The central debate in American gun politics hinges on interpreting the 1791 Second Amendment to the United States' Constitutionnote
"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."
A British-style militia is necessary for the USA's security, since she's too poor to have a European-style standing army and has no real need of one anyway? Sure. 'The People' can have weapons. Simple as it gets. But problems start when you try to put them together and interpret them in today's world: is the law about arming the militia in the name of 'the people' or arming 'the people' so they can form militia? One way of intepreting the USA's constitution is to conform to the intent of writers of the constitution and/or that particular change to it. The other is to go along with the general principles (freedom, prosperity, justice, democracy, etcetc) and the letter of the constitution's laws in their present form, but still actively work to have it changed and meanwhile exploit ambiguous wording to ensure the public's welfare. Do note that the USA's constitution can actually be changed, it's just very difficult because 2/3 of the people in their law-writing bodies have to agree on it.
In any case, the interpretation of this chunk of their constitution gives an ideological backbone to two causes: individual-armament
(or 'pro-gun' and 'anti-gun'), with plenty of other standpoints abounding
(minus said ideological backbone). Make no mistake - this is the USA, so both sides are in favour of extensive conventional-military and nuclear armament. But they have their differences:
lobby emphasises, well, individual armament
to a standard that makes the average citizen a useful conscript/partisan/terrorist in a Civil War. Having conscripts who have basic familiarity with weapons will cut down on their training time, allowing the faction they join to produce forces more quickly in the opening stages of the war. If they contribute their own weapons to the cause they could even simplify and cheapen their faction's attempts to arm their troops (the faction needing only to buy heavy weapons and machine-tools with which to set up factories and manufacture vast quantities of ammunition). But they also believe that the next US Civil War will have extensive partisan and terrorist elements and that it is important to ensure the armament of each individual citizen so that the Civil War faction with the greatest popular support will have an advantage - even if most of the regular military sides with the less popular side, normal people can make up the difference through sniping, (suicide-)bombings, and ambushes to deny their enemies 'secure areas' and hamper their supply lines. Relatively ordinary people (out of uniform) can also kill key public figures, ordinary enemy supporters, and their families when a regular military could not - such atrocities would demoralise the enemy faction and discourage public support for it without discrediting one's own faction too much, again favouring the side with the most popular support. Some insist that on a day-to-day basis lethal weapons like firearms are more useful than non-lethal weaponry for reducing crime via maiming and/or killing criminals in self-defense, since it is more likely to cause injury or death of the criminal if the would-be victim fires first
lobby emphasizes, well, the armament of the USA's professional military organisations - at the expense of the average citizen, who is not expected to contribute to fighting a Civil War. They are not concerned with the possibility of Civil War or its outcome, but are focused on the day-to-day management of society. Accordingly they want to restrict the armament of normal people to reduce suicide and murder (particularly mass-murder).
lobby, which is represented by the US's NRA (National Rifle Association, though members have all sorts of firearms) and other organizations, believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual
right to bear arms; that is, that the "well-regulated Militia" clause of the Second Amendment is purely explanatory (and/or that the meaning of "well-regulated" has shifted over time; in the late 1700s, "well-regulated" meant "well-equipped") and the government has no right to disarm the people. They support their position with the arguments that an armed citizenry could reduce the incidence of violent crime and allow citizens the theoretical opportunity to defend themselves when not caught by surprise, that most laws designed to reduce firearms(-mass)-murder complicate the lives of people who use guns legally, that it would be relatively easy for criminals to acquire powerful weapons even if the USA tried a European-style disarmament program, and that most firearms-suicide and firearms-crime and firearms(-mass)-murder is committed by criminals who would still be able to acquire firearms rather than insane people who would be unable to get firearms under such laws. Arguments are also made that some of
the Founding Fathers were distrustful of government (which is Truth in Television
), which is then used to claim that the purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to ensure that a Civil War could always be initiated if the central government was sufficiently unpopular, even if the army and/or navy were largely loyal to the government
. Because the Constitution already provides for a national army and navy without the Bill of Rights, the militia clause is most often interpreted to refer to the people themselves rather than the military forces of each individual state or the USA as a whole.
