Why not ban handguns? After all, aren't they designed for only one purpose, to kill? Further, handguns are used in over fifty-five percent of all murders (FBI Uniform Crime Report, 1997), so wouldn't banning handguns be a no-brainer? Wouldn't thousands of lives be saved?
Even though most handguns are designed to kill, they are used more often to defend (without a shot being fired). (How often are guns used in self-defense?). Also in many situations a gun is the most reliable and effective means of self-defense. (Is a gun an effective means of self-defense?).
Setting aside any advantages that may accrue from handgun ownership, handgun only bans could still lead to more deaths.
The Substitution Factor
A National Institute of Justice survey of felons in state prisons found that 72% of felons who use handguns said they would switch to sawed-off shotguns if handguns became unavailable. (Handgun Bans: Peril or Protection? The Risks and Benefits of Handgun Prohibition (238K), Kopel, David B. Also Wright, James D. and Peter H. Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and their Firearms, Aldine De Gruyter, 1986).
This means there might be fewer murder attempts with a firearm, but more murder victims could be the result. Shotgun wounds at close range are generally much more often fatal than handgun wounds."Shotgun injuries have not been compared with other bullet wounds of the abdomen as they are a thing apart ... at close range, they are as deadly as a cannon."
(R. Taylor, Gunshot Wounds of the Abdomen, 177 Annals of Surgery 174- 75, 1973. Cited in Kopel above)."At close range, survival is rare"Criminological studies show "that anywhere from 54 percent to about 80 percent of homicides occur in circumstances that would easily permit the use of a long gun." ( Kleck Gary, "Handgun-Only Gun Control: A Policy Disaster in the Making," in Firearms and Violence:Issues of Public Policy, pp. 186-94. Cited in Kates, Don B. Jr., GUNS, MURDERS, AND THE CONSTITUTION: A Realistic Assessment of Gun Control (257K))
Gestring ML, Geller ER, Akkad N, Bongiovanni PJ. Shotgun slug injuries: case report and literature review . J Trauma. 1996; 40:650-653. (See Ballistics).
Gary Kleck, in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York 1997), states that long-guns substituted for handguns would be at least 1.5 to 3 times deadlier. Assuming long-guns are 50% deadlier, and knives only one-fifth as deadly as handguns, Kleck estimates that fewer than 62% of attackers would have to make the long-gun substitution for a handgun-only ban to succeed.
Kleck also states, if one assumes probably more realistically, that long-guns would be twice as deadly as handguns, then the substitution factor would have to drop below 44% in order for a handgun-only ban to save lives. Kleck views this low level of substitution as "unlikely though not impossible."
Rather than passing more gun control laws, the evidence suggests that we can reduce gun violence by enforcing the laws we already have. (See GunCite's Gun Homicides that disposes of the myth most gun murders are committed by previously law-abiding citizens.)
For a differing opinion see: Nicholas Dixon, Why We Should Ban Handguns in the United States, and Dixon, Perilous Protection: A Reply to Kopel. And counterpoint: Michael Huemer, Is There a Right to Own a Handgun?
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