Facts & FAQ's About Gun Violence

Click on the following links for facts and answers to frequently asked questions about guns and gun violence in the United States of America.

In general, no.

 

There is no doubt that on occasion, an honest, law-abiding person is able to effectively protect himself, herself, or a family member with a gun, but on the whole, guns in our homes and in our communities are far more likely to be used to kill, injure, or intimidate honest law people than to protect them.

 

It’s estimated that there are approximately 200-300 million privately owned firearms in the United States, and that 38-48% of adults keep firearms in their home. Most persons who keep handguns at home cite "personal protection" as the reason for having firearms. In fact, however, several studies in the medical literature have shown that guns in the home are much more likely to be used to kill, injure,  or intimidate a household member than to protect against an attacker. In one of the best known studies on this subject, it was found that for every one time a gun in the home was used to kill an intruder, there were 43 firearm-related homicides, suicides, or accidental deaths involving household members.

 

Numerous other studies in the medical literature have shown that the presence of a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of a household member becoming a victim of homicide or suicide.  Most school shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, are committed with guns brought from home. Other studies have shown that the purchase of a handgun is associated with an increased risk of the purchaser becoming a victim of suicide or homicide over the ensuing five to six years.

 

The evidence in the medical literature that widespread firearm availability is associated with more risk than benefit is consistent with data from law enforcement agencies and other government sources. An analysis of crime and criminal victimization data from 1987-1992 showed that the ratio of violent crimes committed with a handgun to protection of person with a firearm was 15:1. A more recent study showed that assault victims who were carrying a gun at the time of the assault were 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed than assault victims who were not carrying a gun.

 

The contention that “responsible gun ownership” deters crime is based largely on anecdotal reports and quasi-scientific studies published outside of the medical literature. One of the most often quoted studies claims that there are 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use annually in the United States. This study was a telephone survey in which none of the alleged defensive gun uses reported by telephone respondents was actually confirmed. The estimate of 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually in this study is an extrapolation based on the result that 66 out of 4,977 respondents to the survey (1.3%) reported using a gun defensively in the past year. Other authors have pointed out the inherent fallacy in extrapolating from 66 unconfirmed reports of defensive gun use to the conclusion that there are 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually in the U.S. It has also been noted that a higher portion of the population reports having had contact with space aliens than having used a gun defensively.

 

Another study frequently cited by opponents of gun control purports to show that allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons reduces crime. Serious methodological flaws have also been noted in this study, and its conclusion is not consistent with other studies in the criminology literature.  In a review of the literature on firearms and violence, the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that there is no credible evidence that the carrying of concealed weapons by private citizens reduces crime.

Based on the evidence summarized above, as well as an abundance of other evidence too extensive to be included in this brief summary, Americans Against Gun Violence recommends that it is safest not to keep a gun in your home, especially if there are children or adolescents present. If you do have a gun, it is safest to keep the gun stored unloaded, securely locked, with the ammunition locked up separately. If you have children, be sure to inquire about the presence of guns in other homes where your children play.


Click on this link for a fully referenced PDF version of this article.

Yes, definitely.

 

Gun violence is a very serious public health problem in the United States.

 

The US gun violence problem typically receives the greatest public attention following high profile mass shootings such as the December 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed or the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded. As tragic as such mass shootings are, they are only the tip of a much larger epidemic of firearm-related deaths and injuries in our country. On an average day in the United States, more than 90 U.S. civilians, including five youth age 18 or under, are killed by guns.[i] It’s estimated that there are at least two to three times this many non-fatal gunshot wounds every day in our country.[ii],[iii]

 

