There is probably no topic more divisive among the US population than the issue of gun “rights” vs. gun control – and probably no subject more prone to distortion, misinformation, propaganda and bias. (I put “rights” in quotation marks because, in spite of the DC v. Heller Supreme Court split decision, the Founders never included any such right in the US Constitution or its Bill of Rights, except in relation to the duty of service in the militia.)
Just as the Climate Change Denial movement, created and financed by Exxon-Mobil and Koch Industries, has encouraged widespread doubt among the US populace (particularly those on the political right), a highly successful propaganda and disinformation campaign, sponsored and financed largely by the National Rifle Association (NRA), has created a large coterie of Americans (almost exclusively on the libertarian right) who believe a false narrative that suits their personal ideological bias.
This anti-science, counter-factual, ideologically-driven and corporate-funded movement also feeds such anti-government events as the 2014 Cliven Bundy armed standoff in Nevada and the 2016 Ammon & Ryan Bundy armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
According to Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of Oathkeepers, a “patriot” group of current and former military and law enforcement officers pledging not to obey orders which they believe violate the United States Constitution, an attempt to confiscate firearms will be the spark for the Second American Revolution, just as it was for the First American Revolution, when General Gage ordered his British troops to march on the Lexington and Concord armories to confiscate guns, cannon, powder.
I am not a proponent of gun control laws per se, and I agree with Henry David Thoreau “that government is best which governs least” (from his pamphlet, Civil Disobedience – it has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but has never been found in any of Jefferson’s writings). I would prefer a society in which order was built on consensus, respect and a shared sense of responsibility, as it was done in most Native American tribes and confederacies, rather than on law, coercion and armed force as is the standard in all modern nation-states.
But limited government requires generalized self-discipline and a broad willingness to sacrifice personal desires and even freedoms for the common good – what Jefferson called Civic Republicanism, and which was the engine which fueled the American Revolution. Neither self-discipline nor self-sacrifice, however, are common American values; hence there is little recourse but using the force of law to discipline society for the public safety and the common good that was promised by our constitutional system of governance: “…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
“The Blessings of Liberty” – not liberty as an idol in itself, but as a means to an end.
I am, however, a staunch defender of rationality in public policy, science in service to the general welfare, and intellectual honesty in regard to complex and contentious topics. In that light and to those ends, I offer this compilation and overview of the reality of guns in America and their cost to society.
Fewer Americans are Buying More Guns
More guns are being sold, but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population.
- About 50% of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45% say they do. Overall, 35% of Americans personally own a gun.
- Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.
The Tragedy of Gun Violence in the United States
“More than 31,000 people a year in the United States die from gunshot wounds. Because victims are disproportionately young, gun violence is one of the leading causes of premature mortality in the US. In addition to these deaths, in 2010, there were an estimated 337,960 nonfatal violent crimes committed with guns, and 73,505 persons treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds. Gun violence in the United States is unusually high for a nation of such wealth. Although there is little difference in the overall crime rates between the United States and other high income countries, the homicide rate in the US is seven times higher than the combined homicide rate of 22 other high-income countries. This is because the firearm homicide rate in the US is twenty times greater than in these other high-income countries. The higher prevalence of gun ownership and much less restrictive gun laws are important reasons why violent crime in the US is so much more lethal than in countries of similar income levels.” – Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, October 2012
The Problem is “Law-Abiding Citzens” – NOT career Criminals or Gangs
“Most murders are committed by previously law-abiding citizens, in situations where spontaneous violence is generated by anger, passion or intoxication, and where the killer and victim are acquainted. Twenty-five percent of these murders occur within families.” – American Journal of Psychiatry
Bureau of Justice Statistics, relationship of victim to offender, 1980-2008 (20 years of data, more than half a million murders): Of the homicides in which the relationship between the victim and the offender is known, 65% are within families or intimate partnerships, another 14% are between acquaintances such as (friend or employee/employer), and only 22% are between total strangers (what we normally think of as criminal acts).
According to FBI Homicide data for 2012, of the 8,855 gun homicides, 16.2% were reported as committed during a known or suspected felony crime, and 9.8% were known to be gangland or juvenile gang related. That leaves 74% of all gun murders apparently unrelated to either criminal or gang activity.
Economic Costs of Gun Violence
Hospitals in the US spent $630 million in 2010 treating the victims of gun violence. The Medicaid costs of gun violence alone that year amounted to approximately $327 million.
The report found that the average cost of a hospital visit for a gun violence victim is $14,000 more than that of the average hospital stay, due to the severity of the injuries often involved.
