The War Against Handguns

Posted on February 15, 2001

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General
** Americans own 60-65 million handguns -- 1 of every 3 privately owned guns. (BATF firearm production, import, and export data; Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns, 1997; American Firearms Industry, www.amfire.com.)
** More than one million new handguns are manufactured (and not exported) and imported each year. (American Firearms Industry)
** One of every four households has one or more handguns. (Gary Kleck, analysis of General Social Surveys, Targeting Guns, 1997)
** Handguns, like rifles and shotguns, are widely used for target shooting, self-protection and hunting, and many are of interest to collectors and reenactors.

Target Shooting, Hunting, and Training
** Each year, millions of American handgun owners engage in informal target shooting; hundreds of thousands participate in thousands of handgun matches. Handgun sports have grown dramatically in the last 30 years. Handguns are used for hunting in 45 states. Of NRA's 38,000 Certified Instructors, 29,000 are certified in handgun disciplines.

Defense Against Criminals
** Handguns are used for protection against criminals nearly two million times per year, up to five times more often than to commit crimes. (Kleck, "The Frequency of Defensive Gun Use," in Kates and Kleck, The Great American Gun Debate, S.F.: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997.)
** People who use guns to defend themselves are less likely to be attacked or injured than people who use other methods of protection or do not defend themselves. (Kleck, analysis of Nat'l Crime Victimization Surveys, Targeting Guns, 1997)
** The laws of all 50 states recognize the right to use armed force for defense. The U.S. Constitution and 44 state constitutions protect the right to use arms for defense.

Handgun Bans and Racism
** In America, efforts to ban handguns -- especially those to ban so-called "Saturday Night Specials" -- have historically been aimed at minorities. (E.g., Black Codes, Tenn. Army/Navy Law, N.Y. Sullivan Law.)
** Blacks and persons in the lowest income bracket are the most likely violent crime victims. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Michael Rand, "Criminal Victimization 1997, Changes 1996-97 with Trends 1993-97," 12/98)

Handguns, Self-Defense and Public Opinion
** By an 8:1 margin, Americans believe you have the right to use a handgun to defend yourself in your own home. By a 3:1 margin, people believe that to fight crime, getting tough with criminals is more effective than banning guns. (Survey of voters, Lawrence Research, 1998.)

Handgun Ban Failures
** Washington, D.C.'s homicide rate more than tripled after the city banned handguns. D.C. consistently has the highest homicide rate among major U.S. cities. (FBI)
** Chicago banned handguns in 1982 and in a decade homicides with handguns more than doubled. (Chicago Homicide Dataset) Chicago has the fourth highest homicide rate among major U.S. cities. (FBI)

Target Shooting -- Each year, millions of handgunners enjoy the most common target shooting sport, recreational "plinking." They practice for or compete in marksmanship competitions, "sight in" their guns in advance of hunting season, test handloaded ammunition, or perfect personal protection skills. Hundreds of thousands participate in thousands of local, state, regional and national handgun matches annually, using a wide variety of pistols and revolvers in a broad range of formal competitive disciplines, at 10,000 NRA-affiliated state and local shooting clubs and associations or at commercial indoor and outdoor ranges and military ranges.

NRA Bullseye and UIT (International Shooting Union) disciplines have been established for generations, while a variety of other target shooting disciplines have evolved during the last several decades. Ten types of NRA Action Shooting matches, and action-oriented events held under International Practical Shooting Confederation rules, test the ability of handgunners to fire at a variety of stationary and moving targets, at a variety of distances, from a variety of shooting positions, usually "against the clock." Center-fire and rimfire metallic silhouette matches conducted under NRA or International Metallic Silhouette Association rules add a hunting-oriented dimension to handgun target shooting. Cowboy Action Pistol matches challenge shooters' proficiency with single-action revolvers first introduced during the 19th Century. Muzzleloading pistol matches call for handguns whose design predates the invention of fixed, metallic cartridges. The NRA Competitive Shooting Division sanctions more than 12,000 shooting tournaments and sponsors over 50 national Bullseye, Action, and Silhouette pistol championships each year.