lobby believes that, unlike the rest of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment guarantees a collective
right; in other words, that the amendment isn't concerned with individual ownership of weapons, but seeks merely to ensure the presence of an armed militia among the American citizenry in a time when, due to the young nation's underdeveloped transportation system, the regular army would not have been able to reach every place in the country that might come under invasion (i.e. by the British). They then argue that since the government now maintains a large and indisputably well-armed standing military (not to mention each state having a National Guard, which they generally categorize as the modern-day equivalent to a "well-regulated militia), there is no need for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to run around with an assault rifle. They support their position with the arguments that an armed citizenry increases the incidence of violent crime and enables citizens to kill themselves and murder large numbers of people very easily. They support their position by arguing that there is nothing "well-regulated" about an armed population. The disagreement then becomes about how to measure "well-regulated" or why a single piece of the bill of rights guarantees a collective right, while the rest guarantees individual rights. Then there are those who point out that the United States has no authority to maintain a standing army, but that's another matter. (Besides, the government kind of went ahead and invented one anyway. As they used to say in Sparta, "If you can get away with it, it's legal.")
The concept of a citizen militia dates back to 12th century English common law
, and its requirement that royal subjects keep and bear arms for military duty. King Henry II, in the Assize of Arms
, obligated all freemen to bear arms for public defense. King Henry III required men between the ages of fifteen and fifty (including non-land owning subjects) to bear arms. The reason was that in the absence of a regular army and police force
, it was the duty of citizen militias to keep watch and ward at night to capture and confront suspicious persons.
As of June 26, 2008, the United States Supreme Court
found that an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense exists within the Second Amendment, in the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller
. The chances of this solving the general argument are about nil. About two years later, the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago
that the right to bear arms is incorporated
against the states, meaning that states (and, by extension, local governments, which were created by the states) cannot ban guns outright. However, Justice Alito's majority opinion clearly leaves leeway for governments to regulate access to firearms in their jurisdiction. This allows them to implement age restrictions and mandatory background checks to limit access they see fit, as well as the power to outright ban certain types or specific models of guns and related accessories. Despite the fact that both rulings affirm the right of ordinary citizens to bear arms while not considering it completely inviolable, both ''individual-armament'' and ''militia-armament''advocates remain dissatisfied
as the ruling failed to clarify how existing firearms regulations are to be reviewed. In any case, the ruling prompted the NRA to file multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of several pre-existing firearms regulations, which will likely be tied up in courts for years.
The point is, there is a lot of disagreement on the issue.
Just about the only thing that both sides of the debate have in common is that their arguments are supported by the verbiage of the Constitution of the United States of America. Key among them is of course, the Second Amendment, which is rooted in the history of the colonies prior to The American Revolution
For the longest time, the thirteen British colonies of North America did not maintain any standing armies of their own. Given the expanse of the frontier and the shakiness of some of the government's agreements with the various Amerindian tribes, the colonists could not rely on British troops for protection either from them either. Local defense (especially in border-regions) fell to the citizens themselves, who formed themselves into armed militia to raid the Amerindians, maintain law and order, and theoretically defend their homes if the French or Spanish or Dutch should attack. All adult males were normally expected to be a member of the local militia, and would provide and maintain their own firearms. Life on the frontier being uncertain as it was, practically every household kept a musket for protection or hunting anyhow.
When a series of incidents in Colonial North America dragged mainland Britain into the Seven Years' War
(known locally as the 'French and Indian War'), the local militias were called up to defend their terrories and free up manpower for the regular army. Some of these were then formed into regular army regiments commanded by their own British-American officers, George Washington
being a prominent example. The crown had to invest considerable resources in defending the colonies before the tide of war finally turned. Contributions of the militia over the course of the war were minimal, though the war would have a significant impact on subsequent events. The government was already heavily indebted before the war, but the expense of servicing the newest war-time loans meant that new revenue would have to come in they wanted to stay on top of the added interest. Since British America paid practically nothing
in tax, despite having a fifth of the entire population of the United Kingdom on its lonesome, the bean-counters in London figured that they could at least get something
more out of them - not least because it was their damned fault there was a war and all those extra debts in the first place! Needless to say the richer colonists were not pleased because they were quite happy with paying virtually no taxes, thank you, and ideologically-minded folk throughout the whole country (not just North America) agreed that it was unconstitutional to tax segments of the population who didn't elect members to parliament and thereby give their consent to said taxes. One thing lead to another, and in a few short years the government found itself facing the second Civil War
in as many centuries.note
The American Revolution
was said to have "officially" begun when the army got word that the militias were stockpiling large quantities of gunpowder and other munitions. So, on April 19, 1775, the army sent out a force from Boston
to the countryside to confiscate militia arms and arrest revolutionaries in Concord. When they arrived in Lexington, they were confronted by the local militia on the village square. Shots were fired and fighting broke out: the militia got their faces stomped into the grass
, but had bought enough time for the supply caches in town to be removed and to alert colonial garrisons in other communities. The army force ended up getting shot to pieces as they marched to Concord and back. News of the Battles at Lexington and Concord spread, and one by one the colonies' governments eventually rose in rebellion. The rest as they say, is history.
