Guns in America, Facts and Myths

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A Brief History

On June 21, 1982, John Warnock Hinckley Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in March of 1981.  Hinckley used a firearm in his assassination attempt, a weapon a mentally ill person in the United States is not supposed to be able to purchase or possess.  Hinckley fired a cheap, foreign import .22 LR revolver six times, striking President Reagan with a ricochet, gravely wounding the elderly president.  Also seriously wounded was press secretary Jim Brady, as well as a police officer and a Secret Service agent.  A Cleveland, Ohio labor official on the scene, Alfred Antenucci, subdued Hinckley with a blow to the head and a tackle.  Frank J. McNamara, yet another Cleveland based labor official, jumped on the would-be assassin and started punching the downed assassin.  (Moral of the story, do not mess with Cleveland labor officials!)

Digging Deeper

This horrible incident nearly cost President Reagan his life, and ruined the life of Jim Brady, leaving the poor man permanently disabled.  When Brady died 33 years later, his death was ruled a homicide due to being shot back in 1981.  Brady’s wife, Sarah, became chairperson of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a staunchly anti-gun political action organization that became a prominent voice for “gun control” in the United States.  The first bit of success by Sarah Brady and her organization was the passage of The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, also known as “the Brady Bill.”  (The link in this paragraph is to our many articles about “gun control.”)

Why was John Hinckley, a man ruled to be insane, allowed to purchase a firearm?  In the US, people “adjudicated” mentally incompetent are prohibited from buying or possessing a firearm, but there is the rub!  Merely having been treated for mental illness, even being hospitalized for some sort of mental illness, does not necessarily make a citizen ineligible for firearm purchase and ownership.  A court has to say they are mentally incompetent.  Additionally, getting such adjudication in the computerized data system the FBI relies on for “instant” background checks is not infallible.  Likewise, felons that commit a crime of violence, domestic violence of any type, or a drug offense, are also prohibited from buying and possessing firearms, as are drug addicts.  As with mental incompetency, these other disqualifying factors are not always promptly and surely entered into the database.

More Background Checks!

So, what happens when a prohibited person tries to buy a gun from an authorized gun dealer?  Federal law says a person providing false information on a firearm purchase application that is found to have done so by failing the background check is liable for imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.  You might think such severe penalties would discourage felons and other persons considered “under disability” (meaning they are not allowed to buy a gun) from trying to buy a gun, but you would be wrong!  In the year2017, for example, a whopping 112,710 people tried to buy a gun from a registered gun dealer, only to have their application rejected for false information or for disqualifying factors.  Of that considerable number of people, only 12 were prosecuted for supplying false information!

Gun enthusiasts and Second Amendment supporters are driven absolutely nuts over the failure of the Federal Government to enforce laws that prohibit felons and other select individuals from buying or possessing a firearm.  Seriously, why do they not prosecute such persons?  This problem has been written about extensively, to no particular avail.  Instead of using the stringent laws already in place, “gun grabbers” consistently demand “common sense” gun control measures that are anything but common sense.  Every time a mass shooting happens, gun control advocates demand measures that would in no way have prevented the heinous crime that spawns the outcry.  Below are listed some common gun control and crime myths that confuse normal, average people into supporting ridiculous gun laws.

Universal Background Checks

Here is one of the phrases spoken over and over and over.  Many Americans agree with the sentiment of “universal background checks,” unfortunately under the mistaken impression this means every time a bad person or mentally ill person tries to buy a gun they will be foiled.  Wrong!  Although “straw purchases” where a legal person buys a gun and provides it to a person under disability are illegal, we know from experience that people will do exactly that anyway.  Felons will buy guns illegally, steal them, or whatever they have to do to get their hands on a gun.  What people do not realize with the idea of universal background checks, that every single firearm transfer must require Federal paperwork and a background check.  This includes guns given as gifts among family members, inherited firearms, etc.  How about loaning a gun to a hunting buddy?  We hope you ran a background check first!  Meanwhile, the vast majority of mass shooters acquired their firearms through the usual background check process.  While background checks are important, they are in no way a magic wand that will prevent gun crimes.

