From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Tim Starr)
Subject: 10 Myths of Gun Control from NRA-ILA
This is the piece I was asking about a while back. I hope this will help
serve in lieu of a FAQ for this group. I noticed a couple of claims I
would challenge, but preserved the document intact as I got it, except
TEN MYTHS ABOUT "GUN CONTROL"
Table of Contents
Myth 1: Public Opinion Polls
Myth 2: Handgun uses
Myth 3: Armed Citizens Don't Deter Crime
Myth 4: Registration and Licensing
Myth 5: England and Japan
Myth 6: Crimes of Passion
Myth 7: Sporting Purposes Test
Myth 8: The Second Amendment
Myth 9: Mandatory Sentences
Myth 10: Gun Laws Reduce Crime
Facts We Can Live With
"The only way to discourage the gun culture is to remove the guns
from the hands and shoulders of people who are not in the law
The New York Times, September 24, 1975
"As you probably know by now, Time's editors, in the April 13 issue,
took a strong position in support of an outright ban on handguns for
Time Magazine, Letter to NRA, April 24, 1981
Those editorial conclusions by two of the nation's more influential
news journals, noted for their advocacy of individual liberties,
represent the absolute extreme in the firearms controversy - that no
citizen can be trusted to own a firearm. This expressed attitude is
particularly ironic since the overwhelming majority of the 60-65
million American firearms owners have done nothing to deserve such a
sweeping condemnation. 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 decent
and responsible Americans who own firearms. Yet, as this brochure
proves, none of these myths will stand up under the cold light of
MYTH: "The Majority of American favor strict new additional federal
Polls can be slanted by carefully worded questions to achieve and
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, falsely, that such a check could be
completed accurately. Similarly, it is meaningless to infer anything
from support of a 7-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," most
people do not. Unbiased, scientific polls have consistently shown
that most people:
* Oppose costly registration of firearms.
* Oppose giving police power to decide who should own guns.
* Do not believe that stricter gun laws will prevent criminals from
illegally obtaining guns.
One 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 the individual actions by hundreds of
thousands of citizens do. For example, during the recent
congressional debate over S. 49, the Firearms Owners' Protection Act,
congressmen were told by pollsters Gallup and Harris that the public
wanted more, not fewer firearms restrictions, but they were told by
their constituents in margins of up to 95-to-1 (Philadelphia
Inquirer, April 13, 1986) - that they wanted fewer restrictions. S.
49 was overwhelming- ly approved by the U.S. Congress.
In November 1976, Massachusetts voters faced a referendum question
calling for a ban on all handguns that was crushed by a margin of
more than 2-to-1, despite public opinion polls which claimed the
public supported the ban overwhelmingly. Since 1978, nine states have
adopted, by large margins, constitutional amend- ments guaranteeing
the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.; many others have
enacted other pro-gun owner legislation. In the 1980s, 28 states
enacted preemption legislation preventing cities and counties from
passing more re- strictive legislation than what exists at the state
level, and 34 states passed hunter protection laws insuring the right
of sportsmen and women to a lawful, legitimate hunt.
In November 1982, Californians rejected, by a 63-37 percent margin, a
statewide handgun initiative that called for a "freeze" on the number
of handguns allowed in the state, again, with pre-election pollsters
reporting 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 organiza- tions,
speaking for rank-and-file police, went on record against the initia-
In 1987, five leading police organizations joined the NRA and Unified
Sportsmen of Florida in the passage of legislation to reform the
state's restrictive carry-for-protection law and to preempt local
The NRA has also actively supported 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
punished 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.
Most recently, in 1990, the National Association of Chiefs of Police
polled every chief and sheriff in the country, representing over
16,000 departments, and discovered for the third year in a row that
law enforcement officers over- whelmingly agree that "gun control"
measures have no effect on crime. A clear majority of 91% of the
respondents said that banning firearms would not reduce criminal
ability to get firearms, while 87% confirmed that the banning of
semi- automatic firearms would not reduce criminal access to such
firearms. Eighty- seven percent felt that criminals obtain their
weapons from illegal sources; 88% agreed that the banning of private
ownership of firearms would not result in fewer crimes. Seventy-six
percent felt that a national 7-day waiting period would have no
effect on criminals getting firearms, while 86% agreed that a waiting
period could not determine accurately whether or not a purchaser has
a criminal, mental or alcohol or drug abuse history. 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. This is the only national poll of
law enforcement officers in the country, with the leadership of most
other major groups adamantly refusing to poll their membership on the
MYTH: "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 litera- ture is
therefore sufficient to belie the contention that handguns have 'no
legimimate sport or recreational use."