An extensive Center for American Progress (CAP) report on gun violence found that three types of violent crime involving guns – homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault – cost taxpayers $3.7 billion per year in higher medical costs, lost work productivity from injuries, and spending on police and the courts.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that nonfatal gun injuries and gun-related deaths ultimately cost the US $5.6 billion in medical spending every year. That number goes up to $64.6 billion when accounting for lost productivity due to the injuries.
A study released in 2013 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) found that one out of every three patients hospitalized for gun injuries was uninsured. Between 2000 and 2010, 275,939 individuals were victims of gunfire in the US, and received 1.7 million days of hospital charges which only included costs after the patient was admitted, according to the APHA study. The study’s lead researcher estimated that the total cost over the decade amounted to more than $18.9 billion. The average cost of medical treatment for each hospitalization was $75,884.
Lethality of Guns
Of the 132,687 persons sustained gunshot wounds that resulted in death or treatment in a hospital emergency department each year (1992 through 1995), the overall age-adjusted case-fatality rate (CFR) was 31.7%.
Annals of Surgery data show that abdominal stab wounds are 1% lethal and abdominal gun shot wounds are 13% lethal, post-hospital arrival. The Annals of Emergency Medicine puts overall lethality of gunshot wounds at 31.7% and head wound lethality at 61%. The Journal of Trauma, in a Folsom Prison study (751 wounds in 270 prisoners), found an overall mortality rate of 3%, with only 25% requiring more than cleansing and suturing of wounds. The Journal of Trauma also looked at all injury admissions to a Seattle hospital over a six year period, and found the mortality rate for gunshot wounds was 22% while that for stab wounds was 4%.
Firearms, suffocation (predominantly hanging), and poisoning (predominantly drug overdose) are the three leading mechanisms of suicide in the United States. Among men, firearms are by far the method of choice.
About 85% percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. Drug overdose is fatal in less than 3% of cases. Moreover, guns are an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis. Suicidal individuals who take pills or inhale car exhaust or use razors have time to reconsider their actions or summon help. With a firearm, once the trigger is pulled, there’s no turning back. Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive do not go on to die by suicide later.
Gun owners and their families are much more likely to kill themselves than are non-gun-owners. A 2008 study by Miller and David Hemenway, found that rates of firearm suicides in states with the highest rates of gun ownership are 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women, compared with states with the lowest gun ownership – though the rates of non-firearm suicides are about the same. A gun in the home raises the suicide risk for everyone: gun owner, spouse and children alike.
Defensive Use of Firearms
Everytime a gun injures or kills in self-defense, one is used:
- 11 times for a completed or attempted suicide
- 7 times in a criminal assault or homicide
- 4 times in an unintentional shooting death or injury
Source: Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care (1998)
“Defensive Gun Uses: New Evidence from a National Survey” by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1998, concluded that “estimates of defensive gun uses (DGU) are apparently subject to a large positive bias, which calls into question the accuracy of DGU estimates based on data from general-population surveys. Our analysis also suggests that available survey data are not able to determine whether reported DGU incidents, even if true, add to or detract from public health and safety.” Nor does the data “provide sufficient information to distinguish between virtuous and objectionable uses. Hence these estimates contribute little to evaluating the benefits of widespread gun ownership and carrying.”
“Incidence of Defensive Firearm Use by US Crime Victims, 1987 Through 1990” by D McDowall and B Wiersema, 1994, found that during that period there were 2,628,532 nonfatal crimes involving guns and 46,319 gun homicides, while self-defense was rare compared to gun crimes (only 258,460 incidents of firearm defense, or 64,615 per year). In 28% of incidents where a gun was used for self-defense, victims shot at the offender. In 20% of the self-defense incidents, the guns were used by police officers (reducing the civilian DGUs to 51,692 annually, or in only 0.18% of all crimes and 0.83% of violent crimes (rapes, robberies, and assaults). During this same period, there were 46,319 gun homicides (11,580 per year), and the National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that 2,628,532 nonfatal crimes involving guns occurred (657,133 per year). “In general, firearm self-defense was rare compared to gun crimes.”
“Any survey, no matter how well designed, will produce a final estimate that is much higher than its true incidence because of false positives. Not only is this a well-established statistical phenomenon, it’s also supported by new data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) – the most comprehensive and systematic effort to catalog every publicly available defensive gun use report – which finds that there were fewer than 1,600 verified DGUs in 2014.” – The Epidemiology of Self-Defense Gun Use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007-2011, Hemenway & Solnick, Preventive Medicine, October, 2015
The Gun Debate’s New Mythical Number: How Many Defensive Uses Per Year? by Philip J. Cook; Jens Ludwig; David Hemenway, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 1997, found that “the criminal court judges who rated the incidents determined that at least half were probably illegal – even after assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and carry a gun and described the incident honestly.”
“Guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense. Most self reported self defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society. In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument, in ways that were almost certainly illegal.” – “Gun use in the United States: results from two national surveys”, D Hemenway, D Azrael, M Miller, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Injury Prevention, 2000
“Compared to other protective actions, the National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that self-defense gun use is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss. These results were similar to previous research on older NCVS data which showed that, while using a firearm in self-defense did lower a person’s risk of subsequent injury, it was less effective than using any weapon other than a gun.” – The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011″, David Hemenway, Sara J. Solnick, Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2015
A 2009 University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun. Where the victim had at least some chance to resist, the odds ratio increased to 5.5. – “Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault” Branas, Richmond, Culhane, Ten Have, Wiebe, Am J Public Health. November 2009
Defensive Use Gone Wrong – Unarmed Resistance Works
In the three mass shootings in which a legally armed bystander tried to intervene (2005 shopping mall shooting in Tacoma, Washington, 2005 courthouse shooting in Tyler, Texas, and 2014 WalMart shooting in Las Vegas) all the interveners were shot. In the courthouse case, the attempted hero was a firearms instructor. He and the WalMart defender died, while the other man survived after a long coma.
But in seven mass shootings, unarmed bystanders as old as 74 successfully stopped the rampage (1985 Springfield PA shopping mall shootings, 1993 Long Island Railroad shootings, 1995 City of Industry CA postal shootings, 1998 Springfield OR Thurston High School shootings, 2011 Tucson AZ Giffords shootings, 2012 Washington DC Family Research Council shootings, and 2014 Seattle Pacific University shooting).
Ironically, in the Tucson incident, licensed-to-carry gun owner Joe Zamudio almost shot one of the unarmed heroes, mistaking him for the shooter. “I was really lucky,” Zamudio said later in an interview with Fox and Friends. “I could have easily done the wrong thing and hurt a lot of people.”
In at least four mass shootings, unarmed civilians were able to subdue the perpetrator when they were trying to change magazines: the 1998 Springfield OR Thurston High School shooting, the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, the 2011 Tucson AZ Gabriel Giffords shooting, and the 2014 Seattle Pacific University shooting.
There is also evidence that potential victims were able to hide or escape when rampaging shooters were changing magazines, including at Columbine High School (1999), Northern Illinois University (2008), and Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012). This suggests that smaller capacity magazines could save lives during mass shootings.
On August 21, 2015, five unarmed men disarmed, subdued and tied up an Islamic terrorist on a crowded train en route from Paris to Amsterdam. The shirtless gunman carried an AK47, a pistol, a boxcutter and 300 rounds of ammunition. Before he could get a round fired, a 51-year-old Virginian wrestled the long gun from the man only to be shot in the back by the pistol and have the AK taken back by the shooter. In the next car, three young men – an off-duty US Airman, a National Guardsman on vacation after his deployment in Afghanistan, and a college buddy – tackled the gunman as he was trying to cock his weapon (which may have jammed). A French national and a Briton then joined in restraining the gunman. The Airman was cut in the neck and had his thumb nearly severed but stopped the arterial bleeding of another passenger who was cut in the neck. The five heroes were knighted by the French President.
Shopping mall shooting in Tacoma, Washington
As a rampage unfolded in 2005, a civilian with a concealed carry permit named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with his handgun. The shooter pumped several bullets into McKown, wounding six people before eventually surrendering to police after a hostage standoff. A comatose McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.
Courthouse shooting in Tyler, Texas
In 2005, a civilian named Mark Wilson, who was a firearms instructor, fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47.
2011 Gabriel Giffords shooting in Tuscon Arizona
Moments after the shooter, Jared Loughner, was tackled by wounded 74-year-old retired Army Colonel Bill Badger and 61-year-old retired nursery wholesaler and Gifford campaign volunteer Roger Sulzgeber while trying to reload and had his dropped magazine grabbed by 61-year-old business woman Patricia Maisch, a concealed carry permit holder named Joe Zamudio arrived on the scene with his gun off safety and his hand wrapped around it in his pocket, and nearly shot one of the men who had disarmed Lougher. The would-be rescuer said he saw one of the men holding the Glock and at first thought he was the killer. Zamudio grabbed the man’s arm and shoved him into a wall before realizing he wasn’t the shooter. And one reason why Zamudio didn’t pull out his own weapon was that “he didn’t want to be confused as a second gunman”.
2014 Las Vegas CiCi Pizza and WalMart shooting spree
After Jarad and Amanda Miller executed two police officers while they were having lunch and took their guns and ammunition, they walked across the street to WalMart, where 31-year-old customer, Joseph Wilcox, pulled out his legally registered pistol and “told his friend he was going to confront the suspect”. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize the woman, Amanda, was also armed. Amanda shot him in the ribs and he immediately collapsed and died, never firing a single round.
Such actions in chaotic situations don’t just put the well-intentioned citizen at risk, of course. According to Robert McMenomy, an assistant special agent in charge in the San Francisco division of the FBI, they increase the danger for innocent bystanders. They also make law enforcement officers’ jobs more difficult. “In a scenario like that,” he said, “they wouldn’t know who was good or who was bad, and it would divert them from the real threat.”
Studies contradicting the “More Guns = Less Crime” Conclusion of (NRA favorite) John Lott
More Guns = Less Safety = More Deaths
A higher number of firearm laws in a state are associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities in the state, overall and for suicides and homicides individually. – Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States, by Eric W. Fleegler, MD, MPH; Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH; Michael C. Monuteaux, ScD; David Hemenway, PhD; Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH, JAMA Internal Medicine, 2013
This largest study ever performed on the topic found that for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%. This was true over a 30-year period in all 50 states, after correcting for other known causal factors. – The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981–2010, by Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, Craig S. Ross, MBA, and Charles King III, JD, PhD, Am J Public Health, September 12, 2013
Comparing data from 27 developed countries, we found that the number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country, whereas the predictive power of the mental illness burden was of borderline significance in a multivariable model. Regardless of exact cause and effect, however, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer. – Gun Ownership and Firearm-related Deaths, Sripal Bangalore, MD, MHA, Franz H. Messerli, MD, The American Journal of Medicine, October 2013
For most contemporary Americans, scientific studies indicate that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes. On the benefit side, there are fewer studies, and there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in. – Risks and Benefits of a Gun in the Home, by David Hemenway, PhD, Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2011
Based on a review of the available scientific data, the dangers of having a gun at home far outweigh the safety benefits. Research shows that access to guns greatly increases the risk of death and firearm-related violence. A gun in the home is twelve times more likely to result in the death of a household member or visitor than an intruder. The most common cause of deaths occurring at homes where guns are present, by far, is suicide. Many of these self-inflicted gunshot wounds appear to be impulsive acts by people without previous evidence of mental illness. Guns in the home are also associated with a fivefold increase in the rate of intimate partner homicide, as well as an increased risk of injuries and death to children. – Guns at Home Increase Dangers, Not Safety, by Dr. Lippmann and co-authors, Southern Medical Journal, Feb 2010
After adjustment, individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. Among gun assaults where the victim had at least some chance to resist, this adjusted odds ratio increased to 5.45. On average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. – Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, by Charles C. Branas, PhD, Therese S. Richmond, PhD, CRNP, Dennis P. Culhane, PhD, Thomas R. Ten Have, PhD, MPH, and Douglas J. Wiebe, PhD, American Journal of Public Health, November 2009, Vol. 99, No. 11
Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. – Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study by Linda L. Dahlberg, Robin M. Ikeda and Marcie-jo Kresnow, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 160, Issue 10, 2004
The results show strong correlations between the presence of guns in the home and suicide committed with a gun, rates of gun-related homicide that involved female victims, and gun-related assault. – Guns, Violent Crime, and Suicide in 21 Countries, by Martin Killias, John van Kesteren, Martin Rindlisbacher, Canadian Journal of Criminology Volume:43 Issue:4 October 2001
For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. – Injuries and Deaths due to Firearms in the Home, by Kellermann, Somes, Rivara, Lee, Banton, Journal of Trauma, 1998
Instead of conferring protection, keeping a gun in the home is associated with increased risk of both suicide and homicide of women. – Risk Factors for Violent Death of Women in the Home, by Bailey JE, Kellermann AL, Somes GW, Banton JG, Rivara FP, Rushforth NP, New England Journal of Medicine, 1993
We found an 8-fold increase in intimate partner femicide risk associated with abusers’ access to firearms… A small percentage (5%) of women lived apart from the abuser and owned a gun, however, and there was no clear evidence of protective effects. – Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study, by Cambell et al, American Journal of Public Health, 2003
The present study, based on a sample of eighteen countries, confirms the results of previous work based on the 14 countries surveyed during the first International Crime Survey. Substantial correlations were found between gun ownership and gun-related as well as total suicide and homicide rates. – Gun Ownership, Suicide and Homicide: An International Perspective, by Martin Killias, 1993
Positive correlations were obtained between the rates of household gun ownership and the national rates of homicide and suicide as well as the proportions of homicides and suicides committed with a gun. – International Correlations Between Gun Ownership and Rates Of Homicide And Suicide, by Martin Killias, Dr. iur., Lic. phil., Canadian Medical Association Journal #148 1993
Right to Carry & Crime
Legislation allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons does not reduce crime. – More Guns, More Crime, by Mark Duggan, University of Chicago and National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 7967, October 2000, Journal of Political Economy, 2001
In 2004, University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt examined 10 possible factors – including more right-to-carry laws – for why crime fell in the 1990s. Levitt said four explanations held up under scrutiny: increases in the number of police, an increase in the prison population, the receding crack epidemic and even the legalization of abortion (which resulted in fewer unwanted births). By contrast, “there appears to be little basis for believing that concealed weapons laws have had an appreciable impact on crime.”
