:
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-election 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% identified 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 belie the contention that handguns have 'no legitimate sport or recreational use.' "
There are an estimated 75-80 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 13,000 homicides in 1994--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 Gary Kleck and Mark Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Handgun," The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86 (1995): 150.
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 such, 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 crimes 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 confiscation 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 gun ownership, 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 revolving-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 36,000 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% during 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 and 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 rate for 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 rates 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 similar 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.
MYTH 6: "Most murders are argument-related 'crimes of passion' against a relative, neighbor, friend or acquaintance. "
The vast majority of murders are committed by persons with long established patterns of violent criminal behavior. According to analyses by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, the FBI, and the Chicago, New York City, and other police departments, about 70% of suspected murderers have criminal careers of long standing--as do nearly half their victims. FBI data show that roughly 47% of murderers are known to their victims.
The waiting period, or "cooling-off" period, as some in the "gun control" community call it, is the most often cited solution to "crimes of passion." However, state crime records show that in 1992, states with waiting periods and other laws delaying or denying gun purchases had an overall violent crime rate more than 47% higher and a homicide rate 19% higher than other states. In the five states that have some jurisdictions with waiting periods (Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia), the non-waiting period portions of all five states have far lower violent crime and homicide rates.
Recent studies by the Justice Department suggest that persons who live violent lives exhibit those violent tendencies "both within their home and among their family and friends and outside their home among strangers in society." A National Institute of Justice study reveals that the victims of family violence often suffer repeated problems from the same person for months or even years, and if not successfully resolved, such incidents can eventually result in serious injury or death. A study conducted by the Police Foundation showed that 90% of all homicides, by whatever means committed, involving family members, had been preceded by some other violent incident serious enough that the police were summoned, with five or more such calls in half the cases.
Circumstances which might suggest "crimes of passion" or "spontaneous" arguments, such as a lover's triangle, arguments over money or property, and alcohol-related brawls, comprise 29% of criminal homicides, according to FBI data.
Professor James Wright of the University of Massachusetts describes the typical incident of family violence as "that mythical crime of passion" and rejects the notion that it is an isolated incident by otherwise normally placid and loving individuals. His research shows that it is in fact "the culminating event in a long history of interpersonal violence between the parties."
Wright also speaks to the protective use of handguns. "Firearms equalize the means of physical terror between men and women. In denying the wife of an abusive man the right to have a firearm, we may only be guaranteeing her husband the right to beat her at his pleasure," says Wright. 11
11 Wright, "Second Thoughts About Gun Control," 91 [The] Public Interest, 23 (Spring 1988).
MYTH 7: "Semi-automatic firearms have no legitimate sporting purpose, are the preferred weapon of choice of criminals, and should be banned."
Use of this myth by gun prohibitionists is predicated purely on pragmatism: whichever "buzzword" can produce the most anti-gun emotionalism--"Saturday Night Special," "assault weapons," and "plastic guns"--will be utilized in efforts to generate support for a ban on entire classes of firearms.
Examples of this anti-gun legislative history abound. A "Saturday Night Special" ban bill enacted in Maryland establishes a politically appointed "Handgun Roster Board" with complete authority to decide which handguns will be permitted in the so-called "Free State"-- any handgun could therefore be banned. Federal legislation aimed at the nonexistent "plastic gun" would have banned millions of metal handguns suitable for personal protection. In the 1994 crime bill, Congress did ban semi-automatic "assault weapons," based on their cosmetic appearance. After passage, however, not even the virulently anti-gun Washington Post pretended the ban would have a crime fighting effect, labeling it "mainly symbolic."
Criminals and law-abiding citizens both follow the lead of police and military in choosing a gun. Criminals generally pick as handguns .38 Spl. and .357 Mag. revolvers, with barrels about 4" long and retailing (an unimportant matter for criminals) at over $200. Only about one-sixth fit the classic description of the so-called "Saturday Night Special"--small caliber, short barrel and inexpensive. While criminals are unconcerned with the cost of a firearm, the law-abiding certainly are. A ban on inexpensive handguns will have a disproportionate impact on low income Americans, effectively disarming them. This is particularly unfair, since it is the poor who more often must live and work in high crime areas.