There are an estimated 60-65 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, the FBI reported fewer than 10,000
homicides in which handguns were used in 1989 or less than 0.02
percent (two-hundreds of one percent) of handguns in America - many
of these reported homicides are 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 neither to murder nor for any other criminal purpose.
By far the most commonly cited reason for owning a handgun is
protection - to preserve life and discourage acts of criminal
violence. At least one-half of the 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: "Since a gun in a home is six times more likely to kill a
family member than to stop an armed criminal, armed citizens are not
a deterrent to crime."
This myth, stemming from a superficial "study" of firearm accidents
in the Cleveland, Ohio, area, merely represents a comparison of 148
accidental deaths (and some suicides) to the deaths of 23 intruders
killed by homeowners over a 16-year period. (Rushforth et al,
"Accidental Firearm Fatalities in a Metro- politan County," 100 Am.
Journal of Epidemiology, 499 (1975).)
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 handguns 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 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;
and Cleveland's exper- ience with crime and accidents during those
years was atypical of the nation as a whole - and, indeed, of
Cleveland since the mid-1970s. Moreover, in a later study, the same
researchers noted that roughly 10 percent of killings by civilians
are justifiable homicides. (Rushforth et al, "Violent Death in a
Metropolitan County," 297 N. England Journal of Medicine, 531,533
Research conducted by Professors James Wright and Peter Rossi (Wright
and Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: a Survey of Felons and
Their Firearms (N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter, 1986), for a landmark study
funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, points to the armed citizen
or the threat of 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:
* 85 percent agreed that the "smart criminal" will attempt to find
out if a potential victim is armed.
* 75 percent felt that burglars avoided occupied dwellings for fear
of being shot.
* 80 percent of "handgun predators" had encountered armed citizens.
* 53 percent did not commit a specific crime for fear that the victim
* 57 percent of "handgun predators" were scared off or shot at by
* 60 percent felt that the typical criminal feared being shot by
citizens more than he feared being shot by the police.
Professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University 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 warn- ing shot without injuring anyone.
Based on surveys commissioned by handgun-bad advocates (Caddell,
Peter Hart Associates), Kleck estimates that nearly 650,000 Americans
use handguns for protection from criminals annually - with over
300,000 additional protective uses of long guns. (Gary Kleck, "Crime
Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force," 35 Social Problems 1
(1988). U.S. Department of Justice victim- ization surveys show that
protective use of a gun lesens the chance that rob- beries, rapes,
and assaults will be successfully completed while also reducing the
likelihood of victim injury. Clearly, criminals fear armed citizens.
MYTH: "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 a model 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
guaranteed from infringement. Registra- tion and licensing do not
prevent criminal misuse nor accidental fatalities involving motor
vehicles in America, where about 47,000 people died on the nation's
highways in 1989. According to the National Safety Council, however,
only 1,600 persons were involved in fatal firearms accidents that
same year, with 1987 to 1989 marking the lowest rates recorded during
the 20th century.
Registration and licensing have no effect on crime, as criminals by
definition do not obey laws. Indeed, the 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 the registration
requirement. According to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, since felons
are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, forcing them to
register firearms would violate the Fifth Amendment provision against
self-incrimination (Haynes v. U.S., 309 U.S. 85 (1968)). Only
law-abiding citizens would be required to comply with regis- tration
- citizens who have not committed a crime nor have any intention of
Registration and licensing of America's 60-65 million gun owners
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 worthless- ness, and a similar
reccomendation was made by Australian law enforcement. Such schemes
divert law enforcement from its primary responsibility, appre-
hending and arresting criminals, to investigating and processing
paperwork on law-abiding citizens.
Finally, a national registration/licensing scheme would violate an
individual's right to privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment and
establish a basis from which gun confiscation could be implemented.
More than 60,000 rifles and shot- guns were confiscated in April 1989
from honest citizens who had dutifully registered their guns with the
authorities in Soviet George (Chicago Sun-Times, April 12, 1989, The
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, May 21, 1989). Could that happen
in America? Gun prohibitionists in Massachusetts, Cleveland, Ohio,
and Washington, D.C., have already proposed using registration lists
for such purposes. 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 state: "I
have not one doubt, even if I am in agreement with the National Rifle
Association, that that kind of record-keeping procedure is the first
step to eventual confiscation under one administration or another."