Rates of firearm related deaths in the United States rank high in comparison with other serious public health problems. Every year, more than 30,000 people are killed by guns in our country. By comparison, there were approximately 3,000 deaths due to polio in the entire United States at the height of the polio epidemic in 1952. The current rate of firearm-related deaths in the U.S. is more than double the rate of deaths due to AIDS.4 By 1991, the annual number of firearms related deaths exceeded the number of deaths due to motor vehicle accidents in seven states.[iv] Overall, gunshot wounds are the 4th leading cause of years of preventable loss of life below age 65 in our country.[v] Firearms related deaths and injuries are also rampant in adolescents and young adults.[vi],[vii],[viii],[ix],[x] Gunshot wounds are the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 in the United States, with only motor vehicle accidents taking a higher toll.[xi]

 

It’s estimated that the annual cost of medical treatment of gunshot victims in the United States is $2.3-4 billion.[xii],[xiii] The overall cost to society of firearm-related injuries in the United States has been estimated to be over $100 billion annually.[xiv]

Click on this link for fully referenced PDF


[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WISQARS database. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/default.htm. Accessed January 7, 2013.

[ii] Nonfatal and fatal firearm-related injuries – United States, 1993-1997. MMWR 1999;48:1029-1034.

[iii] Annest JL, Mercy JA, Gibson DR, Ryan GW. National estimates of nonfatal firearm-related injuries. JAMA 1995;273:1749-1754.

[iv] Deaths resultihg from firearm- and motor-vehicle-related injuries – United States 1968-1991. MMWR 1994;43:37-42.

[v] Firearm-Related Years of Potential Life Lost Before Age 65 Years - United States, 1980-1991. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. August 26, 1994 / Vol. 43 / No. 33, pp. 609-611.

[vi] Ropp, L, Visintainer P, Uman J, Treloqr D. Death in the city. An American childhood tragedy. JAMA 1992;267:2905-2910.

[vii] Christoffel KK, Christoffel T. Handguns as a pediatric problem. Pediatric Emergency Care 1986; 2:75-81.

[viii] Ordog G, Wasserberger J, Schatz I, et al. Gunshot wounds in children under 10 years of age. A new epidemic. AJDC 142:1988:618-622.

[ix] Firearm-related injuries affecting the pediatric population. Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pediatrics 2000;105:888-895.

[x] Shahpar C, Li G. Homicide mortality in the United States, 1935-1994: age, period, and cohort effects. Am J Epidemiol 1999;150:1213-1222.

[xi] Fingerhut LA, Christoffel KK. Firearm-Related Death and Injury Among Children and Adolescents, pp. 25-38 in The Future of Children, Volume 12, Number 2. Published by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

[xii] Cook PJ, Lawrence BA, Ludwig J, Miller TR. The medical costs of gunshot injuries in the United States. JAMA 1999;282:447-454.

[xiii] Kizer KW, Vassar MJ, Harry RL, Layton KD. Hospitalization charges, costs, and income for firearm-related injuries at a university trauma center. JAMA 1995;273:1768-1773.

[xiv] Miller TR, Cohen MA. Costs. In:Iatury RR, Cayten CC, eds. Textbook of Penetrating Trauma. Baltimore, Willims and Wilkins; 1996:49-59.

Rates of firearm related deaths and injuries are far higher in the United States than in all other high income democratic countries. The main reason for this difference is that gun control laws are far less stringent in the United States, and as a result, guns are far more available.

The most recent data show that the overall rate of people being killed by guns in the United States is 10 times higher than the average rate in the other 22 economically advanced democratic countries of the world. The U.S. gun related suicide rate is 8 times higher, and the U.S. gun related homicide rate is 25 times higher. For U.S. children and youth, the difference is even more dramatic. Overall, the U.S. rate of gun related deaths for children and youth under the age of 19 is 37.5 times higher than the rate in other high income democratic countries. For high school age youth, the U.S. rate is 82 times higher.

After high profile shootings in the United States, most attention is usually focused on factors such as mental illness and substance abuse; a lack of appropriate social values; “guns in the wrong hands;” and a general culture of violence in the United States as possible reasons for the shootings. While such factors certainly contribute to gun violence, they don’t explain why rates of gun violence in the United States are extraordinarily high as compared with the rates in all other high income democratic countries.