As more and more police departments, following the lead of the military, switch from revolvers to 9 mm semi-auto pistols, criminals and honest citizens will both follow suit. Indeed, semi-auto pistols have risen from one-fourth of American handgun manufacturing in the 1970s to three-fourths today.
Criminals rarely use long guns and, when they do, are more apt to use a sawed-off shotgun than a semi-automatic rifle, whether military style or not. In America's largest and most crime ravaged cities, only about 1/2-3% of "crime guns" are military-style semi-autos. As military establishments adopted medium-velocity rifles with straight-stock configuration, target shooters, hunters, and collectors have acquired the semi-automatic models of these firearms.
While not all guns incorrectly attacked as "preferred by criminals" are popular for hunting, many are, but hunting is not the only valid purpose for owning a firearm. Small handguns, which may be ill-suited for hunting or long-range target shooting, are useful for personal protection, where the accuracy range rarely needs to exceed ten feet. Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are suitable for hunting a variety of game. Semi-automatic, military and military-style rifles, including the M1 Garand, Springfield M1A, and the Colt Sporter, are used in thousands of sanctioned Highpower Tournaments each year and the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. Hundreds of thousands of individuals use these rifles for recreational target shooting and plinking.
The Second Amendment clearly protects ownership of firearms which are useful "for the security of a free state" and semi-automatic versions of military arms are clearly appropriate for that purpose. It was the clear intention of the Framers of our Constitution that the citizenry possess arms equal or superior to those held by the government. That was viewed as the best deterrent to tyranny, and it has worked for over 200 years. It was also the intention of the Founding Fathers that citizens be able to protect themselves from criminals, and that doesn't necessarily require a gun suitable for hunting, target shooting, or plinking. All modern firearms may be used for such protective purposes.
MYTH 8: "The right guaranteed under the Second Amendment is limited specifically to the arming of a 'well-regulated Militia' that can be compared today to the National Guard."
The Second Amendment reads: "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 contrast to other portions of the Constitution, this Amendment contains no qualifiers, no "buts" or "excepts." It is a straightforward statement affirming the people's right to possess firearms.
The perception that the Second Amendment guarantees a "collective right" or a "right of states to form militias" rather than an individual right is a wholly inaccurate 20th-century invention. Historically, the term "militia" refers to the people at large, armed and ready to defend their homeland and their freedom with arms supplied by themselves (U.S. v. Miller, 1939). Federal law (Title 10, Section 311 of the U.S. Code) states:
"The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age...."
Moreover, historical records, including Constitutional Convention debates and the Federalist Papers, clearly indicate that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to guard against the tyranny that the Framers of the Constitution feared could be perpetrated by any professional armed body of government. The arms, records and ultimate control of the National Guard today lie with the Federal Government, so that it clearly is not the "militia" protected from the federal government.
The Supreme Court recently affirmed this virtually unlimited control of the Guard by the federal government in the case of Perpich v. Department of Defense (1990). The Court held that the power of Congress over the National Guard is plenary (entire, absolute, unlimited) and such power is not restricted by the Constitution's Militia Clause. The Second Amendment was not even mentioned by the Court, undoubtedly because it does not serve as a source of power for a state to have a National Guard.
In The Federalist No. 29, Alexander Hamilton argued that the army would always be a "select corps of moderate size" and that the "people at large (were) properly armed" to serve as a fundamental check against the standing army, the most dreaded of institutions. James Madison, in The Federalist No. 46, noted that unlike the governments of Europe which were "afraid to trust the people with arms," the American people would continue under the new Constitution to possess "the advantage of being armed," and thereby would continually be able to form the militia when needed as a "barrier against the enterprises of despotic ambition."
A 1990 Supreme Court decision regarding searches and seizures confirmed that the right to keep and bear arms was an individual right, held by "the people"--a term of art employed in the Preamble and the First, Second, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments referring to all "persons who are part of a national community" (U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 1990).
The case of U.S. v. Miller (1939) is frequently, though erroneously, cited as the definitive ruling that the right to keep and bear arms is a "collective" right, protecting the right of states to keep a militia rather than the individual right to possess arms. But that was not the issue in Miller, and no such ruling was made; the word "collective" is not used any place in the court's decision.