Recognizing the growth of handgun sports and advent of related equipment, Tom Griffin, Manager of the Lyman Products Ballistics Laboratory writes, "Over the last 30+ years handgun sports have grown faster than any other segment of the shooting world. . . . All of this activity has led to major advancements in the design of handguns themselves. It is hard to believe that something we take for granted today, stainless steel handguns, have only been available since the mid-sixties. Other items such as fully adjustable, precision sights, recoil absorbing rubber grips, handgun scopes, red-dot sights, laser sights, etc., have all been developed to meet the needs of the increasingly difficult handgun disciplines. Many of today's handgunners can make shots that were unheard of years ago because of their advanced equipment and participation in today's demanding sports." (Lyman Pistol and Revolver Reloading Handbook, Second Edition, 1994, p. 8.)

Acknowledging the growth of handgun shooting sports in a 1998 report to Congress, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) noted, "The handgun has developed as a sporting firearm used in both target shooting and hunting." Among contributing factors, BATF cited renewed interest in the single- action revolver, the development of new cartridges for field use, and the popularity of silhouette pistol shooting giving rise to specially designed handguns. Indicating the widespread use of handguns for target shooting and hunting, BATF noted that approximately 460.4 million rounds of center-fire handgun ammunition are manufactured in the U.S. each year, more than three billion rounds of .22 caliber rimfire ammunition (used in handguns and rifles) are manufactured in the U.S. or imported each year, and another 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition above .22 caliber (for handgun and/or rifle) were imported in 1996. (Dept. of the Treasury, BATF, "A Study Concerning the Threat to Law Enforcement Officers From the Criminal Use of Firearms and Ammunition," pp. 23-24.) Annually, about 425 million rounds of center-fire ammunition are handloaded by individual gun owners. (Lyman, p. 12.) For more information on target shooting and match schedules, contact the NRA Competitive Shooting Div. at 703-267-1450 or www.nrahq.org, or refer to the NRA's monthly "Shooting Sports, USA" publication. See also Lyman, pp. 8-9, 86-96 and www.lymanproducts.com .

Hunting -- In NRA's 1998 Whitetail Hunting Survey, 17% of respondents said they had hunted with a handgun during the current season. The May 1993 MRI Customized Readership survey found that for each type of game in question, between 8-10% of hunters had hunted with a handgun during the past year. Forty-five states allow hunting with handguns. BATF's report (see above) stated (pp. 23-24), "While any handgun could be used for hunting small game at short distances, hunting handguns tend to vary in caliber from .22 to .45, depending on the size of the game being hunted," though "some single-shot handguns. . . are chambered for rifle-type ammunition" commonly used for hunting. BATF also noted that the increased popularity of hunting with handguns led to the introduction of new calibers of handgun ammunition.

Self-Defense -- In a landmark survey, criminologist Gary Kleck found that handguns are used in about 2/3 of 2.5 million annual defensive firearm uses. (Kates and Kleck, p. 180.) Analyzing Nat'l Crime Victimization Surveys, Kleck found that people who use firearms to defend themselves are less likely to be attacked or injured than people who use other or no protective methods. Protection method and percents of individuals injured included: gun, 17.4%; knife, 40.3%; other weapon, 22.0%; physical force, 50.8%; tried to get help, frighten offender, 48.9%; threatened/reasoned with offender, 30.7%; nonviolent resistance, including evasion, 34.9%; other, 26.5%; any self-protection, 38.2%; no self-protection, 24.7%. Kleck also found that "at most, 1% of defensive gun uses resulted in the offender taking a gun away from the victim," including instances in which burglars stealing guns from homes are confronted by homeowners armed with other guns. (Kleck, pp. 168, 171.)

BATF's report (p. 24) recognized the utility of handguns for self-defense, noting, "Self-defense handguns are generally small, lightweight revolvers and semiautomatic pistols, varying from .22 to .38 caliber" and "Many of these firearms are available in .25, .32, .380, and 9 mm caliber. Some of the better quality self-defense handguns are also used for target shooting."