The lifetime prevalence of mental illness and/or substance abuse in the United States is about 10% higher than in most other economically advanced democratic countries, although the observed difference may be due more to a higher rate of self-reporting in the United States than to real differences in the prevalence of these disorders. It’s estimated that overt mental illness accounts for only about 3-5% of all U.S. gun related deaths. Most people who are mentally ill don’t shoot anyone, and most people who do shoot themselves or someone else don’t have mental illness of the type that would prevent them from legally purchasing a gun under current U.S. gun control laws, even if those laws were extended to cover every gun purchase and were enforced 100% of the time.

Rates of gun homicide in the United States are significantly higher in poorer neighborhoods than in more affluent ones, but the degree of socio-economic inequality in the United States, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is lower than in other high income democratic countries that have vastly lower rates of gun violence. For example, the Gini coefficient for the United States is lower than in Britain (0.499 in the U.S. versus 0.523 in Britain, with higher coefficients indicating greater inequality). The rate of gun deaths in the United States, though, is almost 150 times higher than in Britain.

It cannot be denied that a culture of violence exists in the United States. The glorification of violence in the popular media is particularly problematic. A 1993 report estimated that by the time the average U.S. child had reached the age of 18, he or she had seen 200,000 acts of violence, including 16,000 simulated homicides, on television alone. The number of violent acts that today’s children and youth witness on the many media formats to which they have access is probably much higher. If a culture of violence were the main cause of the extraordinarily high rate of gun violence in the United States, though, one would expect that the rates of other forms of violence would also be much higher in our country, but that is not the case. Including both fatal and non-fatal assaults, the rate of violent assault by any means in the United States is below the average for the other high income democratic countries of the world. The homicide rate in the United States, though, is 7 times higher than the average for the other countries. The reason for the much higher U.S. homicide rate, despite a lower than average rate of violent assaults by any means, is that assaults in the United States are much more likely to be committed with a gun, and guns are much more lethal in an assault than other commonly used weapons.

Factors that contribute to gun violence, including mental illness and substance abuse, socio-economic inequality, and the glorification of violence in the popular media, certainly need to be addressed, but they’re not the main reasons for the extraordinarily high rate of gun violence in our country as compared with all other high income democratic countries. The factors that most clearly distinguish the United States from all other economically advanced democratic countries that have far lower rates of gun related deaths, as well as far lower overall rates of homicide, and in most cases, suicide by any means, are the extraordinarily weak U.S. gun control laws as compared with the laws in other high income democratic countries and the related extraordinarily high number of guns in circulation.

In all economically advanced democracies except the United States, the guiding policy with regard to gun ownership is “restrictive.” A person seeking to acquire a gun must show convincing evidence that he or she needs a gun and can handle one safely before he or she can legally obtain a firearm. Recognizing that there is no net protective value from owning or carrying a gun, most other high income democratic countries don’t consider “self defense” to be a legitimate reason for owning a gun. In contrast, in the United States, the guiding policy is “permissive.” Anyone seeking to acquire a gun may legally obtain one unless government agencies can prove that he or she meets narrowly prescribed criteria for being prohibited from possessing a firearm.

All other high income democratic countries require all privately owned firearms to be registered and all gun owners to be licensed. In contrast, there is no federal requirement for gun registration and licensing in the United States, and only a handful of states require guns to be registered or gun owners to be licensed.

In all other high income democratic countries, civilian ownership of handguns and automatic and semi-automatic rifles is either stringently regulated or completely prohibited. In the United States, federal law strictly regulates civilian ownership of fully automatic firearms (commonly referred to as “machine guns”), but anyone age 21 or older who can pass a rudimentary background check can legally buy a handgun from a federally licensed firearm dealer, and anyone who can pass a background check and is age 18 or older can buy a semi-automatic rifle, including the military style rifles commonly referred to as “assault weapons.” Anyone age 18 or over can buy a handgun legally without a background check from a private seller, and there is no age limit to buy a semi-automatic rifle without a background check from a private seller.