So as you can see, the practice of maintaining firearms in the household is firmly rooted in the US's history. Aside from its use as a means of killing Indians and Frenchmen, helping police the village, and killing game for food, it also played a prominent (albeit often exaggerated) role in the Civil War/War of Independence. When the war ended, the necessity of maintaining a militia for defense of the union as well as allowing citizens to keep their own firearms would be enshrined as a constitutional right for reasons that were quite practical, as law enforcement was virtually non-existent and the nascent republic was so weak that the greatest threat to its national security was actually the establishment of a unified Amerindian Nation that could block its westward expansion
. It also appealed to the Enlightenment beliefs that would form the basis of how the new nation was to be run, namely that the sovereignty of the state is established through the common interest of the people.
But two hundred years is a long time, and a lot has changed since then.
For similar information on Australia's gun laws, click here
This isn't as much of a party-line issue as most topics. From the 2008 Presidential Democratic and Republican nomination cycles, Bill Richardson was a Democrat and a gun-friendly candidate, while Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani were very much on the side of further gun control while being Republicans. That having been said, no remotely sane Republican candidate for President can risk grossly alienating the National Rifle Association voting bloc during the general election season, while at least one Democratic candidate has done so and still won.
American gun control policy is one of the more emotional issues in the sphere of US politics. Its importance derives partially from the concept of "single-issue voting", which we
here on the enlightened and egalitarian TV Tropes
database call "Single-Issue Wonk
". What this means is that there are certain blocs of people who will vote for or against a candidate based solely
on their position on a single hot-button issue: the candidate could agree with them on everything except that one issue, and the single-issue voters would still go against them. Besides gun control, other hot-button topics include, but are not limited to abortion, the war in Iraq, gay marriage and legalization of marijuana.
Many Americans on the individual-armament
side of the debate argue that private gun ownership is essential to guerilla warfare, which is in turn a key way of striking back at unpopular governments; on the whole Americans are still very mindful of the need for military mobilization and guerilla warfare, which makes sense when you think about the English Civil War
that was still in living memory when they fought another Civil War
which was still in living memory when they fought ''another'' Civil War
and then another just to cap it all off
. Besides, enough abuses of power are reported daily to inspire some mistrust of a government monopoly on weaponry, especially given the examples of countries where authoritarian governments have
enacted disarmament in the aftermath of Civil Wars or armed rebellions - the prime example cited being post-Civil War Red China
, which upon its victory in 1950 disarmed the country's millions of politically-unreliable warlord militiamen and bandits
due to their bad habits of robbing and killing people note
. In any case, some feel that private gun ownership would be useful in guerilla warfare in a civil war or foreign occupying power. These arguments are very much theoretical given that the USA is neither on the brink of Civil War nor in any danger of being occupied, and Americans favoring 'gun control' tend to ignore them or consider them irrelevant to their country's contemporary politics.
More contentious is the usefulness of firearms against street-level crime. Gun-rights advocates often play up the deterrence effect of an armed citizenry: a 1994 study by the Department of Justice titled "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms" estimated approximately 1.5 million defensive gun uses (that is to say, incidents where the presence of a firearm either successfully defended against crime or deterred a criminal from committing a crime, without the firearm in question having necessarily been used) occur per year. Gun-control groups however, state that any such effects are outweighed by accidental deaths and greater availability of firearms to criminals: it is undeniable that the United States has a disproportionately higher level of homicides and violent crimes when compared to most other developed nations. Plenty of anecdotal evidence gets thrown around by both sides, along with statistics of questionable believability.