My results suggest that shall-issue laws have resulted, if anything, in an increase in adult homicide rates. – Concealed-Gun-Carrying Laws and Violent Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, by Jens Otto Ludwig, JCPR Working Papers from Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research, 1998
“The most consistent finding to emerge from both the state and county panel data models conducted over the entire 1977-2006 period is that aggravated assault rises when Right To Carry (RTC) laws are adopted. For every other crime category, there is little or no indication of any consistent RTC impact on crime.” – The Impact of Right to Carry Laws and the NRC Report: The Latest Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy, by Abhay Aneja, John J. Donohue III, Alexandria Zhang, NBER Working Paper No. 18294, Issued in August 2012
Extending the data yet another decade (1999-2010) provides the most convincing evidence to date that right-to-carry laws are associated with an increase in violent crime. The totality of the evidence using the best statistical models suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder. The strongest evidence was for aggravated assault, with data suggesting that right-to-carry (RTC) laws increase this crime by an estimated 8% – and this may actually be understated. There is also evidence that RTC laws may be associated with increases in gun assaults by almost 33%. The data from 1979 to 2010 provide evidence that the laws are associated with an increase in rape and robbery. The murder rate increased in the states with existing right-to-carry laws for the period 1999-2010 when the “confounding influence” of the crack cocaine epidemic is controlled for. Homicides increased in eight states that adopted right-to-carry laws during 1999-2010. – The Impact of Right to Carry Laws and the NRC Report: The Latest Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy, Abhay Aneja, John J. Donohue III, Alexandria Zhang, Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 461, September 4, 2014
“Compared to other protective actions, the National Crime Victimization Surveys provide little evidence that self-defense gun use (SDGU) is uniquely beneficial in reducing the likelihood of injury or property loss. These results were similar to previous research on older NCVS data which showed that, while using a firearm in self-defense did lower a person’s risk of subsequent injury, it was less effective than using any weapon other than a gun.” – The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011″, David Hemenway, Sara J. Solnick, Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2015
An Armed Society is NOT a Polite Society
“Using data from a telephone survey in Arizona, we examined the relationship between road rage and gun carrying in motor vehicles. We found that self-reported hostile actions (e.g. obscene gestures, cursing or shouting, aggressively tailgating) were more common among men, young adults, and individuals who carried a firearm in their car.” – “Road Rage in Arizona: Armed and Dangerous?”, Miller, Azrael, Hemenway, Solop & Frederic, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2002
A 2004 national random digit dial survey found that drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively. – “Is an Armed Society a Polite Society? – Guns and Road Rage”, Hemenway, Vriniotis & Miller, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2006
Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without. – “When Concealed Handgun Licensees Break Bad: Criminal Convictions of Concealed Handgun Licensees in Texas, 2001–2009”, Phillips, Nwaiwu, McMaughan, Darcy, Edwards & Lin, American Journal of Public Health, 2013
In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument, in ways that were almost certainly illegal. – “Gun use in the United States: Results from Two National Surveys”, Hemenway, Azrael, Miller, Injury Prevention, 2000
In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7% to 10% increase in homicides. – “Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine”, Cheng & Hoekstra, Texas A&M University, Journal of Human Resources, 2012
In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
- A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
- One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.
Most Crime Guns Come from Licensed Gun Dealers
According to ATF, virtually all guns recovered in crimes were originally sold by licensed gun dealers (“Federal Firearm Licensees” or “FFLs”) within the US. These guns enter the illegal market through a number of channels, including theft and robbery, gun dealers who participate in illegal or negligent sales, straw purchasers who buy guns on behalf of criminals, and subsequent sales by unlicensed, private sellers at gun shows and elsewhere, who are not required by federal law to conduct background checks.
In 2009, of the 238,107 guns that were recovered at crime scenes in the US and submitted for tracing, ATF successfully identified the source states for 145,321 traced guns – or 61% of the attempted traces. 43,254 of these guns, or 30%, crossed state lines before they were recovered in crimes.