In many cases, state and local regulations on firearm ownership are more stringent than U.S. federal regulations. The Supreme Court struck down Washington DC’s partial ban on handgun ownership, though, in a narrow 5-4 ruling in the 2008 Heller decision, and the same five justices struck down Chicago’s partial handgun ban in the related 2010 McDonald decision, citing Heller as the precedent. Since the Heller decision, more than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed by the gun lobby seeking to further weaken state and local firearm regulations.

It is the position of Americans Against Gun Violence that we have not only the ability, but also the moral responsibility, to reduce rates of gun violence in the United States to levels at or below the rates in the other high income democratic countries of the world, and that in order to do so, we must adopt comparably stringent gun control laws. There was no Second Amendment obstacle to adopting such laws prior to the rogue 2008 Heller decision. It is our position that Heller was wrongly decided and should be overturned.

Click on this link for a fully reference version of this page in PDF format.

This is a very reasonable question, and one that you should ask before you commit time or money to any organization that claims to be working to prevent gun violence.

We founded Americans Against Gun Violence in 2016 because we couldn't find any other organization other than the Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility that openly advocates the adoption of the same types of definitive gun control measures in the United States that are already in place in every other high income democratic country of the world – countries in which mass shootings are rare or non-existent, and in which overall rates of firearm related deaths and injuries are much lower than in the USA. We acknowledge the enormous amount of effort that other organizations are expending in an attempt to reduce gun violence in our country through small, incremental steps, such as expanding background checks. On the other hand, we believe that it is critically important to make the American public aware that we're never going to be able to reduce rates of gun related deaths and injuries in the USA to levels comparable to those in other high income democratic countries until we adopt similar gun control laws. Such laws include stringent regulations, if not complete bans, on civilian ownership of handguns and semi-automatic rifles. And in order to stringently regulate or ban handguns, we'll need to first overturn the Supreme Court's radical reinterpretation of the Second Amendment in the 2008 Heller decision.

By joining and supporting Americans Against Gun Violence, you'll be helping to build a critical mass of concerned and committed individuals and an effective infrastructure through which we'll change the terms of the gun control debate from issues like whether or not persons on the terrorist watch list should be banned from buying guns, which should be a “no-brainer,” to how we can most expeditiously enact and enforce stringent gun control regulations similar to those already in place in every other high income democratic country of the world. Your support and active involvement in Americans Against Gun Violence will also help us debunk the myths promoted by the gun industry and its associated gun lobby, including the myth that honest, law abiding people should own guns "for protection;" the myth that the Second Amendment was intended to confer an individual right to own guns; and the most pernicious myth of all - that the NRA is more powerful than the rest of us.

If you haven't already done so, go to the Join/Donate page of this website and become an official member of Americans Against Gun Violence. The annual membership dues is just $25 ($10 for students). And if you're able, please also make an additional donation. Americans Against Gun Violence is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and both membership payments and donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by IRS regulations.

By joining and supporting Americans Against Gun Violence, you'll be helping to build a critical mass of concerned and committed individuals and an effective infrastructure through which we're working toward the adoption of stringent gun control regulations in the USA comparable to the regulations already in place in every other high income democratic country of the world - countries in which mass shootings are rare or non-existent and overall rates of firearm related deaths and injuries are much lower than in the USA.

When you join Americans Against Gun Violence, you'll be automatically added to our electronic newsletter distribution list. If you don't feel ready to join Americans Against Gun Violence right now but would like to receive our regular electronic newsletters (approximately two a month), you can subscribe via the link in the right upper corner of this website.

If you've already joined Americans Against Gun Violence yourself, here are additional actions that you can take right now to help stop the epidemic of gun violence in our country.

