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.
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-abiding 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.
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.
How do rates of firearm related deaths and injuries in the USA compare with rates in other democratic countries, and what’s the reason for any difference?
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.
Why should I support Americans Against Gun Violence when there are many other organizations working on the gun violence issue?
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 (EIN 81-1741008), and both membership payments and donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by state and federal tax 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 in which overall rates of firearm related deaths and injuries are, on average, one tenth the rate in the United States.
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 by sending us an email at email@example.com.
- Help Publicize Our Annual Americans Against Gun Violence National High School Essay Contest
- We announce the contest in early January, and the deadline for students to enter is in mid-April.
- Since we initiated the National High School Essay Contest in 2018, we’ve used a different prompt every year, and we’ve awarded over $60,000 to deserving students. We encourage you to read the compelling, and in many cases, heart-wrenching essays of past winners whose essays are posted on the High School Essay Contest page of this website.
- Please help publicize the contest by bringing it to the attention of any high school students and educators with whom you have contact.
- Contact us if you’d like to help choose the winners in next year’s contest by being an essay reader.
- Please consider making a contribution to the essay contest fund via the Join/Donate page to help ensure that we’re able to continue to offer the contest in future years. Contributions to the essay contest fund are tax deductible, and 100% of your contribution will go directly toward student awards.
- 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 preventing any further mass shootings in Australia for the next 25 years; that the government of New Zealand took just one week to agree to ban all assault rifles after the mass shootings at two Muslim mosques in Christchurch in March of 2019; and that Great Britain, which already had a ban on automatic and semi-automatic long guns, banned civilian ownership of all handguns within two years of the 1996 Dunblane Primary School massacre, thereby preventing any further school shootings. Ask your elected officials why they and their colleagues aren’t working toward the enactment of similar legislation 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 Supreme Court’s 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 four prior Supreme Court decisions, in ruling for the first time in U.S. history that the Second Amendment conferred 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.)
- Click on this link for contact information for elected officials who represent you.
- “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 Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand have done in response to mass shootings in their countries.
- Banning all handguns, as the United Kingdom did after the 1996 Dunblane, Scotland elementary school mass shooting.
- Changing the guiding policy for deciding whether or not someone can obtain a gun from the current “permissive” default (in which any person of a certain age can legally acquire a gun unless the government can prove that he or she does not meet certain criteria for being prohibited from possessing one) to a “restrictive” default (in which 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
- 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, “Does the Second Amendment confer an individual right to own a gun?”)
- Similarly, don’t let the media, the gun lobby, and elected officials get away with using the misleading phrase, “Guns for protection.” (See the FAQ, “Should honest, law-abiding people own guns ‘for protection’?”)
- Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
- 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.
Does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to own a gun unrelated to service in a “well regulated militia?”
Until 2008, the answer to this question was a definite, “No.”
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.
Prior to 2008, the Supreme Court had ruled in four separate cases that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to own guns unrelated to service in a well regulated militia. In the first two cases (Cruikshank in 1876 and Presser in 1886), the Court based its ruling on the prevailing view at the time that the Bill of Rights didn’t grant rights to individual citizens, it merely prohibited Congress from impinging on rights derived from other sources. This theory gradually gave way to the view that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights were “incorporated” by the “equal protection of the laws” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment into the rights conferred by the Constitution to all citizens. In 1939, after the “incorporation” theory had become generally accepted, the Supreme Court revisited the question of whether the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own guns unrelated to service in a well regulated militia in the case of the United States v. Miller. The Court ruled unanimously in this case that the Second Amendment did not confer such a right. The Court stated:
The Constitution as originally adopted granted to the Congress power — “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.
In 1980, in the case of Lewis v. United States, quoting from another part of the Miller decision, the Supreme Court reiterated:
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.”