Part of the difference in opinion is due to the usual rural/urban divide in American politics. In rural areas, police presence is much lower, and while crime is generally lower, in the face of a criminal a citizen is less likely to get a timely response from a police officer and more likely to need to take self-defense into his or her own hands. In a heavily urban area, police presence is higher and hence the need for personal lethal self-defense is lower, while the density of people means that even legal guns are more likely to find their way into criminal hands (e.g. through theft) There's also concern about the extent of self-defense laws, which may more or less justify use of an appropriate level of force to defend yourself. The problem is that the definition of "appropriate" can be very broad, even before taking into account the huge amount of variance that occurs across jurisdictions. Consider this: if one person draws and kills another and the survivor claims that their life was in danger, are they justified in their use of force when the evidence does not necessarily support that view? A man claimed to be an intruder on one's property may actually be lost and looking for directions, or simply drunk, but the shooting itself may be provoked by genuine fear.
Understanding American gun legislation requires a certain amount of familiarity with terminology. Here's a short primer:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE, but commonly referred to as simply the ATF) defines the categories of small arms as follows:
- Rifle: A firearm designed for use with 2 hands, with a rifled bore and either a shoulder stock or a pair of vertical grips. Minimum overall length 26 inches, barrel length 16 inches from muzzle to breach face.
- Short Barreled Rifle: As above, but failing one or both of the length minimums. Legal, with a $200 tax stamp.
- Shotgun: Similar to Rifle, but with a smooth bore and a minimum barrel length of 18 inches.
- Short Barreled Shotgun: Determined and taxed as Short Barreled Rifle. A modified (sawed-off) shotgun is considered illegal due to concealability concerns.
- Pistol: A weapon intended for use with one hand, with a rifled bore. No length restrictions.
- Any Other Weapon: A firearm that does not fall into an above category. The most common examples of this category are smoothbore pistols. Though it costs $200 for the initial tax stamp, it costs only $5 to transfer the weapon.
- With the exception of shotguns that only have a pistol grip. The ATF determined in 2010 that such a weapon was not a "firearm" as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934, although it was a "firearm" under the Gun Control Act of 1968. As a result, it is treated as an "other weapon"—NOT "Any Other Weapon"—and requires no tax stamp or special paperwork other than that required for a standard shotgun or pistol.
- Machine Gun: Any weapon that fires more than one bullet at a time, regardless of what other categories it falls into. This includes fully automatic (constant fire), burst (firing a mechanically regulated set number of rounds) and selective (possessing 2 or more user selected firing modes). Originally phrased as one bullet "per trigger pull", but was changed after people started making fully-automatic weapons with no triggers. Does not include crank powered weapons such as the Gatling Gun. Technically legal, and costs $200 to transfer, but no new tax stamps have been issued since 1986, and the ATF will often at least try to prosecute you for owning one regardless of its legality anyway.
- Destructive Device: A rifled bore weapon greater than .50 caliber in bore, explosive devices, and any weapon repurposed to launch an explosive device. Includes anti-tank weapons. Does not include flare guns unless you either acquire or make a grenade that will fit it, in which case both will be considered a Destructive Device when the charges are filed.
In 1994, the US Congress passed an assault weapons ban, a measure that limited the sale of larger capacity weapons and was somewhat of a porridge of a law. Valid for only 10 years, it lapsed in 2004. In addition to banning some weapons by name (including the TEC-9 pistol, which had come to be associated with street gangs) and restricting magazine capacities
to just ten rounds, it introduced a list of features that a weapon could have only a certain number of, including heat shields, bayonet lugs, pistol grips and thumbhole stocks on rifles and magazines outside the grip on pistols. This law is generally considered a joke on both sides, largely for the same reason: it banned things that looked scary (like the heat shields, which are, in fact, safety features for the operator) regardless of actual lethality
. In addition, most arms makers were able to retool
their lines, trimming off enough listed features to stay in production (such as the deletion of the bayonet lug from Colt's post-'94 AR-15 rifles). This law only applied to semi-automatic weapons, even though the news networks often played footage from the North Hollywood Shootoutnote
while discussing it.
Civilians can own machine guns made before May 1986. However, due to high demand and a very small and increasingly worn-out supply, they are more expensive than most cars
. Obtaining one requires a substantial amount of paperwork, the same background check that purchasing a single shot rifle does, and a $200 tax stamp (this is not a permit, though it is mistaken for one a lot). The $200 tax stamp rule was started in the 1930s when $200 was cost-prohibitive to almost everybody. While the dollar amount has stayed the same since the '30s, owning a machine gun or assault rifle is still far too expensive for most Americans due to the aforementioned value of such weapons.