  • Contact friends, family members, and colleagues, and encourage them to also join Americans Against Gun Violence by going to the Join/Donate page of our website at aagunv.org.
    • If every new member recruits at least two new additional members, our membership will grow exponentially.
    • If you'd like our help in sending out an email to your contacts via the Americans Against Gun Violence listserv, let us know via the Contact Us page of this website.
  • Help publicize our 2019 High School Essay Contest.
    • The prompt for this year's contest is the following excerpt from the majority opinion written by the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1980 case of Lewis v. United States:
      • The Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.”"
    • Click on this link for full contest details.
  • Contact the President of the United States,  your members of Congress, and your state and local elected officials; identify yourself  as a member of Americans Against Gun Violence; and let your elected officials know that you expect them to openly advocate and do everything within their power to enact stringent gun control regulations in the United States comparable to the regulations that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country in the world.
    • Click on this link for contact information for elected officials who represent you.
      • Point out to your elected officials that the government of Australia agreed to ban all semi-automatic rifles within just 13 days of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, thereby ending mass shootings in Australia. Ask your elected officials why they and their colleagues can't do the same thing in our country. (See our recent Americans Against Gun Violence President's Messages for additional talking points.)
      • Ask your members of Congress to openly advocate and actively work toward overturning the rogue 2008 Heller decision, which effectively deleted the phrase, "A well regulated militia," from the Second Amendment, and which reversed 217 years of legal precedent, including prior Supreme Court decision in Miller in 1939 and in Lewis in 1980 in ruling for the first time in U.S. history that the Second Amendment confers any kind of individual right to own a gun. (See the article about the Second Amendment on the Facts and FAQ's  page of this website for details.)
      • Urge your U.S. senators and your U.S. Representative to support S.42 and H.R.8, companion bills in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would make background checks required in nearly all gun purchases and other transfers. (Under current federal law, background checks are required only for gun purchases through federally licensed firearm dealers, and up to 40% of gun purchases and transfers occur via private parties.)
  • “Come out” for definitive gun control measures in discussions with friends, family members, and colleagues.
    • The LGBT community, which was so tragically affected by the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida in June of 2016, has managed over the past decade to effect a dramatic change in public opinion and in laws affecting their community as a result of respected individuals “coming out” in support of LGBT rights, including marriage equality.
    • By “coming out” for definitive gun control measures, we can effect the same types of dramatic change in public opinion and laws to prevent gun violence. Definitive gun control measures include:
      • Banning all automatic and semi-automatic rifles, as Australia did following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
      • Banning all handguns, as the United Kingdom did after the 1996 Dunblane, Scottland elementary school mass shooting.
      • Changing the guiding policy for deciding whether or not someone can obtain a gun from the current "permissive" default (the person gets the gun unless the government can prove that he or she does not meet certain criteria for being prohibited from possessing a firearm) to a "restrictive" default (a person cannot acquire a gun unless he or she can provide convincing evidence that he or she needs one and can handle one safely).
      • Requiring registration of all guns and licensing of all gun owners
      • See the section on the  Facts and FAQ's page of this website concerning the differences in rates of gun violence in the United States as compared with other high income democratic countries for further discussion of what laws are needed to reduce rates of gun violence in the United States to rates at or below those in the other economically advanced democratic countries of the world.
  • Create a gun violence "no lie zone" in your community. Write or call media outlets that disseminate misleading or inaccurate information about gun violence, and send in op-eds and letters to the editor.
    • Don't let the media, the gun lobby, and elected officials get away with using misleading terms such as "Second Amendment gun rights," "protect the Second Amendment," or "believe in the Second Amendment." Ask them to which version of the Second Amendment they're referring - the original version, which begins with the phrase, "A well regulated militia," or the NRA re-write, endorsed by a narrow 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court's rogue 2008 Heller decision, which effectively deletes this phrase from the U.S. Constitution. (See the FAQ concerning the true history and intent of the Second Amendment.)
    • Similarly, don't let the media, the gun lobby, and elected officials get away with using the misleading phrase, "Guns for protection." (See the Facts and FAQ's page of this website for a discussion concerning the myth of "guns for protection.')
    • Contact us by email at [email protected] to let us know about any articles or letters you get published so that we can post them on the Newsletter page of this website.
  • Stay informed and active on the gun violence issue.
    • Read the other essays on the Facts and FAQ's page of this website.
    • Read the President's Messages and Newsletters from Americans Against Gun Violence for periodic updates on major issues and activities.
    • Check out the Links to Other Organizations page of this website to learn what other gun violence prevention organizations are doing and how they differ from Americans Against Gun Violence.
  • Other more long term actions that you can take
    • Organize a local group of Americans Against Gun Violence supporters.
      • We're not at the stage of forming official local chapters yet, but we'd be happy to help you with organizing a core member group that can evolve into an official chapter as we grow.
    • Foster state and local legislation and plan activities yourself that further the mission of Americans Against Gun Violence.
      • Let us know if there are  activities or pieces of legislation that you believe that we should support in your area.
    • Host a candidates forum prior to the next election to learn the views of candidates for local, state, and federal offices concerning gun control and the Second Amendment.
    • Join the Americans Against Gun Violence leadership and infrastructure building team.
      • Contact us if you're interested in becoming a leader in Americans Against Gun Violence and/or if you have special skills that you can share to help us accomplish our mission.
    • Run for office yourself.
      • Americans Against Gun Violence is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization, and we can't endorse individual candidates.
      • We can, however, publicize candidates' positions on issues related to gun violence.
      • Let us know if you're running for public office and would like us to send you a candidate's questionnaire.
  • Contact us with other ideas that you have concerning how we can be more effective in acting individually or in concert to help stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our country.