Anti-gun activists take the position that private citizens do not have the right to acquire, possess or use guns to protect themselves against criminals. Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) Chair Sarah Brady has said, "the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes." (Tom Jackson, "Keeping the battle alive," Tampa Tribune, 10/21/93.) HCI's first Chairman, Pete Shields, said crime victims should "put up no defense - give them (the criminals) what they want . . ." (Shields, Guns Don't Die - People Do, N.Y.: Arbor House, 1981, p. 125.) According to Dennis Henigan, of HCI's Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, self-defense is "not a federally guaranteed constitutional right." (USA Today, 11/20/91.)

Weighing positive uses of handguns against criminal misuses -- Handgun ban advocates argue that handguns are the type of firearm more likely to be used in crimes, for example, 51% of homicides in 1999. (FBI, Crime in the United States 1997, pp. 68, 207.) However, guns are used for defense against criminals three to four times more often than they are used to commit crimes. Studies by researchers with a record of anti-gun biases have alleged that handguns (and other firearms) kept for protection against criminals are more likely to be used against family members, but experts have faulted those researchers' methodology. Gary Kleck explains the most serious of the studies' flaws: "(T)he benefit of defensive gun ownership that would be parallel to innocent lives lost to guns would be innocent lives saved by defensive use of guns. As previously noted, less than one in a thousand defensive gun uses involves a criminal being killed." (Kleck, p. 178.) Addressing handgun prohibitionist literature produced by public health activists, civil rights attorney Don B. Kates writes, "(A)nti-gun health advocacy literature is a 'sagecraft' literature in which partisan academic 'sages' prostitute scholarship, systematically inventing, misinterpreting, selecting, or otherwise manipulating data to validate preordained political conclusions."("Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda,?" Tennessee Law Review, Spring 1995, p. 522.)

Gun Bans Throughout History -- Restrictions on private possession of weapons have typically been imposed out of fear that specific groups of people (generally based upon race, religion, or economic class) might threaten the power of the ruling class. "In medieval Europe the people were almost completely disarmed. When pikes and long bows were being displaced by new developments in firearms these new weapons were too expensive for the people. Furthermore, the rulers feared them in the hands of men who were being stirred by a renaissance of the arts and of the human spirit." (Robert J. Kukla, Gun Control, Harrisburg: Stackpole, 1973, p. 18.)

The example of England is particularly instructive for those who are concerned about the past and future of the right to arms in the United States. In England, "the issue of whether the individual possessed any right to have and use arms for defense of person and property figured prominently in the conflict between commoner and king." (Stephen P. Halbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right, Albuquerque: Univ. of N.M. Press, 1984, p. 37.) For example, "Henry II's Assize of Arms of 1181 detailed the types of weapons which (free) persons of various rank were expected to have on hand" with which to defend the king, (Richard A. I. Munday and J.A. Stevenson, Guns and Violence: The Debate Before Lord Cullen, Brightlingsea, England: Piedmont Publishing, Ltd., 1996, p. 154.) but "ordered the surrender of coats of mail and breastplates owned by Jews." (David B. Kopel, The Samurai, the Mountie and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies?," Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1992, p. 61.) "In 1670, for the first time in English history, Charles II sought to deprive all commoners of all firearms by legislation. . . . James II carried on the same policy of increasing the size of the standing army and disarming the populace, particularly Protestants. A paramount aim of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was to abolish the standing army of James II and to reinstate the right of Protestants to keep and carry arms." (Halbrook, p. 43.) "(B)y Blackstone's time (the 18th century), the right to bear arms, and specifically firearms, was a well recognised element of the Constitution, existing quite separately from the obligational aspect." (Munday and Stevenson, p. 154.)

In language echoed within a decade in America's Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, Sir William Blackstone, "the noted eighteenth century jurist, whose writings on English law formed the basis for legal schooling in the colonies throughout the Revolutionary period, and for many years into the nineteenth century," (Clayton E. Cramer, For the Defense of Themselves and The State: The Original Intent and Judicial Interpretation of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1994, p. 6.) wrote that the rights of Englishmen "consist, primarily, in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty and of private property" and that to protect their rights, "the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right of petitioning the King and Parliament for the redress of grievances; and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self preservation and defence." (Commentaries on the Laws of England.)