Nearly 60% of the guns used in crime are traced back to corrupt federally-licensed gun dealers: federally-licensed gun dealers send more guns to the criminal market than any other single source, in many cases because they’re selling guns “off the books” to private sellers and criminals. – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Commerce in firearms in the United States. Washington, DC: US Department of the Treasury, 2000
Almost 50% of trafficking investigations involve straw purchasing. A straw purchaser is someone with a clean record who buys guns on behalf of someone legally prohibited from possessing guns. Straw purchasers are often the friends, relatives, spouses or girlfriends of prohibited purchasers. The two Columbine High School shooters recruited friends to buy guns for them at Colorado gun shows. One of the buyers admitted she would not have bought the guns if she had been required to submit to a background check.
“Stolen guns account for only about 10% to 15% of guns used in crimes.” – ATF agent Jay Wachtel
Gun Show, Internet & Private Sale Loopholes
Gun shows have been called “Tupperware parties for criminals” because they attract large numbers of prohibited buyers. Gun show dealers have been known to advertise to criminals with signs that read “no background checks required here.”
Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t require background checks. 40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
- An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.
- 20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.
The much-disputed 40% statistic came from a 1997 Institute of Justice report, written by Philip Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, based on a 1994 randomized telephone survey of 2,568 individuals conducted by the Police Foundation, in which the authors concluded that “approximately 60% of gun acquisitions involved federally licensed firearms dealers”. Part of the dispute centers on the small number – 251 – of actual gun owners who acquired a gun within the previous two years.
However, most researchers have accepted that percentage as reasonable, and it was confirmed by a 2015 Harvard Injury Control Research Center study of 2,072 gun owners, which found:
- roughly 70% of gun owners purchased their most recent gun
- roughly 30% of gun owners obtained it through a transfer (i.e., a gift, an inheritance, a swap between friends)
- of those who bought their gun, about 34% did not go through a background check.
- among the gun owners who got their firearms through a transfer, roughly two-thirds did not go through a background check.
Add it up, and it works out to:
- roughly 60% of gun owners surveyed did go through a background check when they obtained their latest gun (through sale or transfer)
- roughly 40% of gun owners did not
The City of New York commissioned an investigation of Internet gun sales in 2011. The report said on 10 websites, it found over 25,000 weapons for sale, and that more than 60% of sellers allowed a purchase to move forward even when the alleged buyer said he didn’t believe he would pass a background check.
Daniel Webster, the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, studied the consequences of Missouri repealing its “permit-to-purchase” law in 2007. This law, which required a background check as well as a brief sheriff’s review be conducted on all gun sales, closed the private sales loophole, and its repeal meant that Missouri would allow guns to be sold privately without a background check for the first time in recent history. Webster found strong evidence that the expiration of the law resulted in a sharp, roughly 25% spike in the homicide rate in Missouri – despite the fact that gun violence was declining nationally by 10% and regionally by 5%.
How Federal Gun Policy Contributes to Illegal Trafficking
Congress has passed a series of laws in recent years that allow easy access to guns and restrict law enforcement’s ability to go after traffickers. Three policies in particular impede law enforcement’s ability to prosecute traffickers:
- Keeping crime gun trace information secret: Until 2002, the ATF released aggregate crime gun trace reports to local police departments, researchers, policymakers and public safety advocates. The reports revealed for the first time that 1.2% of federally licensed gun dealers supply 57% of the guns used in crime. But, bowing to pressure from the gun lobby, Congress voted to restrict police access to crime gun trace data and cut off public access altogether. These restrictions, known as the Tiahrt Amendments (named for the Kansas Congressman who sponsored the bill), have passed in every Department of Justice budget since 2003, despite the fact that prominent law enforcement associations oppose them as a serious threat to public safety.
- Handcuffing the ATF: The ATF, the sole government agency charged with enforcing federal gun laws, has operated without a permanent director since the Bush Administration, and operates with just 1,800 agents to monitor approximately 77,000 gun dealers. Given these constraints, it would take ATF 22 years to inspect all federally licensed gun dealers. Even if the ATF had the manpower to inspect most gun dealers, federal law limits the agency to a single unannounced inspection of a dealer in any 12-month period. Congress has made it increasingly difficult for the ATF to revoke licenses of crooked gun dealers.
- An absence of records: It is impossible for law enforcement to know the whereabouts of millions of firearms in circulation today because Federal law explicitly bars the ATF from establishing a database of retail firearms sales, and private gun sellers are not required to keep a paper trail of transactions. Prior to 2001, federal authorities maintained criminal background check records for up to six months. Under President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed this policy and ordered the destruction of all criminal background check records within 24 hours. Even though the General Accounting Office found that destroying these records endangers public safety, the policy remains in effect.