Reasonable fears of such confiscation leads otherwise law-abiding
citizens to ignore such laws, creating a disrespect for law and a
lessened support for authorities. In states and cities which
recently required registration of semi-automatic firearms, estimates
of compliance range from 1 to 2 percent.
MYTH: "Stiff gun control laws work as evidenced by the low crime
rates in England and Japan while the U.S. crime rates continue to
All criminologists studying the firearms issue reject simple
comparisons of violent crime among foreign countries as meaningless.
It is impossible to draw valid conclusions without taking into
account differences in the collec- tion of crime data, and the
political, cultural, racial. religious, and eco- nomic disparities
among countries. Such factors are not only hard to compare, they are
rarely, if ever, taken into account. Only one scholar, David Kopel,
has attempted to evaluate the impact of "gun control" on crime in
several foreign countries, and he concluded: "Despite 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
comparable to or lower than the usual foreign examples. And he
stated: "Foreign style gun control is doomed to failure in America;
not only does it depend on search and seizure too intrusive for
American standards, it postulates an authoritarian philosophy of
government fundamentally at odds with the individualist,
egalitarian... American ethos." (David B. Kopel, "Foreign Gun Control
in American Eyes," Montreal, 1987, p. 108.)
Differences in crime can be attributed to American 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 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 (NIJ) study
found that the average felon released due to prison over- crowding
commits, on average, 187 crimes per year, which costs society about
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 before adopting its tough laws. During
the past dozen years, the handgun-related robbery rate rose about
300% in Britain, while dropping in the U.S.
Part of Japan's low crime rate can be explained by the sheer
efficiency of its criminal justice system, coupled with fewer
protections of the right to pri- vacy, and fewer rights for criminal
suspects, than exist in the United States. Neither the police 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 citi- zenry. This cultural factor has been pased 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 the crime rates are similar in European countries with
high or relatively high availability, such as Switzerland, Israel,
and Norway, and in low availability countries like England and
Germany (whose gun laws began with the Nazi gun laws and tightened
them up). Furthermore, one would expect American violent crime rates
to be more similar to European rates in crime where guns are often
used, such as homicide. But the reverse is true: American violence
is greater where guns are not involved.
MYTH: "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 of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, by
the FBI, and the Chicago, New York City, and other police
departments, about 70 percent of suspected murder- ers have criminal
careers of long-standing - as do nearly half their victims. FBI data,
indeed, shows that roughly 55% of the murders were known to their
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 teir 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. Indeed, studies conducted by the Police
Foundation show 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" argu- ments, such as a lover's triangle, arguments over
money or property, and alcohol-related brawls, comprise less than 10%
of criminal homicides, accord- ing to FBI data.
Professor James Wright of the University of Massachusetts describes
the typical indicent 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 notes that handguns may well be used defensively. "The
common pattern, the more common pattern, is for wives to shoot their
husbands. Pro- portionately, men kill their women by other means,
more brutal means, more degrading means. To deny that woman the
right to own the firearm is in some sense to guarantee in perpetuity
to her husband the right to beat her at will," says Wright.
MYTH: "Guns that have no legitimate sporting purpose and are the
preferred weapon of choice of criminals and terrorists should be
Use of this myth by gun prohibitionists is predicated purely on
pragmatism: whichever "catch phrase" can produce the most anti-gun
emotionalism - phrases like "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
mythical "plastic gun" - a nonexis- tent item whose actual production
is 10-25 years in the future - would have banned millions of
all-metal handguns suitable for personal protection. Some proposed
federal legislation purporting to ban so called "assault weapons" is
so broadly written that virtually all semi-automatic rifles,
shotguns, and handguns could be restricted or banned.
Criminals and law-abiding citizens both follow the lead of police and
military in choosing a gun, whether it's agun for the criminal to use
to protect him- self from other criminals, from police, and from
private citizens, or it's the gun private citizens acquire for
protection from criminals. Criminals general- ly pick as handguns
.38 and .357 revolvers, with barrels about 4" long, and retailing (an
unimportant matter for criminals) at over $150. Only about one-
sixth fit the classic description of the so-called "Saturday Night
Special" - small caliber, short barrel, inexpensive. Criminals
rarely use rifles or shotguns, 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 ravatged cities,
only about 1/2-3% of "crime guns" are military- style semi-autos.
As more and more police departments, following the lead of the
military, switch from revolvers to 9mm semi-auto pistols, criminals
and the ordinary citizen will both follow suit. Indeed, semi-auto
pistols have risen from one-fourth of American handgun manufacturing
in the 1970s to two-thirds by 1989.