Thanks for visiting this page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website. Please return frequently for updates. We look forward to working with you toward definitive measures to stop the epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our country.

Until 2008, the answer to this question was a definite, “No.”

In fact, the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger stated that the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to own guns “…has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud - I repeat the word 'fraud' - on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Since the 2008 Heller decision and the related 2010 McDonald decision, though, the answer to the question of whether the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own a gun is “yes,” with regard to a handgun kept in the home “for protection,” and “no” in most other circumstances.

The full text of 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.” Opponents of gun control typically omit the first portion of the Second Amendment, which refers to “a well-regulated militia,” and cite only the last phrase referring to the “right to bear arms.” Prior to 2008, it had been repeatedly established in Supreme Court decisions, in decisions of lower courts, and in reviews by legal historians that the Second Amendment was intended to protect the rights of states to maintain armed militias, such as the current day National Guard, and that it did not confer a right of individual citizens to own firearms. In particular, the Supreme Court stated in the 1939 Miller case that there was no constitutional right to possess a gun unless possession of the gun had “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” The Supreme Court reiterated in the 1980 Lewis case that “The Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.’”

In 2008, though, in a narrow five to four decision, the Supreme Court reversed decades of legal precedent, including prior Supreme Court decisions in 1939 and 1980, in what is known as the Heller decision, ruling that Washington D.C.’s freeze on new handgun acquisition violated the Second Amendment. The five member majority included justices Alito and Roberts, recently appointed to the court by President George W. Bush to replace the liberal justices Sandra Day O’Conner, who retired, and William Rehnquist, who died. In the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the NRA gave heavy support to the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, who was himself an NRA member. One NRA official boasted during the presidential campaign that if Bush were elected, the NRA would be working out of the Oval office.

The majority opinion in the Heller decision, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, depended heavily on articles published in law journals following the 1980 Lewis decision. Every single law review article published from 1888 to 1960 had affirmed that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” conferred by the Second Amendment was a collective right of the people of the states to maintained armed state militias, not an individual right to own guns. Following the Lewis decision, though, articles began to appear in law journals in which authors argued that the Second Amendment was actually intended to confer an individual right to own guns. In an amicus brief filed in the case of U.S. v. Lopez, in 1995 concerning the Gun Free School Zone Act, an organization calling itself “Academics for the Second Amendment” claimed that 37 of 41 law review articles published since 1980 had endorsed the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment. Both that brief and Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller decision failed to mention, however, that most of these articles were written by a small group of individuals who had either been employed at one time by the NRA or other pro-gun organizations or who had received other funding from the gun lobby.

