Subject: 10 Myths of Gun Control from NRA-ILA This is the piece I was asking about a while

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

From: starr@genie.slhs.udel.edu (Tim Starr) Subject: 10 Myths of Gun Control from NRA-ILA Message-ID: 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 for typos: 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 enforcement business." 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 private use." 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 fact. MYTH: "The Majority of American favor strict new additional federal gun controls." 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- tive. 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 anti-gun ordinances. 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 firearms debate. 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 (1977).) 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 was armed. * 57 percent of "handgun predators" were scared off or shot at by armed victims. * 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 doing so. 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 soar." 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 $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 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 victims. 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 banned." 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 government. 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 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 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 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 (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 defense." 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 constitution. 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 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, 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 homicides. 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 offenses. 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 criminals. 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 themselves. 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 such laws. 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 criminals. 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.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank