Society - Legal
By: - at August 6, 2013

Top 15 Myths About Guns

man holding gunEvery time a notable shooting happens, the discussion on guns and gun control picks up. The December 14, 2012 Newtown elementary school shooting launched gun control discussions back onto the national arena. Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the NRA, decried video games as being at fault rather than guns. The NRA further claimed that, had the principal had an assault rifle, the shooting would have been stopped before the gunman got too far, and killed so many people. Politicians vowed to instate new gun control laws; other politicians vowed to fight them. Gun control polls skyrocketed, sometimes with conflicting results. The rate of gun violence has not slowed from the average since, despite some efforts in Congress to pass gun control laws and despite President Obama’s promises. Below, we discuss fifteen myths about gun control and their realities.

Myth 15)  Violent Media is to Blame for Violence, Not Guns
video game violenceThis is a common mantra in today's society: violent television, movies, and games are the cause of increased violent incidents. In fact, shortly after the unfortunate shooting in Newtown in late 2012, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, claimed that “vicious, violent video games” were more to blame than guns themselves. This is simply not true. If violent media was the cause of increased gun violence in society, it would naturally lead to the conclusion that a flood of violent media in a country would correlate to an increase in gun-related violence. But how does that explain Japan, a country that spends $55 million USD per capita on video games compared to the United States' $44 million per capita? Japan experienced only 11 gun-related homicides in 2008 compared to 11,030 incidents in the United States. Per 100 people, Japan boasts only 0.6 gun owners, while the United States lays claim to 88. If an increase in violent media and games leads to an increase in violence itself, as the vice president of the NRA claims, wouldn't Japan experience a higher amount of gun-related violence?

Myth 14)  The Number of Gun Owners in America is Rapidly Increasing
man in gun shop aiming assault rifleWith the apparent increase in mass shootings and gun violence in America, the standard outcry tends to revolve around the fact that more and more guns are being sold within this country, with more and more citizens arming themselves every year. While an examination of manufacturing and sales data only does seem to indicate an rise in gun ownership over the past few decades, this information is misleading. According to the General Social Survey, when asked in 1973 about 50 percent of Americans said they had a gun in their home. These days, only 45 percent of Americans answer in the affirmative to having a gun in their households, with only 35 percent of Americans claiming personal ownership of a firearm. Interestingly, roughly 80 percent of gun owners are men, owning 7.9 guns each on average.

Myth 13)  Guns Improve the Safety of Women
Expanding on the statistics previously given (those being that 80 percent of gun owners are men), a commonly perpetrated gun myth is that when armed, women are guaranteed to a modicum of safety. We've all heard this argument, particularly after a violent crime against a woman becomes public knowledge. 'If only she were armed, she could have prevented this and protected herself.' But like every other myth on this list, this is simply just not true.

mother and daughter shooting

Nearly six times more women in 2010 were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than by strangers. Another study found that women in states with higher gun ownership than the national average were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in other states.

Myth 12)  If More Good Guys Have Guns, They Can Stop the Bad Guys
police officer pointing gun at criminalAfter a widely-reported incident or yet another unfortunate mass shooting, the usual argument that crops up is that if only the victims were also armed, they would have been able to prevent it. Or, perhaps, if only a bystander was armed, they could have stopped the incident before it unfolded. Not only is this victim blaming in its purest form, but it's patently false. Not a single mass shooting out of 62 in the past 30 years has been stopped by a civilian, even if an armed civilian was present. Based on statistics provided by the Annals of Emergency Medicine, one in five shootings to occur in an Emergency Room is the result of a gun taken from a guard. In recent years when a few civilians have attempted to intervene, not only have those civilians failed every time, but they have also been either severely wounded or killed.

Myth 11)  Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People
On the very surface, one can argue that, yes, this argument is true. It is true in the way that cars don't provide transportation from one point to another, but the people driving them do. Sure, without someone operating the vehicle, a car couldn't very well go anywhere. At the same time, without an automobile, no person would be able to transport an entire group at 50 miles per hour. The simple truth is that people with more access to guns kill more people by using a gun.

well dressed man pointing a gun at another

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that the states with the highest rate of gun ownership also have a gun-related homicide rate 114 percent higher than the states with the lowest gun ownership. Hand in hand, gun-related deaths are also at their highest in those states. As well as this already abysmal fact, it's been found that in states with restrictions on assault rifles or strict safe-storage requirements, the gun-related homicide rate is generally lower than the national average.