As of recent years, some states (Kansas, Georgia and Texas to name a few) have fully legalized machine guns and other fully automatic weapons, although the permits required for them can typically fill bookcases.
All states have concealed-carry laws, allowing a person to carry a weapon in a concealed holster with a permit. The ease of obtaining these permits varies widely; Alaska, Vermont and Arizona don't require permits at all
, but getting a permit does have benefits (can carry in more places, speeds up buying a firearm, and can carry in some other states), while in other states, multiple legal hurdles have to be jumped through to acquire a permit. Many states do not outlaw the carry of an un
concealed weapon, or require a permit for such activity, although even carrying a weapon openly and lawfully can result in negative political results and get you a lot
of funny looks depending on where you are. Note that the instruction of law enforcement agencies can
supersede the law: if the Secret Service says that you cannot carry a gun when the President is in the building, regardless of whether or not it's allowed in that particular state, you will
be arrested for failing to comply. In California, unless you are rich, powerful, know the right people or live in a rural county, a concealed carry permit is out of the question, as they are issued at the discretion of county sheriffs.
The issue of gun laws frequently ends up in the courts, but these cases don't tend to go anywhere; the Heller decision on DC gun laws is the first Supreme Court ruling on the topic in nearly seventy years.
In general, where there is a requirement to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon (CC permit), the permit system generally devolves into one of two forms: "shall issue" and everything else. Under a "shall issue" system, you fill out a form, may have to provide some qualifications (like having had some firearms safety training), and pay a fee. You get fingerprinted and photographed, and unless you have a criminal record, the police shall issue
you a permit; they cannot refuse. Under all other permit systems, they can impose additional requirements or refuse to issue you a permit altogether.
In some places, you couldn't carry, open or concealed without a permit, but if you have a permit it will allow concealed carry. Until the Heller
decision, Washington D.C. was under a "shall not issue" regime; you could be a security guard (as Heller was) who had a police permit to carry a weapon on duty, but you could not, for love or money, get a permit to have a gun at home. New York City
was almost as restrictive, but if you either have (considerable) money or (equally considerable) political connections you could get a permit. Before a federal court decision in December 2012 held that Illinois' blanket ban on concealed carry was unconstitutional, Chicago had been perhaps the most restrictive of all — the city refused to even print the registration forms required by city ordinance to allow firearms to be kept in the home, let alone carry permits. That is, unless you had the aforementioned considerable money or political connections (note that Chicago is infamous for its corrupt machine politics, so this isn't special). Since then, Illinois has passed a concealed carry law that allows all legal owners of firearms who complete a 16-hour training course and pass a background check to receive permits. The new law creates a "shall issue" regime, with permits issued by the Illinois State Police (therefore taking all local governments, including Chicago, out of the loop).
One of the more contentious areas in the digital age arises from online and gun show sales, due to concerns over how weapons sold in such a way could be obtained by criminals, due to not requiring a background checknote
A few investigative reports have shown that existing standards are sometimes not enforced, as vendors sometimes take a buyer at their word rather than double-checking the license, or sell a gun to someone that doesn't live within the same state via online trading. In a few cases, this Loophole Abuse allowed those that were legally barred from gun ownership to get one from an unlicensed vendor
, with one investigation done by the City of New York finding that 77 out of 125 vendors would sell to
those that admitted
that they probably couldn't pass a background check.
This news has led gun control proponents to push for universal background checks, while those against this idea invoke the Slippery Slope Fallacy
by saying that it would only be a matter of time before a national gun registry was created if the background checks became universal
. Compounding this is the argument that enforcing such background checks would be burdensome on non-FFL vendors. Interestingly, the NRA (see below) used to endorse the idea of universal background checks in the mid-'90s before siding with the latter camp.
National Rifle Association (NRA)
and Assorted Gun Rights Advocates
The main gun lobby is the National Rifle Association's Institute For Legislative Action. Not only do they spend large amounts of money supporting politicians and lobbying, but the NRA itself provides legal support, firearms safety training, and sponsors marksmanship tournaments throughout the United States. In some instances, NRA-certified instructors have an official status in gun training and hunting; most states that license the carrying of concealed weapons specifically recognize NRA instructors by statute.