Universal Background Checks means total gun registration

Unless every single firearm in the United States is registered and downloaded into the Federal database, the idea of universal background checks cannot work.  So, this means gun registration.  So what, you may ask?  Cars are registered!  Yes, but in virtually every single place that mandated universal gun registration the government ended up seizing the guns or forced “buy backs” which are a euphemism for seizing/confiscating guns.  Britain, Australia, Canada, all sorts of places (Nazi Germany for example) first registered guns, then decided which ones the government would have to confiscate.  Make no mistake, universal gun registration and universal background checks will absolutely and positively lead to gun confiscation.

Gun Show Exception

There is no “gun show exception.”  Registered Federal Firearms license holders have to record all purchases and attempted purchases on appropriate forms and call in each and every transaction for an instant background check.  Private sales between 2 citizens, and gifts among family members and the like do not require such paperwork and background check.  Gun shows have nothing to do with this.  In fact, seldom have gun shows been the source of a firearm used in a mass shooting when purchased by a transaction other than through a licensed gun dealer.

More guns = More Murders (Not!)

There are somewhere in excess of 350 million privately owned firearms in the United States today, probably more than double the number of American guns 50 years ago, and yet the murder rate was about 33% HIGHER in 1974 than it is now.  In fact, Americans have been shattering gun sales records regularly for the past few years.  When you consider, say 40,000 gun deaths (including suicides, accidents and justified shootings) per year in the US, that means a whopping 11 out of every 10,000 guns is used in a crime.  Since actual gun deaths are sometimes attributed to one gun per multiple deaths, the odds of a firearm being used in a killing of any type is infinitesimally small!

Ghost Guns

While firearms built without serial numbers and not registered with the Federal Government are scary in theory, in practice they have almost no impact at all on the crime scene in the US.  For practical purposes, while there is the potential for abuse, the impact and incidence of such abuse is so low as to be negligible.  It is a non-issue, a “nothing burger” if you will.  You may as well armor the top of your house in case an airplane engine were to fall on it.

Assault Weapons

This is the one that really drives gun advocates batty.  A real assault weapon, if there is such a thing, is a weapon capable of fully automatic fire (machine gun), as well as semi-automatic fire.  Typical features such as a pistol grip, barrel shroud, and bayonet lug in no way enhance the deadliness of the weapon or the danger to the public, and yet gun control advocates consistently attack these features!  Seriously, this is nuts.  For one thing, rifles and long guns of all types are seldom used in murders and other crimes.  When they are, the media makes considerable hay of the event.  The reality is that in 2019, only 364 Americans were murdered by someone using a rifle of any type, a tad over 2% of gun murders.  Presumably, the number murdered by AR-15 and AK-47 clones would be somewhat less, something well under 2% of murder victims in the US.  While over 300 deaths by murder is terrible, let us compare this to some other murder weapons.  That same year, 600 Americans were murdered by hands, feet and otherwise unarmed people!  Should we outlaw hands?  Another 397 people were killed by a murderer wielding a “blunt object.”  Yet another surprise, 1467 Americans were murdered via a knife in 2019.  About 39,000 Americans are killed with firearms each year in recent years (which is virtually the same as 1968, when the US had about 100 million fewer people!), yet gun control advocates seldom mention that nearly 2/3’s of those killed with firearms are suicides!  An additional 486 Americans died from accidental gun shot wounds in 2019, while 553 were shot and killed by police.

A word about “Bump stocks” and the like

The so called bump stock device that was used by the shooter at the Mandalay Bay Hotel mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, was an anomaly.  Of course, such devices were quickly banned, although no other use of such a device has ever been a factor in any notable mass shooting.  The knee jerk reaction of gun control advocates to irrationally ban everything related to any incident could hardly be better demonstrated than by the bump stock ban.  The shooter did use one device, but he also had an incredible arsenal of 14 AR-15 type rifles (all with bump stocks), as well as another 8 AR-10 (.30 caliber) rifles, a bolt action rifle and a handgun.  Bump stocks are never used by any serious law enforcement or military user, or any savvy civilian shooter as the devices are tricky to use and not particularly useful.  They do make a nifty noise and impressive display of firepower but are prone to jamming and other failures.  Banning such devices is not likely to have saved anyone’s life.  Other devices attaching to the trigger of weapons or otherwise enabling rapid fire that mimics full automatic fire are similarly not practical for use in “combat,” best left to fooling around at the range.