Myth 10)  Arming a Society Ensures a More Polite Society
teen depression concept of a dismal society from too many guns and violenceThe thread of this argument follows along a rather tenuous vein. The thought process is that with an increase in the armed population of a society, no single citizen can ever safely assume that their fellow citizens are not armed. Therefore, no single citizen would be willing to unfairly or uproariously anger any other citizens for fear of a gun-related retribution. Not only does this negate any previous ideas that an increase in gun ownership has nothing to do with an increase in violence, but it's been uniformly proven untrue. A study conducted by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard School of Public Health found that drivers carrying guns are 44 percent more likely than unarmed drivers to rudely gesture or yell at fellow motorists. As well as this, armed drivers are 77 percent more likely to aggressively follow fellow drivers. In Texas, criminal with concealed-handgun licenses that are convicted of serious crimes are 4.8 times more likely to be sentenced for threatening someone with said firearm. In states with Stand Your Ground laws, the closest approximation of the armed society proposed in this myth, there is a seven to ten percent increase in homicides after such polices were instated.

Myth 9)  Americans Don't Want Stricter Gun Laws
right to bear arms concept stricter gun laws With every reported mass shooting (an alarmingly increasing occurrence in the United States, with 25 of the 62 mass shootings since 1982 occurring after 2006, and a full seven taking place in the year of 2012 alone), a standard cry heard throughout the nation directly invokes the Second Amendment, or the right to bear arms. Many gun supporters seem to view the Second Amendment as a fundamental right held to an almost religious reverence by American citizens, and often it is stated that Americans simply don't want stricter gun laws. This is false and outright unsafe. A poll conducted by CBS News and the New York Times in 2012 found that two-thirds (a full 66 percent) of Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws. Similarly, a Quinnipiac University poll found that nine in ten favor universal background checks, while a national Morning Joe poll showed 53 percent of Americans prioritize gun control over gun rights, that 59 percent approve of banning assault weapons entirely, and that roughly 85 percent of Americans approve of mandatory background checks. While only 33 percent of Americans favor the banning of handguns entirely, the message is clear. Stricter gun control and laws are vastly approved, despite the message put forth by gun lobbyists.

Myth 8)  The Government is Coming for Guns
Whenever the gun debate reemerges as the national debate of the hour, gun supporters often drown the discussion with outcries that the government, or an undefined and shadowy “them”, is/are coming to confiscate the guns of regular, law-abiding citizens. There are insistent assurances that the Second Amendment is being ignored or will be eradicated at any moment and that gun owners will be made the next victim. Despite the vehemence of this argument, there is absolutely no basis for it. At no point in the history of the American government has such an idea ever been proposed.

gun control concept

Over 5.8 million is spent annual on the lobbying of gun rights. With such financial influence and resources devoted to lobbying for gun rights in America, the ideal that the federal government might ever soon focus their attention on the removal of all firearms from the hands of private citizens is unlikely. If such a feat were ever actually undertaken, though, the fact of the matter is that there are roughly 80 million gun owners in America, out-armed over federal members by roughly 79 to one. An estimated four million guns are owned by law enforcement and the military, while an outstanding 310 million guns are owned by private citizens. The idea of the government bursting down the doors of private citizens to removed their firearms is outrageous.

Myth 7)  Cars Kill More People Than Guns
This is true—slightly. According to the CDC, in 2010, there were 31,672 firearms deaths in 2010, or 10.3 per 100,000 people in the United States. The same year, there were 33,687 motor vehicle traffic deaths, or 10.9 per 100,000 people. This difference of 2,015 deaths is incredibly low when you consider the United States population of 316,331,000. Further, look at the number of cars versus guns. In 2007, the United States Department of Transportation said there were 254.4 million cars on the road, or 80.4 per one hundred people. At the same time, there were 94.3 guns per one hundred people. According to the Huffington Post, there are 30 gun-related murders, 53 gun-related suicides, and 162 gun-related injuries a day. There are more than 100 car accident deaths per day; it’s difficult to quantify murders versus suicides versus accidents, and the number of injuries are hard to find. This means guns are slightly less likely to kill you, but it’s pretty low odds that you’ll die in a car accident rather than a shooting if you’re a resident of the United States.

car crash extreme explosion

Further, consider the fact that, to drive a car, you must pass tests and be licensed (or have a licensed driver in the car, in the case of a person with a learner’s permit). Driving carries insurance requirements, as well, to help compensate for injuries and deaths. Compare that to a gun, which comes with a background check that you can get around if you buy at a gun show. A car is less likely to suddenly start rolling on its own and kill a person that way, while a gun can accidentally go off. The comparisons aren’t exactly great; they’re two very different beasts.