While they officially state their primary purpose is to support game hunters, target shooters, gun collectors, and the defense of lawful citizens from crime, they tend to take a hard line against gun control measures regardless of their apparent relation to these groups. While very recently they have moderated some of their more extreme positions, they have resisted attempts to ban machine guns, assault weapons (however defined), and armor-piercing ammunition, as well as identification measures to prevent felons and mentally ill people from buying firearms. Their resistance to background checks and licensing for gun owners has also attracted some controversy. On the other hand, the NRA supported the current background check system, the NICS, and seldom lobbies against legislation to increase penalties for preexisting crimes.
While the NRA is the predominate supporter of lawful gun usage, it's not the only one in the United States. Other noteworthy groups include the Pink Pistols, who focus on self-defense for GLBT individuals
, the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and the Gun Owners of America; the latter two tend to be more absolutist on the matter of gun control than the NRA. The Second Amendment Foundation and Law Enforcement Alliance of America are generally, although not always, considered more moderate supporters of gun owners' rights.
and Associated Gun Control Advocates
American gun control advocates do not really have a single unified public face like the NRA does. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was particularly powerful during the early-mid '90s, but now is primarily a force inside major cities, while the Violence Policy Center and American Hunters and Shooters Association tend to have stronger showings in more suburban or rural areas. General points of focus are the ban of assault weapons, handguns, and some types of ammunition, in addition to raising taxes on guns and ammunition, requiring longer waiting periods or police permission for gun ownership, and limiting sales of firearms.
The most general and noteworthy group would be the Joyce Foundation; it does not lobby personally, but is a major source of funding for a lot of different gun control advocates
, ranging from groups as small as blogs to as large as the Violence Policy Center.
Gun control advocates tend to be criticized on a number of grounds — beyond questions of constitutionality, critics often bring up the fact that anyone already willing to commit murder (one of if not the most severe class A felony on the books and with a max sentence of life imprisonment or death) is hardly likely to be deterred by a charge of unlawful firearms possession (a class C felony with a max sentence of 10 years), claim that the gun laws advocated by these groups punish the innocent without blocking the criminally inclined, and that the facts and terms used by gun control advocates are misleading at best and more likely entirely false. In short, "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns
Back in the 1980s, there was a significant increase in crimes being committed on tourists in Florida. Nobody could figure out why tourists were being targeted for robberies and other violent felonies until someone looked at the change in the law. Florida had gone to a "shall issue" concealed carry permit system which allowed any resident without a felony conviction to get a permit for concealed carry. But this obviously did not apply to non-residents, so criminals watched for people who drove automobiles that had rental car license plates, and (correctly, in most cases) targeted those people as they would be less likely to be a resident who might be carrying a concealed weapon. This problem became serious enough that Florida and some other states discontinued, except on request, the special classes of license plates that indicate a vehicle is a rental car. Of course, the facts that tourists are a popular and easy target just about everywhere, and that Florida gets huge numbers of them, is rarely mentioned.
The Violence Policy Center, for example, has falsely claimed
that there "are virtually no significant differences" between semiautomatic assault weapons and automatic assault rifles (except for that the fully
automatic weapons continue to discharge rounds for as long as the trigger is held back, and semi
-automatic weapons fire only one round per trigger pull, which you'd think would be considered a "significant difference"!), falsely accused Barrett Firearms Company of selling .50 caliber rifles to Al-Qaeda, and has stated that "[Semi-Automatic assault weapons] are arguably more deadly than [selective fire] military versions."
. The Brady Campaign has moved to ban plastic guns, despite the fact that no guns capable of passing undetected through x-ray machines or metal detectors currently exist, fictitious claims
about the x-ray-opaque and >1.5 lbs of metal GLOCKs aside. The Joyce Foundation is also criticized for funding small groups of other advocates and of scholarly studies, with individual-armament
groups claiming that this amounts to astroturfing
and creating questionably accurate studies on an amazing scale. The NRA and other gun control opponents have also criticized the terms "assault weapon" and "armor piercing ammunition", as they do not have any clear definition, and proposed laws claiming to ban just "assault weapons" or "armor piercing ammunition" have covered popular non-military rifles and handguns like the Ruger 10/22 or Walther P22, as well as ammunition used for deer hunting, like the .30-06 (in fact, almost all centerfire rifle ammunition can pierce body armor).
Firearm-Related Crime Statistics
According to Department of Justice statistics
, in the year 2008 (the most recent year for which this data and analysis is available)
"The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) measures the nonfatal violent crimes of rape/sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault. Victims who experience violent crimes are asked if the offender(s) used weapons.
In 2008 —
- An offender was armed with a gun, knife, or other object used as a weapon in an estimated 20% of all incidents of violent crime.
- Offenders used firearms to commit 7% of violent crime incidents in 2008.
- Robberies (40%) were the most likely crime to involve an armed offender.
- Firearms (24%) were the most common weapons used in robberies.
- Most rapes and assaults did not involve the use of a weapon, although rape is overwhelmingly a personal rather than random crime and so emotional manipulation and/or non-violent co-ercion is all that is needed.
- Of serious nonfatal 'violent victimizations', 28% were committed with a firearm, 4% were committed with a firearm and resulted in injury, and less than 1% resulted in gunshot wounds."
This study tells us that most crime committed with firearms doesn't end in murder or even injury, despite the threat thereof. It also tells us that while weapons, particularly firearms, are often used to commit crimes most
crimes are committed without them. What we can't
speak of from this one study alone is whether the greater levels of armament in the USA (50%, versus 15% in Australia) result in higher overall levels of murder and crime: to do that we would need to analyse other countries. See Firearm Deaths Statistics
for such details.
Firearm-Related Suicide Statistics
According to a cross-cultural study of European countries and firearms-deaths done by Harvard
the availability of firearms has less effect on murder- and suicide-rates than other factors
, and that a more heavily armed society is not necessarily
one with more murders and suicides. 'Happier' countries have fewer murders and suicides and 'unhappier' countries have more: all a few percentage-points' worth of difference in firearms-ownership does is pave the way. One notable exception is the efficiency of firearm-suicide, which is drastically more lethal than other methods (hitting things at speed, cutting off air-supply, bleeding, drug-overdose).
The practical upshot of this study for US readers is that while large-scale disarmament would reduce her (firearms)-deaths, diminishing returns
would begin to kick in once firearms-ownership was under about 20% or so (after a a 60% reduction in ownership). Reducing gun-ownership below that level would have less and less effect on the overall number of suicides and murders as ownership approached zero - factors other than ownership (attitudes to criminals & rehabilitation thereof, unemployment, leisure-time, etcetc) become more important in determining murder and suicide rates than armament-figures once you get below that 20% mark.
Firearm-Related Death Statistics
Of the industrialized democratic nations, the United States leads in firearm deaths by a huge margin. The United States also happens to be the only one with mass access to firearms - some 50% of their population is armed, versus less than 20% for everyone else.
Guns per 100 residents
runs as follows: (Note that Switzerland requires adult males to have a firearm in their house as part of their army reserve. Said firearm is not to be used for any other purpose and is almost a holy object never to be touched except for official duty. It is also unloaded, with ammunition only to be handed out at government-run armories when they are actually called up-thus it's basically just a club.)
- United States: 90
- Switzerland: 46
- France 32
- Finland 32
- Greece 31.8
- Canada 31.5
- Sweden 31.5
- Austria 31
- Germany 30
- New Zealand 26.8
- Australia 15.5
- Italy 12.1
- United Kingdom 5.6
Note these figures are based on the total number of guns; if a collector owns 50 guns, it obviously doesn't mean one person per gun. Although the USA has a nearly 1:1 firearm:citizen ratio, only half her population is actually armed.
List of the same countries by firearm-related death rate per 100,000 population in one year
- United States: 15.22 (or 11.66 depending on which figure you use)
- Finland: 6.86
- Switzerland: 6.4
- France: 6.35
- Canada: 4.78
- Italy: 2.95
- Austria: 2.94
- Australia: 2.94
- New Zealand: 2.66
- Sweden: 2.36
- Germany: 1.57
- Greece: 1.5
- United Kingdom (England/Wales): 0.46 or 0.38
Looking at all deaths-by-gun in America, the vast majority fall into one of the following categories:
- A person killing themselves by using their own gun.
- A person accidentally shooting themselves or a close family member with their own gun.
- A person deliberately shooting themselves or a close family member with their own gun.
Briefly, if there is a gun in your house, you are much more likely to be killed with that gun than any other.
The New England Journal of Medicine has found that
, "Keeping a gun in the home [is] strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide."
If your head is still in one piece after reading all that, we take our hats off to you. No pun intended.