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Guide to the Issues

Alabama Policy Institute

Gun Control Myths


 

Gun Control Myths
 
In the battle over gun control, many inaccuracies, myths, and falsehoods have become misinterpreted as the truth, displacing facts in the public dialog about firearms and crime in America. Some of these myths emerged with a grain of truth, only to be twisted to serve a particular purpose. Others are the product of "advocacy science," research designed to promote a particular point of view. Still others are just incorrect assumptions that over time are given the imprimatur of fact. Whatever their source, it is incumbent that they be exposed as the fables they are so that they might no longer influence the national debate.
 
Myth: A gun in the home makes the home less safe.
Firearms are used far more often to stop crimes than to commit them. In spite of this, anti-firearm activists insist that keeping a firearm in the home puts family members at risk, often claiming that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used to kill a family member than an intruder.
 
Several problems are associated with this claim. First, the authors of the study from which this estimate was derived conducted an extremely small survey of jurisdictions in only one county in the Seattle metropolitan area. 
 
Second, to produce the misleading ratio from the study, the only defensive or protective uses of firearms that were counted were those in which criminals were killed by would-be crime victims. This flaw is the most serious, since fatal shootings of criminals occur in only a fraction of one percent of protective firearm uses nationwide. Research by criminologist Gary Kleck of Florida State University has shown that firearms are used for protection against criminals as many as 2.5 million times annually--three to five times the estimated number of violent crimes committed with firearms each year.
 
Finally, while the 43:1 claim is used to suggest that murders and accidents are likely to occur with guns kept at home, suicides accounted for 37 of the 43 firearm-related deaths in the Seattle study. Nationwide, 54 percent of firearm-related deaths are suicides. Gun control advocates would have the public believe that armed citizens often accidentally kill family members, mistaking them for criminals, but such incidents constitute less than 2 percent of fatal firearms accidents, or about one for every 90,000 defensive gun uses.
 
Myth: "Gun control" laws prevent crime.
There are tens of thousands of federal, state, and local gun laws. The Gun Control Act of 1968 alone prohibits fugitives, illegal drug users, illegal aliens, mental incompetents, and certain other classes of people and persons convicted of, or under indictment for, crimes punishable by more than a year in prison from purchasing or possessing firearms. It prohibits mail order sales of firearms, prohibits sales of firearms between residents of other states who are not dealers, prohibits retail sales of handguns to persons under age 21 and rifles and shotguns to persons under age 18, and prohibits the importation of firearms "not generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." It also established the current firearms dealer licensing system. Consider the following:
 
§         The overall homicide rate in the jurisdictions that have the most severe restrictions on firearms purchase and ownership—California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., is 23 percent higher than the rate for the rest of the country.
 
§         The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 imposed unprecedented restrictions relating to firearms nationwide. Yet, compared to the five years before the law, the national homicide rate averaged 50 percent higher during the five years after the law, 75 percent higher during the next five years, and 81 percent higher during the five years after that.
 
The record is clear: gun control primarily impacts upstanding citizens, not criminals. Instead of taking guns away from citizens, holding them accountable for their actions reduces crime. The following are two ways to hold gun users accountable:
 
§         Increase incarceration rates. Between 1980 and 1994, the 10 states with the greatest increases in prison population averaged a decrease of 13 percent in violent crime, while the 10 states with the smallest increases in prison population averaged a 55 percent increase in violent crime.
 
§         Put violent criminals behind bars, and keep them there. In 1991, 162,000 criminals placed on probation instead of being imprisoned committed 44,000 violent crimes during their probation. In 1991, criminals released on parole committed 46,000 violent crimes while under supervision in the community an average of 13 months. Twenty-one percent of persons involved in the felonious killings of law enforcement officers during the last decade were on probation or parole at the time of the officers' killings.
 
Myth: Crime has decreased because of the Brady Act's five-day waiting period and the "assault weapons" law. 
Anti-gun groups and the Clinton Administration have tried to credit those two laws with the decrease. However, violent crime began declining nationally during 1992, while the Brady Act did not take effect until February 1994 and the "assault weapons" law until September 1994.
 
Crime in America declined for several other reasons. New York City, which accounted for 9 percent of all violent crimes in the U.S. during 1991, has cut violent crimes by 42 percent, with most of the decrease attributed to the New York City Police Department's widely-acclaimed crackdown on a broad range of crimes and its implementation of new police strategies. The incarceration rate has increased 62 percent nationally since 1991. Criminologists also note that during the 1990s the U.S. population, and most notably the membership of drug gangs, has aged and become less prone to violence.
 
The "assault weapon" law also has been irrelevant to the drop in crime. Not only did that law take effect well after the decrease began, assault weapons were and are used in only a very small percentage of violent crime. Assault weapons are still widely available on the commercial market because of increased production before the federal law mandated cessation of the manufacturing of these weapons. Further, the law permits the manufacture of firearms that are identical to "assault weapons" but for one or more essentially cosmetic features.
 
The Brady Act's waiting period was never imposed on many high-crime states and cities, but instead was imposed on mostly low-crime states. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia initially were exempt from the waiting period, because they already had more restrictive gun laws when the Brady Act took effect. Those areas account for 60 percent of all the murders and other violent crimes in the U.S. 
 
Furthermore, during the five years the waiting period was in effect, more than a dozen other states became exempt because of more restrictive gun laws, as well by adopting instant check laws or modifying pre-existing purchase regulations. Moreover, in Brady's first two years, the overall murder rate in states subject to its waiting period compared unfavorably to other states, declining 9 percent versus 17 percent in the other states. 
 
From “Fables, Myths, and Other Tall Fairy Tales about Gun Laws, Crime, and Constitutional Rights,” by the National Rifle Association, www.nraila.org/media/misc/fables.htm#FABLE XII. For more information on the topics discussed, contact NRA-ILA Grassroots at 1(800) 392-8683 or go to the NRA-ILA Web site at www.nraila.org.