Strictly speaking, the majority Heller decision does not go beyond guaranteeing an individual right to own handguns “used for self defense in the home.”  The majority opinion specifically states that the Second Amendment does not prohibit gun control laws including, but not limited to, bans on ownership of firearms by “felons and the mentally ill,” bans on carrying firearms in “sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” or the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Scalia’s majority opinion does not address the fact that guns in the home are much more likely to be used to kill or injure a household member than to be used for self defense, or the fact that while handguns are not “unusual,” they are certainly “dangerous,” accounting for most firearm related deaths in the USA. (See the answer to the question, Should law abiding people own guns for protection?)

Following the 2008 Heller decision and the related 2010 McDonald decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Heller applied not just to the District of Columbia, but to the states as well, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by the gun lobby against all forms of gun controls laws. Most of these challenges have been rejected by the courts. In particular, the Supreme Court refused to hear challenges to assault weapons bans in the state of Maryland and the City of Highland Park, Ohio,  and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the Second Amendment does not confer a right to carry a concealed firearm. The full impact of the Heller and McDonald decisions, though, remains to be seen.

The gun lobby, most politicians, and even liberal media outlets and other gun violence prevention organizations often speak of the Second Amendment in a reverential manner, using terms such as “Second Amendment supporters,” “gun rights advocates,” and “protecting our Second Amendment rights.” The Second Amendment, though, even in its original form, does not deserve such reverence.

According to the romanticized version of the history of the Second Amendment, the Revolutionary War was won by volunteer militias composed of well-armed colonists who were expert marksmen as a result of the frequent use of firearms in their everyday life. Unfortunately, actual historical records don’t support this romantic notion. During the time of the Revolutionary War, there were no gun makers in the Colonies, and few records can be found of any gunsmiths, gun sales, or of guns being passed from generation to generation in probate records. Guns were so expensive, so cumbersome, so unreliable, and in such short supply at the beginning of the Revolutionary War that Benjamin Franklin recommended that the Continental Army be armed with bows and arrows instead. Most of the guns that were used by the Continental Army during the American Revolution were imported from France and The Netherlands after the war began. Though the framers of the U.S. Constitution distrusted a standing army, knowing from the history of almost continuous war in Europe that governments with standing armies usually found excuses to put these armies to use, they also knew by the time that the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791 that volunteer militias had been entirely ineffective during the Revolutionary War, which was won instead by the professional Continental Army. George Washington himself dismissed the idea of protecting the country with a volunteer militia as being “chimerical,” ridiculing the militia as being “incapacitated to defend themselves, much less to annoy the enemy.”

Armed militias were effective, though, in maintaining the institution of slavery. At the time that the Second Amendment was written, armed white militias patrolled the slave states, preserving white control over an enormous but otherwise largely defenseless population of black slaves. Delegates from slave states to conventions at which the Constitution and the Second Amendment were written and ratified openly expressed their fears that the more populous northern states would abolish slavery by disarming the southern militias. Patrick Henry of Virginia, who is best known for his declaration, “Give me liberty or give me death,” was a slave owner, as were fellow Virginians Thomas Jefferson and George Mason who, ironically, are credited with writing the words, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,” in the Declaration of Independence. At the convention held in Richmond, Virginia in 1788 to ratify the Constitution, Patrick Henry spoke in opposition, pointing out, “The majority of Congress is to the north, and the slaves are to the south….They’ll take your n_____s from you.” A less well known orator, Rawlin Lowndes, stated at South Carolina’s ratification convention in 1788, “Negroes were our wealth, our only natural resource, yet behold how our kind friends in the north were determined soon to tie up our hands and drain us of what we had.”

Contrary to the romanticized history of the Second Amendment that is promulgated by the gun industry, the associated gun lobby, and by most elected officials, the Second Amendment was almost certainly adopted as one of several compromises included in the Constitution to induce the southern slave states to ratify the Constitution and join the Union. Other compromises included Article I, Section 2, which provided that each slave would be counted as three fifths of a person for the purpose of apportioning members of the House of Representatives; Article I, Section 9, which prohibited Congress from abolishing the slave trade until 1808 or of imposing an import tax of more than ten dollars per slave; and Article IV, Section 2, which provided that slaves who escaped across state lines into free states must be returned to their owners.