State Gun Laws vs. Crime Gun Trafficking
There is a strong association between a state’s gun laws and that state’s propensity to export crime guns. There is also a strong association between a state’s gun laws and that state’s propensity to be a source of short Time-To-Crime (TTC) crime guns. Of ten common gun laws, states that have enacted these gun laws are associated with lower crime gun export rates and a smaller proportion of crime guns with a short TTC. The ten states that supply guns at the highest rates have, on average, only 1.6 of these regulations in place, whereas in the ten states that supply interstate crime guns at the lowest rates, the average is 8.4. – Mayors Against Illegal Guns, September 2010
Of the top ten gun trafficking states – Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alaska, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Nevada, Georgia – eight are Red states.
The bottom ten gun trafficking states – Connecticut, Michigan, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, District of Columbia – are ALL Blue states.
State Gun Laws vs. Gun Deaths
“States with the strongest gun laws and lowest percentage of household gun ownership tend to have significantly lower gun death rates and crime gun export rates than other states.” – Legal Community Against Violence
Of all the states with higher gun death rates, the average gun law severity is 20 (on a scale from 1 to 50); while of all the states with lower gun death rates, the average gun law severity is 31 (about 50% stricter).
Of all the states with more lenient gun laws, the average gun death rate is 12.9 per 100,000; while of all the states with more strict gun laws, the average gun death rate is 8.73 (32% lower).
Federal Gun Laws
- National Firearms Act (1934)
- Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968
- Gun Control Act of 1968
- Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988
- Gun-Free School Zones Act (1990)
- Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993)
- Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994–2004)
- Firearm Owners Protection Act (1986)
- Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005)
National Firearms Act (“NFA”) of1934 taxes the manufacture and transfer of, and mandates the registration of, Title II weapons such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, heavy weapons, explosive ordnance, silencers, and disguised or improvised firearms.
Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 prohibits interstate trade in handguns, and increased the minimum age to 21 for buying handguns.
Gun Control Act of 1968 regulates interstate commerce in firearms by prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 reopened interstate sales of long guns, legalized ammunition shipments through the US Postal Service, removed the requirement for record keeping on sales of non-armor-piercing ammunition, protected of transportation of firearms through states where possession of those firearms would otherwise be illegal, but also prohibits the sale to civilians of automatic firearms manufactured after the date of the law’s passage, and requires ATF approval of transfers of automatic firearms.
Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 criminalizes the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms with less than 3.7 oz of metal content.
Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm in a school zone.
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires background checks on most firearm purchasers (but left the very large gun show and private sale loopholes).
Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994–2004 banned semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices.
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 prevents firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.
The 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban
The term “assault weapon” was a spin-off of the US military’s definition of assault rifles. The US Department of Defense has long defined assault rifles as fully automatic rifles used for military purposes, though almost all current US military field rifles are select-fire, with an option of single-fire or 3-shot burst.
The US gun industry, however, routinely use the terms “assault rifle”, “assault pistol” and “assault weapon” in advertisements in the 1980s to market semi-automatic military knockoffs with large-capacity magazines to Rambo wannabes, using testosterone-laden images and language.
Fully-automatic weapons have been largely prohibited in the US since the National Firearms Act of 1934, and (ironically) the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (which relaxed a number of regulations) prohibited the sale to civilians of automatic firearms manufactured after the date of the law’s passage, and requires ATF approval of transfers of automatic firearms.
In 1989, California became the first state to legally define and outlaw assault weapons. Also in 1989, the US prohibited several types of semi-automatic rifles from being imported. Those rifles were among the weapons that would eventually be banned by the federal assault weapons ban (AWB) in 1994.
Chicago suburb Highland Park banned the possession of what it called assault weapons, including AR-15s, like this one, and AK-47s, as well as large capacity magazines. Gun rights advocates challenged the ban, contending that it violated the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a right to bear arms.
There was no constitutional challenge to the federal AWB, and in 2015 the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal from gun owners challenging a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines. The refusal left in place a decision issued by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a local ordinance enacted in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park: a 2013 statute banning the possession of assault weapons, including AR-15s, and AK-47s, and magazines that can accept more than 10 rounds.
Swiss Cheese But Still Effective
The 1994 federal assault weapons ban, in spite of being riddled with loopholes, resulted in a marked decrease in the use of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in crime. According to the 2004 National Institute of Justice Assessment of the ban, the largest loophole was that assault weapons and large-capacity magazines manufactured before the effective date of the ban were “grandfathered” and thus legal to possess and transfer. That included an estimated 1 million privately owned assault weapons, an estimated 25 million large-capacity magazines (LCMs) and another 4.7 million pre-ban LCMs imported into the US during the ban.