While such a decision was sought by the Justice Department, the Court decided only that the National Firearms Act of 1934 was constitutional in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The case hinged on the narrow question of whether a sawed-off shotgun was suitable for militia use, and its ownership by individuals thus protected by the Second Amendment.
The Court ruled that: "In the absence of (the presentation of) any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice--common knowledge, that need not be proven in court--that this weapon is any part of the military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense."
Because no evidence or argument was presented except by the federal government, the Court was not made aware that some 30,000 short-barreled shotguns were used as "trench guns" during World War I.
The Supreme Court has ruled on only three other cases relating to the Second Amendment--all during the last half of the nineteenth century. In each of these cases, the Court held that the Second Amendment only restricted actions of the federal government, not of private individuals (U.S. v. Cruikshank, 1876) or state governments (Presser v. Illinois, 1886, and Miller v. Texas, 1894). The Court also held, in Presser, that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of assembly did not apply to the states; and in Miller v. Texas, it held that the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure did not apply to the states, since the Court believed that all the amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were limitations solely on the powers of Congress, not upon the powers of the states.
It was not until two generations later that the Court began to rule, through the Fourteenth Amendment, that the First, Fourth, and other provisions of the Bill of Rights limited both Congress and state legislatures. No similar decision concerning the Second Amendment has ever been made in spite of contemporary scholarship proving that the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to apply all of the rights in the Bill of Rights to the states. 12 That research proves that the Fourteenth Amendment was made a part of the Constitution to prevent states from depriving the newly freed slaves of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, including what the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision referred to as one of the rights of citizens, the right "to keep and carry arms wherever they went."
The only significance of the Supreme Court's refusal to hear a challenge to the hand- gun ban imposed by Morton Grove, Illinois, is that the Court will still not rush to apply the Second Amendment to the states. The refusal to hear the case has no legal significance and, indeed, it would have been very unusual for the Court to make a decision involving the U.S. Constitution when the Illinois courts had not yet decided if Morton Grove's ban conflicted with the state's constitution.
12 Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984).
MYTH 9: "A person in a public place with a gun is looking for trouble."
Gun prohibitionists use this myth to oppose legislative proposals to allow law-abiding citizens to obtain permits to carry concealed firearms. In spite of this opposition, numerous states have adopted favorable concealed carry laws over the past few years. In each case, anti-gun activists and politicians predicted that allowing law-abiding people to carry firearms would result in more deaths and injuries as people would resort to gunfire to settle minor disputes. Shoot-outs over fender-benders and Wild-West lawlessness were predicted in an effort to stir up public fear of reasonable laws.
This tactic--seeking to frighten people into supporting desired positions--is employed more and more frequently by gun prohibitionists. Prof. Gary Kleck explains the reasoning thusly: "Battered by a decade of research contradicting the central factual premises underlying gun control, advocates have apparently decided to fight more exclusively on an emotional battlefield, where one terrorizes one's targets into submission rather than honestly persuading them with credible evidence." 13
When the concealed carry laws were passed and put into practice, the result was completely different from the hysterical claims of the gun prohibitionists. In Florida, since the concealed carry law was changed in 1987, the homicide rate has dropped 21% , while the national rate has risen 12% . Across the nation, states with favorable concealed carry laws have a 33% lower homicide rate overall and 37% lower robbery rate than states that allow little or no concealed carry.
Gun prohibitionists have also acted to penalize and discourage gun ownership by imposing mandatory prison terms on persons carrying or possessing firearms without a license or permit, a license or permit they have also made impossible or very difficult to obtain. Massachusetts' Bartley-Fox Law and New York's Koch-Carey Law are premier examples of this "gun control" strategy. Such legislation is detrimental only to peaceful citizens, not to criminals.
By the terms of such a mandatory or increased sentence proposal, the unlicensed carrying of a firearm--no matter how innocent the circumstances--is penalized by a six-to-twelve month jail sentence. It is imposed on otherwise law-abiding citizens although in many areas it is virtually impossible for persons to obtain a carry permit. It is easy to see circumstances in which an otherwise law-abiding person would run afoul of this law: fear of crime, arbitrary denial of authorization, red-tape delay in obtaining official permission to carry a firearm, or misunderstanding of the numerous and vague laws governing the transportation of firearms.