"As the twentieth century opened, the British people were free to keep and bear any firearms they chose" (Kopel, p. 74) but "British resistance to gun controls finally cracked in 1914, when Great Britain entered The Great War." (Kopel, "Lost Battles, Lost Rights," www.nraila.org/research/19990716-BillofRightsCivilRights-030.html) In 1914, "Defense of the Realm Regulations" were imposed, requiring a license for retail purchases of pistols, rifles or ammunition. Fears of a post-war communist revolution by the working classes led to discussions by senior government officials aimed at extending the restrictions after the war's end. "'It is not inconceivable," (minister of transport Sir Eric) Geddes warned, 'that a dramatic and successful coup d'etat in some large center of population might win the support of the unthinking mass of labour'. . . . Using the Irish gun licensing system as a model, the cabinet made plans to disarm enemies of the state, and prepare arms for distribution if necessary 'to friends of the government.'" (Kopel, Samurai, p. 74.)

In 1920, Parliament imposed a Firearms Act imposing licensing restrictions like the "needs-based licensing" ones proposed for America by Handgun Control, Inc., immediately after passage of the Brady Act in 1993. "The distinctive features (of the British provisions of 1920) are the wide-ranging discretion accorded to chief constables and the burden laid upon the applicant to 'satisfy' the chief constable both as to his personal suitability and as to his legitimate requirement for the firearms or ammunition applied for." (Munday and Stevenson, p. 159.) Thereafter, the 1988 Firearms Act prohibited semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than two rounds, and imposed "needs-based licensing" and registration on other shotguns. In February 1997, all handguns except single-shot .22s were banned. Later in the year, single-shot .22 cal. pistols were banned, making Britain's handgun ban complete. Anti-gun lobbies in Britain today push to ban the relatively few rifles and shotguns that remain.

Handgun Bans in America -- The first efforts to prevent the ownership of firearms, in particular, handguns, were aimed at Blacks. The French Black Code (1751) required Louisiana colonists to stop and, "if necessary," beat "any black carrying any potential weapon. . . ." After Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, the Virginia legislature made it illegal for free blacks "to keep or carry any firelock of any kind, any military weapon, or any powder or lead." In 1834, Tennessee revised Article XI, Section 26 of its Constitution to read "That the free white men of this State have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense," inserting the words "free white men" to replace "freemen," whose rights were protected when the Constitution was ratified in 1796. (Clayton E. Cramer, "The Racist Roots of Gun Control," Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, Winter 1995, pp. 17- 18.)

Mass production techniques lowered the cost of many products, including firearms. After the Civil War, gun prices fell within the budgets of average citizens, including former slaves who, freed, were entitled to exercise the right to arms, long considered one of the features distinguishing citizenship from servitude. The Supreme Court had ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford (19 How. 393, 1857), "It (citizenship) would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased...and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went." To prevent Blacks from arming themselves, southern states enacted the Black Codes, which "fixed the black population in serfdom, denying all political rights, excluding them from virtually any chance at economic or social advancement -- and, of course, forbidding them to own arms." (Don B. Kates, Jr., "Toward a History of Handgun Prohibition in the United States," Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out, Don B. Kates, Jr., Ed., North River Press, Inc, 1979, p. 12.) After ratification of the 14th Amendment (1868) and enactment of the Civil Rights Act (1875), several states responded by passing laws which on their face were race-neutral, but which in effect were not. Attorney Robert Dowlut observed, "It does not matter that a law on its face applies to all. A law will be deemed unconstitutional if the 'the reality is that the law's impact falls on the minority.'" ("Bearing Arms in State Bills of Rights, Judicial Interpretation, and Public Housing," St. Thomas Law Review, Vol. 5, Fall 1992, p. 212.) Among these laws, the forerunners of modern "Saturday Night Special" legislation, was Tennessee's "Army and Navy" law (1879), which prohibited the sale of any "belt or pocket pistols, or revolvers, or any other kind of pistols, except army or navy pistol" models, among the most expensive, and largest, handguns of the day. (E.g. Colt Model 1960 Army, Model 1851 Navy, and Model 1861 Navy percussion cap revolvers, or Model 1873 Single-Action Army revolver.) The law thus prohibited small 2-shot derringers and low-caliber rimfire revolvers, handguns that most Blacks could afford.