Gun Murders are up! (Not!)

While the murder rate has been rising in the last few years, overall the trend in the US is that murders, including gun related murders, are well below the peak of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when the gun death rate per 100,000 Americans reached 16.3 in 1974, compared to 12 per 100,000 Americans in 2017.  The “gun death” rate that same year was 10.6 per 100,000.  That is a huge decrease!  Do not be fooled by total numbers, as those numbers are inflated due to the greatly increased population.  The actual murder rate, and gun murder rate, are well below what they used to be.  Increased media attention would make you tend to believe otherwise.

Mass Shootings only happen in the United States (Not!)

For a variety of reasons, the US has more mass shootings and gun related murders than many other developed, industrial countries, but many other countries have a higher murder rate than the US.  Many other countries have also experienced mass shootings, including Russia this year, and some of those instances have been detailed in our articles on this site.  The US ranks #20 out of 195 nations listed for gun deaths.  Additionally, many “mass shootings” (depending on how the term is defined) are committed with the use of firearms other than “assault weapon” look-alikes.  Incredibly, even when such a shooting takes place when handguns or shotguns were used, the cries to “Ban assault weapons!” are more strident than ever.  Check out this link to an example of a non-US mass shooting, or this link to a mass shooting in Switzerland that actually appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. (Boy were we surprised to see our own article on a national TV show!)  Or the incident in Norway that left 77 people dead in 2011.  Another “civilized” country with strict gun laws is Finland, yet in 2008, a gunman using a mere .22 LR pistol killed 11 people.  Numerous other countries and regions also experience mass murders and mass shootings, including South Korea in 1982, when a shooter killed 56 people!

Banning guns will end mass murders (Not!)

Mass murderers have a nearly limitless supply of deadly devices available to them, including bombs, arson, poison gas, other poisons, and motor vehicles.  Many instances of mass murder and mayhem through the use of edged weapons (knives and the like) happen all the time all over the world.  In fact, we have written about many of these instances, including the worst mass murder at an American school in our history.  In 2016, a terrorist used a truck as a ramming and killing device at Nice, France, killing an incredible 86 victims and injuring nearly 500 more!  (Those numbers are eerily similar to the carnage at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas in 2017,)

(Here is a link to an article that links many of our mass murder articles on our website.)

Gun Free Zones save lives (No, they don’t)

Many localities and businesses declare areas as no guns allowed zones, as are almost all schools and public government places as well as libraries and museums.  Yet, virtually every mass shooting occurs where guns are banned!  You never hear of someone shooting up a gun show!  Cop conventions are miraculously mass murder free despite most of the attendees carrying pistols.  In fact, by declaring your store or other area as a “gun free zone,” you are only guaranteeing that law abiding citizens will not be armed if a murderous gunman or gunmen decide to victimize the people there.  Places that authorize concealed carry usually experience 2 things: The first is a decrease in crime, and the second is that people that carry a firearm legally are so rarely engaged in crime as to be virtually an anomaly.  Bad people and mentally ill people do not obey signs.

Machine guns and silencers are LEGAL

Contrary to popular belief, any citizen in good standing may purchase and own one or more machine guns and silencers/sound suppressors for their firearms.  These items are regulated, and the purchaser must undergo a more rigid background check than normally applied to gun buyers and pay a one time tax stamp fee.  Meanwhile, although these items are available, so few criminals use either full automatic weapons (machine guns) or silencers that such use is exceptional, bordering on bizarre if a criminal actually employs such a device.

The Second Amendment is an Individual Right to Bear Arms

The unfortunate wording of the Second Amendment referring to a “well ordered militia” confuses many people that are not familiar with early American history.  The Founding Fathers definitely intended this measure to mean individual citizens in good standing could own not just firearms, but military firearms.  In those days, rifles were smaller caliber than the smoothbore military long arms (muskets), and historically many European countries did not let the common people own guns, swords and other weapons of war.  Our Founding Fathers meant for us to have access to military style weapons, including cannons, to prevent government tyranny and to allow common folk to defend themselves.  If you take the time to read the Federalist Papers and other early writings by the Founding Fathers and those commenting on the actions of the Founding Fathers, you will see what I mean.  The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed the Second Amendment as an individual right, much to the chagrin and bafflement of gun control advocates that do not properly study history.