Beginning in the 1970’s, however, the gun lobby began seeding the legal literature with articles claiming that the courts had been wrong in ruling that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to own guns unrelated to service in a well regulated militia. Supreme Court justices were aware of this propaganda campaign, and for decades, they did not bow to it. As Justice William Douglas wrote in the 1972 case of Adams v. Williams, citing the precedent of the Court’s Miller decision:
A powerful lobby dins into the ears of our citizenry that [handgun] purchases are constitutional rights protected by the Second Amendment….There is under our decisions no reason why stiff state laws governing the purchase and possession of pistols may not be enacted….There is no reason why all pistols should not be barred to everyone except the police.
Lower courts also resisted the gun lobby’s propaganda campaign. With a single exception, every federal court that considered the Second Amendment in a case between 1939 and 2007 ruled, consistent with the Miller decision, that the Second Amendment did not confer an individual right to own guns unrelated to service in a well regulated militia. (The single exception was the 2001 case of U.S. v. Emerson in which two members of a three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals opined in a lengthy treatise unrelated to the decision in the case at hand that the Second Amendment was intended to confer an individual right to own guns unrelated to service in a well regulated militia.)
In 2007, though, the gun lobby’s propaganda campaign came to fruition. In the case of Parker et al v. District of Columbia, a three judge panel of the DC Court of Appeals ruled that the District of Columbia’s partial handgun ban and safe firearm storage laws violated the Second Amendment. The Parker case became the Heller case after it was ruled that of the six plaintiffs in the case, only Dick Heller had standing to sue the District of Columbia as he was the only plaintiff who had actually been denied a handgun permit by the District. The District of Columbia appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and in the 2008 Heller decision, a narrow 5-4 majority of justices upheld the appeals court ruling.
Technically, the only question that the Supreme Court agreed to consider in the Heller case was whether the District of Columbia’s partial handgun ban and firearm safe storage laws violated the Second Amendment. The Court went much further in its ruling, however, concluding that, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia….” Prior to the Heller decision, no gun control law in the United States had ever been overturned on a Second Amendment basis. The majority opinion in Heller, however, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, effectively declared “open season” for the gun lobby to challenge all sorts of gun laws on a Second Amendment basis.
Between 2008 and 2016, the gun lobby filed more than 1,500 Second Amendment challenges against a wide variety of gun-related laws, with 9% of these lawsuits resulting in existing gun laws being declared unconstitutional. It’s likely that the number of successful Second Amendment challenges will continue to increase in future years, even against the kinds of gun laws in which previous challenges have failed, as a result of the ability of the gun lobby to go “judge shopping” among the unusually large number of federal judges, including three Supreme Court justices, appointed by Donald Trump, who promised NRA members at the beginning of his single term as President from 2017 to 2021, “I will never, ever let you down.”
The Heller majority opinion has been appropriately described by respected authorities as “gun rights propaganda passing as scholarship” and as “evidence of the ability of well-staffed courts to produce snow jobs.” The late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who authored a dissenting opinion in Heller, described the majority opinion as “unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Court announced during my [35 year] tenure on the bench.” Justice Stevens noted that in the Heller decision, the majority endorsed an interpretation of the Second Amendment that the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger had called ”[O]ne 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.”
The Heller decision is worse, though, than even these harsh criticisms might indicate. In creating a constitutional obstacle, where none previously existed, to the adoption of stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws that have long been in effect in all the other high income democratic countries of the world, Heller is literally a death sentence for tens of thousands of Americans annually.
Americans Against Gun Violence is currently the only gun violence prevention organization in the entire United States that openly advocates and is actively pursuing overturning the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision. A key component of our strategy for overturning Heller is educating the general public, policy makers, and even federal judges and justices about the true history and intent of the Second Amendment and the fact that the Heller decision is not based upon any new information that has become available since the Supreme Court’s Miller and Lewis decisions, but rather upon gun lobby propaganda. Similarly, Justice Scalia’s majority opinion does not involve any complex legal theories. Rather, it is characterized by gross distortions of historical facts, quotations taken out of context, circular reasoning, and bombastic and sarcastic rhetoric.