“Following implementation of the ban, the share of gun crimes involving AWs declined by 17% to 72% across the localities examined for this study (Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, St. Louis, and Anchorage), based on data covering all or portions of the 1995-2003 post-ban period. This is consistent with patterns found in national data on guns recovered by police and reported to ATF.” – Christopher S. Koper, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003”, Report to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
“During the federal assault weapons ban, the Virginia State Police saw a clear decline in the percentage of crime guns with large capacity magazines, reaching a low of 10% in 2004. After Congress failed to renew the ban, that percentage steadily climbed; by 2010, nearly 22% of crime guns in Virginia had large capacity magazines.” – US Dept. of Justice and the Washington Post
“When Maryland imposed a more stringent ban on assault pistols and high-capacity magazines in 1994, it led to a 55% drop in assault pistols recovered by the Baltimore Police Department.” – The Maryland Ban on the Sale of Assault Pistols and High-Capacity Magazines: Estimating the Impact in Baltimore, American Journal of Public Health, Feb. 2, 1997
A Justice Department study of the assault weapons ban found that it was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal. The same study also found that “Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple wounds per victim, and police officers as victims.” – Jeffrey A. Roth & Christopher S. Koper, “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994”
“37% of police departments reported seeing a noticeable increase in criminals’ use of assault weapons since the 1994 federal ban expired.” – Police Executive Research Forum, Guns and Crime: Breaking New Ground by Focusing on the Local Impact, May 2010
A May 2010 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum of 164 police departments serving 100,000 or more people finds that 37% have seen an increase in the use of assault weapons in street crime, and 38% report seeing an increase in the use semiautomatic firearms that accept high-capacity ammunition magazines in street crime.
More Studies Needed – But Funds Embargoed by the NRA
In the 1990s, a group of researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) viewed gun injuries as predictable and preventable – using an epidemiological public health approach – and saw a need for rigorous research into how to reduce them. So the CDC created the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), in part to study gun violence in the same way it studied motor vehicle injuries and fatalities.
The NCIPC itself began collecting data on gun violence, as well as funding outside research on the subject, and in 1993, a group of researchers published a study that challenged the most basic assumptions of many gun owners and the core propaganda message of the NRA: that owning a gun makes you safer.
The study, rigorously conducted by ten credentialed experts, and appearing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, found instead that the reverse is true. “Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counter-productive,” the authors wrote. “Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home.”
The previous year, the same researchers had published a similar study finding the same link between gun ownership and suicide. Both studies were funded by the CDC.
Arthur Kellermann, who was the lead researcher on the studies, said they weren’t intended as briefs for gun control, but simply to provide information that could help people make rational, evidence-based decisions about whether to keep a weapon at home.
Kellermann said: “I grew up around guns. My dad taught me how to shoot when I was eleven or twelve years old. Firearms are fascinating pieces of equipment. I enjoy the sport of shooting, although I rarely shoot anymore. However, as a clinician, as someone who is committed to emergency medicine, it is equally evident to me that firearm violence is wreaking havoc on public health.”
Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann, MD, MPH, Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, was appointed as Director to the RAND Institute of Health in 2011. He was the founding chairman of the department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and founding director of the Center for Injury Control at Rollins School of Public Health, a collaborating center of the World Health Organization. His writings include more than 200 scientific and lay publications.
Kellermann holds career achievement awards for excellence in science from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, and the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services Section of the American Public Health Association. In 2007 he was presented with the John G. Wiegenstein Leadership Award by the American College of Emergency Physicians, their highest award.
The gun “rights” community reacted as if the studies were a declaration of war. Calling the research flawed and politically motivated, it launched a campaign to pressure government agencies not to fund further work on gun violence. The National Rifle Association (NRA) insisted that Dr Kellermann “severely understates defensive uses of guns,” and that his “conclusions provide anti-gunners propaganda”.
After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, lawmakers allied with the NRA zeroed in on the NCIPC. “There was an immediate push not just to stop gun research, but to terminate the entire center,” Kellermann recounted.
Ultimately, NCIPC survived, but in 1996, Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican and the NRA’s point man in Congress, engineered an effort to cut $2.6 million from its budget – exactly the amount it had spent on gun violence research the previous year. (The funding was later restored by the Senate, but earmarked for traumatic brain injury, ensuring it couldn’t be used for gun violence work.) Moreover, the following sentence was added to the law funding CDC: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”
Funding for firearms injury prevention activities dropped from more than $2.7 million in 1995 to barely $100,000 by 2012, according to CDC figures. For fiscal year 2014, it was $0.
by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes and a link to this page