Myth 6)  Gun Laws Don't Work
assault rifle collectionUsually, this claim goes back to something like, “The 1994 assault weapon ban didn’t work; therefore, we don’t need gun laws! There are of course several problems with that.

The first is that the 1994 assault weapons ban was full of loopholes forced through by gun lobbyists and the politicians in their pockets. A Business Insider article backs that up. The ban targeted only 18 specific types of semiautomatic weapons, as well as guns with at least two specific “military-style” features. That effectively banned 118 more models. Clearly, though, there are many more kinds of semiautomatic weapons. A UPenn report says that the characteristics targeted had little to do with how the weapon operated, and that removing those features could make the guns legal while still remaining semiautomatic. Gun manufacturers came up with perfectly legal versions of AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. The biggest difference was that they came without threaded barrels. Obviously, this didn’t particularly change the lethality of the guns. Even Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, made that point in 2004 while talking to PBS. One of the “cosmetic features” he discussed was a ban on bayonet mounts. How many gun owners do you know who would actually use a bayonet mount on their rifle? That’s what we thought.

bullets on chain assault rifle rounds

Another is that the 1994 ban also applied to high-capacity magazines. Guns with high-capacity magazines are the ones frequently used in mass shootings and murders. Mass shootings have been on the rise since 2007—three years after the 1994 ban expired.

Myth 5)  We Need to Enforce Existing Gun Laws, Not Make New Ones
Two heavily armed policemenInterestingly, this claim is often made by the very people who claim that gun laws don’t work, such as the NRA. The problem is that our existing laws don’t work. Private gun sales are unregulated, unrecorded, and do not require background checks. Private gun sales also make up forty percent of all gun sales. Forty percent of all prisoners who committed crimes using guns bought them privately. Sales made at gun shows don’t require background checks, either. According to a study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that just over 20 percent of California gun retailers contacted agreed in telephone interviews to sell to researchers posing as “straw buyers”, or people buying guns for people who can’t pass a background check. These people are rarely picked up because retailers obviously don’t call the police to report it. Sixty-two percent of all online gun sellers in one study were willing to sell to people who said they couldn’t pass a background check. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms hasn’t had a director in six years as of 2013 because of a requirement pushed by the NRA that nominees be confirmed by the Senate, which means the federal government’s gun enforcement branch has been a bit aimless. We have laws, yes, but they’re weak and toothless. Even if better enforced, there are too many loopholes and end runs that can be made for anyone to realistically claim that they’re enough.

Myth 4)  Gun-Free Zones Invite Gun Violence
In recent years, a common response from the pro-gun sector after a mass shooting has blamed the rising occurrence of gun-related mass incidents on the widespread policy of public places in America banning guns. Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, politicians across the nation were arguing in favor of gun rights with the theory that since most mass shootings have occurred in gun-free areas, such as schools and churches, the mere existence of a gun-free zone is like calling out defenselessness to possible shooters. Because mass shooters regularly choose areas where firearms are banned, gun-rights advocates say that these sites are inviting violence. This is not true. Examining the data of mass shootings over the past 30 years, shows that not a single case involves clear evidence that the shooter targeted a location for reasons related to the banning of guns.

Drug and gun free zone

In fact, the majority of cases examined contain clear evidence of motive and location choice for other reasons. In 20 of the 62 cases looked at, workplace locations were chosen by shooters with motives directly linked to feelings of personally being wronged by employers or colleagues. Twelve documented school shootings all but one incident involved killers with close, personal ties to the institutions targeted. Other evidence that directly contradicts the myth of gun-free zones themselves inviting violence is that 36 of the killers involved in these 62 cases committed suicide on the location of the shooting. The lack of guns in possession of others at these locations doesn't permit such incidents to happen, either. In not a single case was the mass shooting stopped by further gun use, either in the hands of a private citizen or law enforcement.