As more military establishments adopt medium-velocity rifles with
straight- stick configuration (and thus modern pistol style grips,
raised sights, and vertical forearm grips for comfortable shooting)
for their lighter weight and durability, more and more target
shooters, hunters, and plinkers will follow the lead, seeking out
semi-automatic, sporterized models of these firearms.
While not all the guns incorrectly attacked as "preferred" by
criminals are popular for hunting, that is not the only valid purpose
for owning a firearm. Small handguns, which may be ill-suited for
long-range target shooting, are useful for personal protection, where
the accuracy range rarely needs to exceed ten feet. Semi-automatic
rifles and shotguns may be suitable for medium-range hunting but not
long-range hunting. Semi-automatic, military-style rifles, including
the M1, M-14, and the Colt AR-15, are used in hundreds 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 contemplates owning firearms which may
be useful for the efficiency of a well-regulated militia, and the
semi-automatic version of military-style guns is clearly adapted to
that purpose. It was the clear intention of the Framers of our
Constitution that the citizenry possess more arms than the
government. That was viewed as the best deterrent to a tyranny, and
it has worked for over 200 years. It was further 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 shoot- ing, or plinking. All modern firearms are
suitable for such purposes.
MYTH: "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 straight- forward 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 free- dom with armes
supplied by themselves. Current Federal law (Title 10, Section
211(a) 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 not to create a standing army, but to
guard against the tyranny that the Framers of the Consti- tution
feared could be perpetrated by any professional armed body of govern-
ment. It should be noted here that 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
The Supreme Court recently ratified this virtually unlimited control
by the federal government in the case of Perpich v. Department of
Defense (1990). The Court there held that the power of Congress over
the National Guard is plenary (entire, absolute, unlimited) and such
plenary 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 Federalist Paper No. 29, for example, Alexander Hamilton assured
the people 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 Fed- eralist Paper 46, further
promised the American people that, unlike the govern- ments 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
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 select parts
of the Constitution," specifically the Preample and the First,
Second, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments (U.S. v.
Verdugo-Urquidez, U.S. Supreme Court, Feb. 28, 1990).
The case of United States v. Miller (1939) is frequently, albeit
erroneously, cited as the definitive ruling that the right to keep
and bear arms is a "collective" right, protecting the organized state
milita - now the National Guard - rather than the individual right to
possess arms. But that was not the issue in Miller and no such
ruling was made; moreover, the word "collec- tive" is not used at all
in any place in the opinion.
While such a decision was sought by the Justice Department, which was
the ONLY party presenting an argument in the case, 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
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 (Ed. Note: common knowledge, that
which 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
Because no evidence or argument was presented except by the Justice
Department, the Court was not made aware that some 30,000
short-barreled shotguns we used as "trench guns" during World War I,
nor could it have known that similar guns would be used in World War
II and Vietnam.
The Supreme Court has ruled on only three other cases raising 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 applied to 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). At the same
time, 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
un- reasonable search and seizures did not apply to the states, since
the Court believed that all the amendments comprising the Bill of
Rights were limita- tions solely on the powers of Congress, not upon
the pwers of the states.
It was not until two generations later that the Court began to rule,
through the Fourtheenth Amendment, that the First, Fourth, and
various other provi- sions 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 conclusively that the purpose of the Fourteenth
Amendment was to apply all of the rights in the Bill of Rights to the
states (S. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a
Consti- tutional Right (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,
1984). That research proves that the Fourteenth Amendment was made a
part of the Consti- tution 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 handgun ban imposed by Morton Grove, Illinois, is
that the Court will not rush to apply the Second Amendment to the
states. Te 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
MYTH: "A person in a public place with a gun and without a permit is
looking for trouble."
Gun prohibitionists have seized this myth to back
legislative/administrative proposals to penalize and discourage gun
ownership by imposing a mandatory prison term on persons carrying or
possessing firearms without a license or permit. 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
un- licensed 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 im- possible to obtain a carry permit. Thus it
is not difficult to contemplate circumstances which would extenuate
such a sentence: fear of crime, arbitrary denial of authorization,
red-tape delay in obtaining a firearm, or misunder- standing 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 fire- arms - accessible or not, loaded or not,
in a trunk or case. And out-of-state travellers are exceedingly
vulnerable because of these various definitions.