In summary, the genesis of the Second Amendment is linked much more closely to the preservation of slavery than to the preservation of democracy. It was almost certainly never intended to confer an individual right to own guns. In the 2008 Heller decision, which was heavily influenced by the seeding of the legal literature by authors with ties to the gun lobby and by the appointment of two new Supreme Court justices by a president who also happened to be a member of the NRA, the gun lobby essentially rewrote the Second Amendment, effectively deleting the introductory phrase, “A well regulated militia.”
The topic of how best to restore the Second Amendment to its pre-2008 interpretation will be the subject of another discussion on this website.

Click on this link for a fully referenced PDF version of this article.

No. The notion that allowing private individuals to carry handguns reduces crime is one of the big lies promoted by the gun lobby.

The NRA has been trying for decades to get all states to adopt laws allowing anyone who’s not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm under federal law to be able to legally carry concealed handguns. The NRA’s manifesto for this effort is the book, More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott, Jr., which purports to show that liberal concealed carry laws reduce crime.  The “more guns, less crime” argument, though, has been thoroughly debunked by other researchers, and Lott has been personally discredited by the revelation that he was writing testimonials to himself under the pseudonym, “Mary Rosh.”

A committee of the National Academy of Science conducted an extensive review of the effect of concealed weapon laws and concluded that the available evidence does not support claims by the gun lobby that allowing private citizens to legally carry concealed weapons reduces crime. On the contrary, the Violence Policy Center has documented nearly a thousand firearm related killings committed by persons with concealed weapons (CCW) permits since May of 2007, including 31 mass shootings, 56 murder suicides, and 17 murders of police officers. Another study by the VPC showed that over a five year period, Texas CCW permit holders were arrested for 5,314 crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, child molestation, and kidnapping. Moreover, CCW permit holders were arrested for weapons related crimes at a rate that was 81% higher than the general population. Another study of CCW permit holders in Florida showed that over 1,400 individuals who had pleaded guilty or no contest to felony crimes had subsequently been granted CCW permits.

There is also no credible evidence to support the argument that carrying a concealed weapon protects the individual gun owner. In fact, a study of assault victims in Philadelphia showed that someone who was carrying a gun at the time of the assault was more than four times more likely to be killed than someone who was not carrying a gun, and law enforcement data show that the ratio of violent crimes committed with a handgun to self defense with a handgun is 15:1.

Despite the extensive evidence that carrying concealed handguns confers much greater risk than benefit both to the person carrying the gun and to the general public, the NRA has been remarkably successful in getting states to adopt liberal concealed carry laws. Currently, 11 states don’t require any permit at all for people to carry concealed handguns. Of the other 39 states that do require permits for concealed weapons, 30 have “shall issue” policies that allow authorities little nor no discretion in refusing to issue a permit if the person requesting the permit meets other requirements for legally owning a gun. The other nine states have “may issue” policies under which authorities may refuse a request for concealed weapon permit from a legal gun owner if the authority believes the person requesting the permit doesn’t have a good reason for carrying a concealed handgun or is otherwise at risk for misusing a firearm.

One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises during the 2016 presidential campaign was to make a concealed weapons permit issued in one state good in any other state. There is currently a bill in the House of Representatives, H.R.38, that would do just that. In fact, as currently written, H.R.38 would allow anyone who got a CCW permit in the state with the most lax requirements for concealed weapons permits to carry a concealed handgun in any other state, even if the other state had laws that would otherwise prohibit the CCW permit holder from owning or carrying a gun at all!

H.R. 38 currently has 193 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Please contact your U.S. Representative and your U.S. Senators and urge them to vote no on this dangerous bill.

Click on this link for a fully referenced version of the this essay in PDF format.