20th Century Anti-Handgun Efforts in the U.S. -- In 1911, New York passed the Sullivan Law, which to this day requires a person to obtain a license, issued at the discretion of police officials, to possess a handgun. The law was aimed at preventing handgun ownership by Italians and Irish immigrants of the period, then considered untrustworthy by New York legislators with different bloodlines. The National Firearms Act (1934), as originally proposed, would have required registration of handguns. As passed, the law imposed that requirement on only fully-automatic firearms and short-barreled shotguns and rifles. While consideration had been given to banning those firearms altogether, President Roosevelt's Justice Department believed a ban would have violated the Second Amendment. In 1968, Congress passed the Gun Control Act, ostensibly in reaction to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. But even supporters of "gun control" have recognized another purpose to the law. Robert Sherrill noted, "The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks . . . . Inasmuch as the legislation finally passed in 1968 had nothing to do with the guns used in the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, it seems reasonable to assume that the law was directed at that other threat of the 1960s, more omnipresent than the political assassin -- namely, the black rioter . . . . With the horrendous rioting of 1967 and 1968, Congress again was panicked toward passing some law that would shut off weapons access to blacks." (Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special, New York: Charterhouse, 1973, pp. 280-283.) B. Bruce-Briggs, not a gun control advocate, similarly noted, "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the 'Saturday night special' is emphasized because it is cheap and is being sold to a particular class of people. The name is sufficient evidence -- the reference is to 'n-----town Saturday Night.'" ("The Great American Gun War," The Public Interest, Fall 1976, p. 50.)

Conspicuously, the race-oriented history of many federal and state "gun control" laws has escaped the attention of many in the civil rights community. Legal scholars Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond have written, "The history of blacks, firearms regulations, and the right to bear arms should cause us to ask new questions regarding the Second Amendment....Perhaps a re-examination of this history can lead us to a modern realization of what the framers of the Second Amendment understood: that it is unwise to place the means of protection totally in the hands of the state, and that self-defense is also a civil right. ("The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration," Gun Control and the Constitution: Sources and Explorations on the Second Amendment, ed., Robert J. Cottrol, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Law, 1994, N.Y.: Garland Publishing, Inc., p. 427.)

Anti-Gun Groups' Handgun Ban Strategy Today -- During the last several decades, most anti-gun groups in the U.S. have generally sought a complete prohibition on handguns only, calling for merely more severe regulation of long guns (rifles and shotguns). Fewer people own handguns than long guns, thus there is a smaller base of opposition to a handgun ban, and handguns are easier to portray negatively, based upon their greater likelihood to be used in crimes, compared to long guns. In the mid-1970s, HCI (then named the National Coalition to Control Handguns), called for "A ban on the manufacture, sale, and importation of all handguns and handgun ammunition...(and) a buy-back program whereby gun owners would be reimbursed for turning their guns over to the government." (Pete Shields, "In His Own Words," People Weekly, 10/20/75.) Soon, HCI outlined its strategy to achieve the complete prohibition of handguns: "(O)ne step at a time....Our ultimate goal--total control of handguns in the United States--is going to take time....The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition...totally illegal." (Shields, quoted in Richard Harris, "A Reporter at Large," The New Yorker, " 7/2676.) In 1981, Shields, without declaring his group's ultimate purpose, wrote, "We should face the simple fact that licensing and registration (of gun owners and guns) are, or should be, duties of citizenship." (Shields, p. 126.)

In 1989, anti-gun groups placed most of their efforts to ban handguns on hold, temporarily, to pursue a new legislative target of opportunity. The previous year, Josh Sugarmann, leader of a fringe group now called the Violence Policy Center (VPC), known and often rebuked for its irrational positions on firearm issues (see www.nraila.org/research/19990729-RighttoCarry-001.html), had argued to fellow activists that "(T)he issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press and public" and that anti-gun groups needed "a new topic in what has become to the press and public an 'old debate.'" Sugarmann then suggested that "Efforts to restrict assault weapons are more likely to succeed than those to restrict handguns" because of the appearance. "The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi automatic assault weapons -- anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun -- can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons." (Emphasis in the original, "Assault Weapons in America," A Joint Project of the Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence and The New Right Watch, pp. 26-27.)