One need only examine the first persons arrested under the
Massachusetts and New York "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
In New York City - prior to the enactment of the Koch-Carey mandatory
sentence for possession law - the bureaucratic logjam in the
licensing division, com- bined with a soaring crime rate, forced
law-abiding citizens to obtain a gun 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 literally feared the streets more than the courtrooms.
In 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 ar- rests in
New York City, but ony 25,987 cases received felony indictments and
only 20,641 resulted in convictions wth imprisonment a rarity. Not
surprising- ly, with just 3% of the nation's population, in 1990 New
york City accounted for one-eigth of the nation's handgun-related
In championing New York's tough Koch-Carey Law, then Mayor Ed Koch
said con- temptuously of gun oners, "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 a hundred.
When Bernhard Goetz - denied a carry permit despite having been
injured in previous muggings - used a gun for protection from a gang
of four would-be robbers, he was imprisoned, for unlawful possession
of a handgun only, while New York authorities released his
assailants, who went on to commit robberies, rapes, and other
Indeed, a 1982 National Instutute of Justice study of Massachusetts'
Bartley- Fox Law concluded: "... the effect may be to penalize some
less serious offen- ders, while the punishment for more serious cases
is postponed, reduced or avoided altogether...it is difficult,
perhaps fundamentally impossible, to substantiate the popular claim
that mandatory sentencing is an effective tool for reducing crime."
Furthermore, 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 estab- lish 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 magnet meters, 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
MYTH: "Gun control reduces crime."
The greatest myth perpetrated by national gun ban groups is that such
laws reduce crime. They do not.
No empirical study of the effectiveness of gun laws has shown any
positive effect - although, to the dismay of prohibitionists, such
studies have shown a negative effect. That is, in areas having lower
levels of private firearms ownership, the robbery rates are almost
invariably higher, because criminals are aware that their intended
victims are less likely to have the means with which to defend
Further, of all the gun laws enacted in the past quarter century -
each pro- mised by its advocates to result in a reduction of crime -
not one city, not one state, not one nation, has experienced a
reduction in crime rates, nor even a reduced rate of crime growth in
comparison to its neighboring cities and states and nations without
If gun laws worked, the proponenets of such laws would gleefully cite
examples of lessened crime. Instead, they uniformly blame the
absence of tougher or wider spread measures for the failures of the
laws they advocated. Or they 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. And they cite Washington, D.C. as a jurisdiction where gun
laws are "working." Yet crime in Washington D.C. rose dramatically
between 1976, the year before its handgun ban took effect, and 1982,
the year the city's voters adopted an NRA-endorsed mandatory penalty
for misue of guns in violent crimes. The violent crime rate rose 43%
during those years, and the murder rate rose 14%, while the national
rates were rising 20% and 3%, respectively.
No wonder former D.C. Police Chief Maurice Turner said, "What has the
gun con- trol 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 pro- hibited handguns, resulting in a skyrocketing of the
city's murder rate - along with banned handgun use and homicide -
making its 1990 homicide rate of about 80 per 100,000 population the
highest ever recorded by an American big city, and marks a nearly
200% rise in homicide since banning handguns, while the nation's
homicide rate rose less than 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. A 1989 nationwide survey by the National
Association of Chiefs of Police of command officers found that 90%
agreed that criminals obtain "their weapons from illegal sources."
Ninety percent also believe that banning all firearms WOULD NOT
reduce the ability of criminals to obtain firearms and 88% believe
there would not be a reduction in gun-related crime with such a ban.
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, and under
restrictive gun laws, it may be virtually impossible for the person
to legally own a firearm to protect himself or herself.
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 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 frac- tion of
those who had previously registered their guns. Officials in
Califor- nia cities which have banned some semi-automatic rifles (in
violation of state preemption statutes prohibiting such acts by local
government) report virtually no compliance with the ordinances. The
same massive noncompliance - not by criminals, whom no one expects
will comply, but by the particular minority groups fearful of
repression - is evident wherever stringent gun laws are enacted.
FACTS WE ALL CAN LIVE WITH
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 31% and robbery 23% in 14 years. South Carolina recorded a
38% murder rate decline between 1975 and 1989 with a similar law.
Other impressive declines were recorded in other states using
mandatory penalties, such as Arkansas (homicide rate down 25% in 15
years), Delaware (homicide rate down 42% and robbery 52% in 13 years).
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 the crimes. Rehabilitation should be tempered with
a realization that not all can be rehabilitated, and that prison
construction costs society less than the crime of active predatory
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 NRA. Support ILA. Work with
us. We need your help.