Another component of our strategy for overturning the Heller decision is filing amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in important Second Amendment cases in which we make the point that Heller was wrongly decided, that the Supreme Court should overturn the Heller decision at its first opportunity, and that Heller should be interpreted by lower courts as narrowly as possible until the time that it is eventually overturned by the Supreme Court itself. Americans Against Gun Violence is the only organization to have filed such briefs in the recent cases of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. New York City, Duncan v. Becerra, and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.
In summary, from the purist’s point of view, the answer to the question, “Does the Second Amendment guarantee an individual right to own a gun unrelated to service in a “well regulated militia,” is still “No.” The Second Amendment itself was never intended to confer such a right. In the rogue 2008 Heller decision, however, a narrow 5-4 majority of Supreme Court justices created a constitutional right to own a gun unrelated to service in a well regulated militia. The extent of that newly created right is a matter of ongoing debate.
Click on this link for a fully referenced PDF version of this article.
For further information concerning the Second Amendment and the Heller decision, click on these links for downloadable, fully referenced essays in PDF format by Americans Against Gun Violence president Dr. Bill Durston entitled A Death Sentence, Wrongly Decided – A discussion of some of the more egregious flaws in the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision and the devastating public health repercussions of this decision and The Relationship Between the Second Amendment, Slavery, and the Decimation of the Native American Population.
 United States v. Cruikshank, 92 US 542 (Supreme Court 1876); Presser v. Illinois, 116 US (Supreme Court 1886); U.S. v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939) (n.d.); Lewis v. United States, No. 55 (U.S. 1980).
 Earl M. Maltz, “The Concept of Incorporation,” University of Richmond Law Review 33 (1999): 525.
 Miller at 178.
 Lewis, 445 at 65 Footnote 8.
 Michael Waldman, “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment,” POLITICO Magazine, May 19, 2014, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/nra-guns-second-amendment-106856.html.
 Adams v. Williams, 407 US 143 (Supreme Court 1972).
 US v. Emerson, 270 F. 3d 203 (Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit 2001).
 Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F. 3d 370 (Court of Appeals, Dist. of Columbia Circuit 2007).
 Parker v. District of Columbia, 478 F. 3d at 373–78.
 District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US (Supreme Court 2008).
 District of Columbia v. Heller, 478 F 370 (D.C. Cir. 2007), cert. granted, (U.S. November 7, 2011) (No. 07-290).
 Heller, 554 US at 2786.
 Eric Ruben and Joseph Blocher, “From Theory to Doctrine: An Empirical Analysis of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms After Heller,” Duke Law Journal 67 (2017): 1433.
 John Gramlich, “How Trump Compares with Other Recent Presidents in Appointing Federal Judges,” Pew Research Center (blog), January 13, 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/13/how-trump-compares-with-other-recent-presidents-in-appointing-federal-judges/. Trump appointed a total of 226 federal judges, including 174 district court judges, 54 appeals court judges, and three Supreme Court judges during his single term. His predecessor, President Obama, appointed a total of 320 federal judges, including just one more appeals court judge than Trump, and just two Supreme Court justices, during his two full terms in office. Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Scalia, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in February of 2016, but the Republican controlled Senate refused to grant Garland a hearing, instead allowing Trump to nominate Neal Gorsuch to replace Scalia in January of 2017.
 Michele Gorman, “Full Transcript: President Trump’s Speech Fires up the NRA,” Newsweek, April 28, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-full-transcript-atlanta-592039.
 Saul Cornell, “Originalism on Trial: The Use and Abuse of History in District of Columbia v. Heller,” Ohio State Law Journal 69 (2008): 629.
 Richard Posner, “In Defense of Looseness,” The New Republic 239, no. 3 (August 27, 2008): 35.
 John Paul Stevens, The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years (New York: Little, Brown, 2019), 482.
 Stevens, 483.
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.