The potential for unknowingly or unwittingly committing a technical violation of a licensing law is enormous. Myriad legal definitions of "carrying" vary from state to state and city to city, including most transportation of firearms--accessible or not, loaded or not, in a trunk or case. And out-of-state travelers are exceedingly vulnerable because of these various definitions.
One need only examine the first persons arrested under the Massachusetts and New York City "mandatory penalty" laws for proof that such laws are misdirected: an elderly woman passing out religious pamphlets in a dangerous section of Boston and an Ohio truck driver coming to the aid of a woman apparently being kidnapped in New York City.
In New York City--prior to the enactment of the Koch-Carey mandatory sentence for possession law--the bureaucratic logjam in the licensing division, combined with a soaring crime rate, forced law-abiding citizens to obtain guns illegally for self-protection. In effect, citizens admitted that they would rather risk a mandatory penalty for illegally owning a firearm than risk their lives and property at the hands of New York's violent, uncontrolled criminals. Honest citizens feared the streets more than the courtrooms.
By contrast, the city's criminal element faces no similar threat of punishment. A report carried in the March 1, 1984, issue of the New York Times says it all: "Conviction on felony charges is rare. Because of plea-bargaining, the vast majority of those arrested on felony charges are tried on lesser, misdemeanor charges." In one year, according to the Times, there were 106,171 felony arrests in New York City, but only 25,987 cases received felony indictments and only 20,641 resulted in convictions, with imprisonment a rarity. This condition persists, the New York Times reported again on June 23, 1991: in 1990 felony indictments were resolved by plea bargains in over 83% of cases. Only 5.7% of cases ended with a trial verdict, with only 3.8% ending in conviction. Not surprisingly, with just 3% of the nation's population, in 1992 New York City accounted for 12% of the nation's homicides.
In championing New York's tough Koch-Carey Law, then Mayor Ed Koch said contemptuously of gun owners, "Nice guys who own guns aren't nice guys." No such rancor was expressed about the city's revolving-door criminal justice system where the chances of hardened criminals being arrested on felony charges are one in one hundred. Later, the Police Foundation study of New York's Koch- Carey Law found that it failed to reduce the number of guns on the street and did not reduce gun use in rape, robbery or assault.
Such legislation invites police to routinely stop and frisk people randomly on the street on suspicion of firearms possession. In fact, the Police Foundation has called for the random use of metal detectors on the streets to apprehend people carrying firearms without authorization. In disregarding the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy and against unreasonable searches and seizures, police would be empowered under the Police Foundation's blueprint for disarmament to "systematically stop a certain percentage of people on the streets... in business neighborhoods and run the detectors by them, just as you do at the airport. If the detectors produce some noise then that might establish probable cause for a search."
While admitting that such "police state" tactics would require "methods... that liberals instinctively dislike," government researchers James Q. Wilson and Mark H. Moore called for more aggressive police patrolling in public places, saying: "To inhibit the carrying of handguns, the police should become more aggressive in stopping suspicious people and, where they have reasonable grounds for their suspicions, frisking (i.e. patting down) those stopped to obtain guns. Hand-held magnetometers, of the sort used by airport security guards, might make the street frisks easier and less obtrusive. All this can be done without changing the law." (The Washington Post, April 1, 1981) Note, they said "people," not criminals.
13 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 10: "Gun control reduces crime."
This is perhaps, the greatest myth that is perpetrated today by national gun ban groups.
No empirical study of the effectiveness of gun laws has shown any positive effect on crime. To the dismay of the prohibitionists, such studies have shown a negative effect. That is, in areas having greatest restrictions on private firearms ownership, crime rates are typically higher, because criminals are aware that their intended victims are less likely to have the means with which to defend themselves.
If gun laws worked, the proponents of such laws would gleefully cite examples of reduced crime. Instead, they uniformly blame the absence of tougher or wider spread measures for the failures of the laws they advocated. Or they cite denials of applications for permission to buy a firearm as evidence the law is doing something beyond preventing honest citizens from being able legally to acquire firearms. They cite Washington, D.C., as a jurisdiction where gun laws are "working." Yet crime in Washington has risen dramatically since 1976, the year before its handgun ban took effect. Washington, D.C., now has outrageously higher crime rates than any of the states (D.C. 1992 violent crime rate: 2832.8 per 100,000 residents; U.S. rate: 757.5), with a homicide rate 8 times the national rate (1992 rate 75.4 per 100,000 for D.C., 9.3 nationally.)