Following the federal "assault weapons" law (Sept. 13, 1994), however, anti-gun efforts refocused on handguns. In the 104th Congress, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced her "Junk Gun Violence Protection Act," modified and reintroduced in the 105th Congress as the "American Handgun Standards Act," and again introduced in the 106th Congress as S. 193. The bills proposed to prohibit the manufacture, in the U.S. of any handgun that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms considers ineligible for importation under 18 U.S.C. sec. 925(d)(3). (The bill in the 104th Congress would have also affected rifles and shotguns.) By regulations adopted by the BATF, a handgun is ineligible for importation if it fails requirements related to length, weight, caliber and other features. (See NRA-ILA "S. 193: Senator Barbara Boxer's 'Junk Guns' Bill" fact sheet.)

While Sen. Boxer claimed her bill would prohibit "Junk Guns--also called Saturday Night Specials," the bill would have prohibited many expensive handguns on the basis of the size alone. Testament to the fact that anti-gun groups apply labels to guns arbitrarily, other bills or laws have defined "Saturday Night Specials" on the basis of the melting point of the metals used in a handgun's construction, or on the basis of a variety of a handgun's attributes. During the late 1990s, several California municipalities defied the state's local ordinance preemption law by imposing their own "Saturday Night Special" laws. Concurrently, anti-gun groups and politicians launched campaigns for mandatory inclusion of trigger locks with all handguns sold, or for a ban on the sale of any handgun not possessing an integral "personalized" safety mechanism, and for lawsuits against manufacturers of handguns, alleging them liable for injuries inflicted by criminals using handguns.

Judging Handgun Control, Inc. by its deeds, not its words -- Today HCI claims no interest in handgun prohibition, ("Tom Morgenthau, "Why Not Real Gun Control?," Newsweek, 10/11/93, p. 34.) but its efforts have been and remain consistent with the prohibitionist strategy laid out by Shields nearly a quarter-century ago. In the 1980s, HCI filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the Morton Grove handgun ban. Following passage of the Brady bill in 1993, which initially imposed a records check on handgun purchasers in states not having a comparable requirement of their own (allowing the police a maximum of five days to complete the check), HCI referred to the measure as "the cornerstone of our national gun policy" and announced a campaign for licensing of gun owners, gun registration, and a host of other onerous measures later incorporated into a so-called "Brady II" bill introduced by the sponsor of the 1993 "Brady bill," Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

More recently, with the federal Instant Check replacing the earlier Brady Act provision on Nov. 30, 1998, HCI, which had previously called for a waiting period on retail sales of handguns, began calling for a waiting period on all firearm transfers, retail and private, handguns and long guns -- a measure that could be enforced only if a universal gun registration law (HCI's "second problem") were also imposed. HCI's rhetoric: "We need to close the gun show loophole which allows so-called "private collectors" at gun shows to sell their wares to anyone without doing a criminal background check. We also need to reinstate the Brady Law's waiting period which expired on Nov. 30, 1998." (Sarah Brady, quoted by the Associated Press, 1/4/99.) There is no gun show "loophole," of course, since laws regulating sales of firearms apply at gun shows just as they apply anywhere else, and it should be noted that federal law expressly permits people to sell guns from their personal collections without having to obtain a federal firearm dealer's license, which today costs $200. And, as noted, HCI supports mandatory trigger lock sales and lawsuits against handgun manufacturers.

