We are now in the biggest fight for the Second Amendment since the 1968 Gun Control Act was enacted. The problem with this issue is that’s it’s driven by fear and misinformation. The anti-gun population thinks guns are the cause of crime. The pro-gun population thinks guns are the solution to crime. Neither is truly correct.

Our crime problem is a social issue and more or less guns won’t solve the problem. Trust me, you’re not likely to convince an anti-gunner with this information but it will be informative to those sitting on the fence. Note that the numbers I quote come from real sources not pulled out of the air.

We have a problem with risk assessment

Fear is an emotion and is not a rational reaction. A rational reaction is to avoid situations based on the chance that they are dangerous.

There are probably 100 million Americans who are afraid of a spider. Spiders account for an infinitesimally small number of deaths every year. Thousands of those same people have little fear of consuming alcohol and getting behind the wheel of a car, an act that accounts for thousands of deaths of both drunk drivers and innocent victims every year. This is an example of poor risk assessment.

“Assault weapons”

The AR-15, the gun most commonly mislabeled an “assault rifle” or “assault weapon,” is probably one of the most accurate rifle platforms ever designed. It is so versatile that the fully automatic military version, the M16/M4, has been the US military’s service rifle longer than any other design.

AR-15s are desirable for hunting as well as recreational shooting. An AR-15-type rifle won the National High Power Rifle Championships (a precision shooting competition) this year and has won several times before. While the Second Amendment doesn’t take hunting and recreation into account, the AR-15 does have “legitimate sporting value” and is the most popular competition rifle used today.

The 30-round magazine

I suppose I could agree that no one “needs” a 30-round magazine. I would also argue that no one needs a 200-horsepower car. Speeding causes many times more deaths than “large capacity” magazines. I would further argue that no one needs more than three drinks of alcohol and we all know the havoc excessive drinking has on our society. I won’t even mention what happened when we tried to ban alcohol.

The comparative deadliness of “assault weapon” to a hunting shotgun

An AR-15 in 5.56x45mm/.223 Remington fires projectiles weighing 55 grains. A Remington 1100 sporting shotgun (one of the most popular in history and used by hunters everywhere) shooting 00 buckshot (commonly used by deer hunters) can fire 54 projectiles, each weighing 53.8 grains.

How many murders are committed with “assault weapons?”

All rifles combined, including “assault weapons,” accounted for only 323 deaths in 2011. Probably about half those were with guns labeled “assault weapons” or “assault rifles.” More murders were committed by knives (1,694), hands, fists and feet (728), and blunt weapons such as clubs and hammers (496), according to FBI data shown below.

The real numbers

To get an idea of the real numbers, read these crime statistics compiled by the FBI. Note the rate of decline in firearms deaths while gun sales numbers soar. In 2010, firearms sales increased to over 150 percent of the previous year.

The total number of firearms deaths in 2011, minus suicides, is 8,583 (the antis normally include suicides in the murder rates). Compare this to the number of times U.S. citizens successfully used a firearm to defend themselves at 180,000. For every firearm death, over 20 US citizens successfully used a firearm to defend themselves. Those events don’t generate news coverage because there is rarely any mayhem. We don’t know the numbers, but it would be reasonable to assume that one in 20 of the assaults would result in death. This might illustrate why crime has gone down while gun ownership has risen.

The odds

The odds of a U.S. student-aged child being killed with a gun is one in three million during a one year period. Remember, this includes gang violence in urban areas and I’ll bet these deaths constitute over half the deaths of students. The odds of an adult being hit by lightning are three times greater, at one chance in one million.

Two of three mass murders using guns attack their own communities, groups, or families, not random victims.

Women and guns

Female gun ownership is up 77 percent in seven years, according the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). In 2005, just 13 percent of gun owners were women. In 2000, 41 percent of households reported gun ownership. Today, that number stands at 47 percent, a 15 percent increase, the sharpest increase among women.

How effective is gun control?

With gun sales at an all-time high (firearms sales have doubled in the last ten years), violent crime has decreased (violent crime is down more than 50 percent over the same ten year period). Murder rates are up in urban areas, the same areas that have the most restrictive gun laws. Chicago, the city with the toughest gun laws in the U.S., has the highest murder rate in the country. This isn’t because Chicago doesn’t have enough guns, it’s because Chicago has a terrible cultural problem with high rates of drug use, poverty, and gang-related crime.

I don’t have the answer to stopping crime but I know, based on all the above, that restricting the right of individuals to have the ability to own guns for hunting, recreation, and self-defense won’t solve our crime problem and will likely make it worse. It is also obvious that “large capacity” magazines in “assault weapons” have no real effect on crime or murder rates based on the fact that hammers and clubs are much more popular as a weapon of choice.

In the United States, we don’t have a gun problem. We have a risk assessment problem.


The 180,000 number came from Time Magazine in a feature named “The Gunfighters,” and they listed their sources as a group listed below. I’d bet it’s accurate because Time is not interested in furthering the goals of the National Rifle Association.

  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • National Crime Victim Survey
  • NYPD Small Arms Survey
  • NCIS
  • NSSF
  • FBI 2011 Uniform Crime Report

Image courtesy Dick Jones

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