No wonder former D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner said, "What has the gun control law done to keep criminals from getting guns? Absolutely nothing... [City residents] ought to have the opportunity to have a handgun."
Criminals in Washington have no trouble getting either prohibited drugs or prohibited handguns, resulting in a skyrocketing of the city's murder rate. D.C.'s 1991 homicide rate of 80.6 per 100,000 population was the highest ever recorded by an American big city, and marked a 200% rise in homicide since banning handguns, while the nation's homicide rate rose just 11% . Since 1991, the homicide rate has remained near 75 per 100,000, while the national rate hovers around 9-10.
Clearly, criminals do not bother with the niceties of obeying laws--for a criminal is, by definition, someone who disobeys laws. Those who enforce the law agree.
In addition, restrictive gun laws create a "Catch-22" for victims of violent crime. Under court decisions, the police have no legal obligation to protect any particular individual. This concept has been tested numerous times including cases as recent as 1993. In each case the courts have ruled that the police are responsible for protecting society as a whole, not any individual. This means that under restrictive gun laws, people may be unable to protect themselves or their family from violent criminals.
The evidence that restrictive gun laws create scofflaws is evident to anyone willing to look. In New York City, there are only about 70,000 legally-owned handguns, yet survey research suggests that there are at least 750,000 handguns in the city, mostly in the hands of otherwise law-abiding citizens. In Chicago, a recent mandatory registration law has resulted in compliance by only a fraction of those who had previously registered their guns. The rate of compliance with the registration requirement of California's and New Jersey's semi- automatic bans have been very low. The same massive noncompliance--not by criminals, whom no one expects will comply, but by people fearful of repression--is evident wherever stringent gun laws are enacted.
Laws aimed at criminal misuse of firearms are proven crime deterrents. After adopting a mandatory penalty for using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime in 1975, Virginia's murder rate dropped 23% and robbery 11% in 15 years. South Carolina recorded a 24% murder rate decline between 1975 and 1990 with a similar law. Other impressive declines were recorded in other states using mandatory penalties, such as Florida (homicide rate down 33% in 17 years), Delaware (homicide rate down 33% in 19 years), Montana (down 42% 1976-1992) and New Hampshire (homicide rate down 50% 1977-1992).
The solution to violent crime lies in the promise, not the mere threat, of swift, certain punishment.
Our challenge: To reform and strengthen our federal and state criminal justice systems. We must bring about a sharp reversal in the trend toward undue leniency and "revolving door justice." We must insist upon speedier trials and upon punishments which are commensurate with crimes. Rehabilitation should be tempered with a realization that not all can be rehabilitated, and that prisons cost society less than the crime of active predatory criminals.
NRA is meeting that challenge with its CrimeStrike division, established to advance real solutions to the crime problem while protecting the rights of all honest citizens. Working in states across the nation, CrimeStrike has worked for passage of "truth in sentencing laws" which require that criminals actually serve at least 85% of time sentenced, "Victim's Bill of Rights" constitutional amendments, and "Three Strikes You're Out" laws.
The job ahead will not be an easy one. The longer "gun control" advocates distract the nation from this task by embracing that single siren song, the longer it will take and the more difficult our job will be. Beginning is the hardest step, and the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action has taken it.
Join the NRA. Support ILA. Work with us. We need your help.
"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people... To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them..."--George Mason
"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. "--Thomas Jefferson
"Arms in the hands of citizens may be used at individual discretion...in private self-defense. "--John Adams
"The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. "--Samuel Adams
" ...arms discourage and keep invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property...Horrid mischief would ensue were [the law-abiding] deprived of the use of them. "--Thomas Paine
"[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation...[where] the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."--James Madison
"A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves...and include all men capable of bearing arms...To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike...how to use them."--Richard Henry Lee
"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."--Amendment II, Constitution of the United States
© March 1996, NRA Institute for Legislative Action. This is the electronic version of the "10 Myths of Gun Control" brochure distributed by NRA-ILA. To obtain copies of this brochure, contact NRA Grassroots at 800/392-8683.