Myth 3)  More Guns Equal Less Crime
two forensic scientists working on a crime sceneA 2010 book by John Lott Jr., More Guns, Less Crime, made this exact claim. It has, however, been thoroughly debunked in peer review. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found there’s a positive correlation between gun ownership and violence. In other words, guns aren’t a deterrent; they’re the problem. Crime has been on the decline since the 1970s. In recent years, however, gun ownership has been increasing as violent crime has. The South has the most guns in the country per capita and is the most violent region of the country. Expanding concealed carry laws leads to an increase in aggravated assaults. Fifteen of the 25 most deadly mass shootings in the past 50 years have occurred in the United States. Compare this to Europe, which has much tighter gun control laws and much less gun violence. Guns increase crime, plain and simple. There are claims that the UK has the highest violent crime rate in the world, despite their gun laws. It is, in fact, the highest in Europe and higher than in the United States; however, their rates of gun violence are far lower. It’s more likely that UK violence is linked to lead-based paint and leaded gas. (Lead has been demonstrably linked, several times, to violent crime.) There are also claims that gun control laws in Australia led to a higher murder rate; in fact, in 2009, Australian murder rates reached a record low. As stated elsewhere, the vast majority of self-defense cases that use a gun are, in fact, crimes as well. Guns do not reduce crime rates.

Myth 2)  Carrying a Gun for Self-defense is Safer
gun with bulletsThis is patently untrue. For every one use of a gun in self-defense in the home, there are four gun accidents, eleven gun suicides, and seven gun assaults or murders—all in the home. Outside the home is no safer; nearly ten times more people were killed by guns in arguments than by civilians trying to stop crime. Out of the nearly one percent of Americans who have reported using a gun in self-defense, more than half involved using a gun in an aggressive, not defensive, way. Assault victims’ risks of being shot are 4.5 times greater if they carry guns than if they don’t, and they’re 4.2 times more likely to be killed than if they don’t carry a gun. Guns carried for self-defense lead to greater risks of injury and death, not less, both for the carrier and for other people.

Myth 1)  A Gun in the Home Makes You Safer
In fact, owning a gun significantly increases the risk of death for the owner, their spouse, and their children—really, for everyone who lives in the home. Every single person in your home is more likely to die of a gun accident than they would be in any gun incident if you didn’t have one in the home. It doesn’t matter how the gun is stored or how many you own; the simple fact that there’s even one increases your risk. Having a gun in the house doesn’t reduce the chances of being a victim of a crime, and it doesn’t lessen the odds that you’ll be injured in a break-in. The risks of gun ownership are so bad for children that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a warning against them in 2000; they urged pediatricians to tell parents to get rid of any guns in the home.

young boy with gun pointed at his head

In 2011, David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, published a meta-review of all scientific literature to date on gun ownership and its risks. It showed that children in the United States are 11 times more likely than children in other developed countries to die from accidental gunshot wounds. There are 20 nonfatal accidental gun injuries a day, excluding non-bullet injuries and pellet gun injuries. The majority are self-inflicted and occur during cleaning, target shooting, unloading, and loading. While gun owners and their families are at no higher risk of suicide than non-gun-owning homes, they are significantly more likely to have a successful suicide attempt. This is due to the higher lethality of gunshots than other methods of suicide. States with more guns have more suicides, even controlled for several factors. There is no association between gun prevalence and the rate of non-gun suicides in a given state. The vast majority of murders are rage-induced and therefore more likely to occur in the home, mostly with a gun. People may claim that gun ownership deters crime or stops crimes in progress, but studies show that most uses of guns,  are illegal, socially undesirable, and have no effect on crime rates. Simply put, a gun is a hazard not a help, especially if you have children.

Final Thoughts
Guns are clearly, blatantly at fault for a huge amount of the violence in American society. They’re among one of the deadliest killers annually, and the United States has the greatest number of mass shootings over the past fifty years. Guns are clearly a threat in the home, to children, for self-defense, and for women. Most people claiming to use guns in self-defense actually use them aggressively. A very slight percentage—three hundredths of a percent—of all deaths are from motor vehicle accidents over shootings. Yet people claim guns solve crime, gun control does nothing, guns can protect people, and on and on. It’s a wonder that they can believe any of it, given the incontrovertible statistics.





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