The gun lobby prevents “red flag” and “no buy” lists

Surprise!  It is the ACLU and liberal activists that are the opponents of such measures because, as is often the case with government, the measures are often poorly written and infringe on the civil rights of citizens and the due process needed to ensure those rights.  While we support the idea of “red flag” laws by which family, friends, co-workers and neighbors can report people they fear may be a danger to society, we do insist such programs have safeguards against people being vindictive or silly with such reports.  Any person so identified or accused has to have a swift and sure resolution to his or her case to prevent unjust interference with that person’s rights, nor should such proceedings cost the identified person out of pocket expenses.  The potential for abuse or idiocy in such programs is profound, and all of us need strict protection against being trolled through the use of such measures.

Gun control is racist and classist

Poor people and people of low economic condition often live in the most dangerous of areas and are the citizens most likely to need a firearm for protection.  Rich people in gated communities with responsive police departments and fancy alarm systems cannot fathom the fear and danger someone walking to and from work or the store in a ghetto experiences.  Elderly folks, especially in impoverished areas, are helpless against thugs unless they are armed.  Police response time cannot save you, and you are in fantasy land if you think otherwise.  Bad guys do not need guns!  Miscreants and evil doers that are younger and stronger or outnumber their intended victim can prey upon that victim with no fear of having the tables turned on them unless that potential victim is armed.  Idiotic efforts to curb firearms purchase and ownership by eliminating “cheap” guns, often using the highly prejudicial term “Saturday Night Special,” means that poor people may not be able to afford inexpensive protection and are force to either spend an exorbitant amount of money on a firearm or go without.  The same thing applies to ammunition.  You often hear the rallying cry of raising taxes so high on ammunition (and or guns) that only the rich or   well off could afford to buy the stuff.  That is both racist and economically discriminatory!  For that matter, so is the expensive tax stamp on purchases of machine guns and silencers.

Good Guy with a gun stops Bad Guy with a gun

The above statement drives gun grabbers absolutely crazy.  I have often heard news reporters/commentators bitterly denounce the sentiments of this idea, but the facts are that quite often citizens defend themselves or others with privately owned and wielded firearms, often not having to fire the gun at all, but gaining a safe resolution merely by showing the weapon.  The news and internet are full of such instances, and the NRA has a section in their monthly magazines called The Armed Citizen that details several such cases each issue.  (Please note that you do not have to identify with the NRA to support the rights of Americans to keep and bear arms.  Reading the articles in the link are not propaganda, but news reports of citizens using firearms to good effect.) During the BLM inspired riots of 2020, numerous shops and stores were saved by their owners because those owners brandished firearms.  Otherwise, there would be no way those businesses could have been saved.  Many of those businesses that were destroyed were closed forever, and likewise many of those businesses saved are only still in business because of being protected by firearms.  A notable instance took place in Cleveland.  Although the Cleveland rioters were also armed, they chose to find an undefended building to attack.  Riots in general and the 2020 BLM riots in particular show again and again that the police cannot or will not protect your home or your business.  Unless you are armed, your life’s work can well be forfeit without a defense.

Late Addition:  On June 24, 2021, a 24 year old Somali immigrant (male) conducted a terroristic attack in Wuerzburg , Germany, killing 3 innocent people and seriously wounding another 5 victims.  The murderer used a knife as his weapon.  Rapidly responding police shot the suspect in the thigh, and took him into custody.  Once again, this incident proves a couple of points we are trying to make.  First, a murderer does not have to have a firearm to kill, and second, a good guy with a gun, in this case a police officer, can stop a murderous attack.  Of course, if any of the victims or other people on the scene had been armed, they might have stopped the attack before the police got there and possibly prevented some of the casualties.  Our third point, is that senseless murders and violent attacks on multiple innocent people do not occur exclusively in the United States, but also occur in other countries.

Question for students (and subscribers): Why should the Second Amendment remain in effect today?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Baumgarten, Ken. Arguing About Guns: The All-American Debate. Independently published, 2019.

Halbrook, Stephen. The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms. Ivan R. Dee/ Independent Institute, 2012.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Winged Brick of the Röhm RG-14 revolver used in the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan by John Hinkley Jr. on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.