Anti-gun advocates whose words and deeds match -- Other activists make no attempt to conceal their desire to outlaw handguns altogether. On Jan. 20, 1999, VPC advocated subjecting firearms to consumer product regulations to be enforced by BATF and said, "we believe that ultimately handguns would be phased out through such an agency." (Tom Diaz, on "Fresh Air," National Public Radio.) VPC opposes even the voluntary use of "trigger locks," believing such devices might encourage handgun ownership. The late Marvin Wolfgang, a prominent anti-gun criminologist, wrote in 1995 that, if possible, he would "eliminate all guns from the civilian population and maybe even from the police." ("A Tribute to a View That I Have Opposed," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Fall 1995, pp. 188-192.) U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, while expressing support for legislation to impose a mandatory waiting period on all retail and private firearm transfers, said he favors an outright ban on handguns, but doubts that Americans would support such a measure. (Ariel Sabar, "Kennedy joins effort to pass gun-control measures," The Providence Journal, 1/4/99.) The founder of the HELP (Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan) Network, a group composed largely of anti-gun activists in the public health field, stated that the group's purpose is to "work toward changing society's attitude toward guns so that it becomes socially unacceptable for private citizens to have handguns." (HELP founder Dr. Katherine K. Christoffel, 9/28/93 letter to Dr. Edgar Suter, of Doctors for Integrity in Research and Public Policy.)

Handgun Bans: A History of Failure

Washington, D.C. -- The injustice of outlawing handguns is nowhere more evident than in our nation's capital. During the 1960s, D.C. began requiring police approval to buy a handgun and imposed handgun registration. A law prohibiting the possession of handguns not previously registered with the police took effect in Feb. 1977. Even handguns that remain legal to possess cannot realistically be legally used for protection, even at home, since it is illegal to possess a loaded firearm at home. This, in a city where "official police personnel and the government employing them are not generally liable to victims of criminal acts for failure to provide adequate police protection . . . (there is) no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen." (Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d1 1, D.C. App. 1981) Attorney Stephen Halbrook, who has successfully argued firearm law issues before the Supreme Court, has described D.C. gun laws as a "badge of slavery" that treats District residents as "second class citizens" in violation of the 14th Amendment and civil rights legislation adopted by Congress since the Civil War. ("Second-Class Citizenship and the Second Amendment in the District of Columbia," George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal, Summer 1995.) D.C.'s homicide rate more than tripled after handguns were banned, and began to decrease only recently, when crime began decreasing nationally. Anti-gun activists claim that homicides declined after the ban, deceptively counting annual homicide numbers when the city's population was falling. (Colin Loftin, et al., "Effects of Restrictive Licensing of Handguns on Homicide and Suicide in the District of Columbia," New England Journal of Medicine, 325:1615-1620, 1991.) Homicides were declining before the ban, however, and homicide rates increased gradually after the law, dropped sharply after enactment (1982) of an NRA-backed mandatory penalty for using a gun during violent crime, rose as the penalty fell into disuse, then rose sharply with the advent of "crack" cocaine. From 1974-1976, before the law took effect, the homicide rate dropped 30%. In 1990, 380 of the city's 382 firearm-related homicides were committed with handguns. In 1991, 383 of 385 firearm-related homicides were committed with handguns. Between 1976 and 1991, D.C.'s homicide rate tripled. In 1993 all of the city's 368 firearm-related homicides were committed with handguns. In 1994, all of the city's 350 firearm-related homicides were committed with handguns. In 1995, 304 of the city's 309 firearm-related homicides were committed with handguns. (FBI and D.C. police.)

Year

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

Number

268

277

235

188

192

189

180

200

223

194

183

175

147

Rate

35.9

38.3

32.8

26.8

27.8

28

27.4

31.5

35.1

30.7

29.4

28.1

23.5

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

194

225

369

434

472

482

443

454

399

360

397

301

260

241

31

36.2

59.5

71.9

77.8

80.6

75.2

78.5

70

65

73.1

56.9

49.7

46.4


Chicago, Illinois -- Chicago imposed a handgun registration requirement in 1968, with no effect on the city's rising handgun homicide numbers or the percentages that handgun homicides comprised of total homicides. (Chicago Homicide Dataset, see first table.) After peaking in 1974, Chicago homicides declined until the 1980s. In April 1982, a law prohibiting possession of handguns not previously registered with the police took effect in Chicago. Annual handgun homicide numbers and percentages of total homicides fluctuated, then rose sharply. (See second table.) Today, Chicago has the third highest homicide rate among major U.S. cities.

Year

1967

1968

1969

1970

1971

Number

262

274

334

409

390

Percent

w. handguns

47%

42%

47%

51%

47%

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

254

290

289

261

285

260

371

417

513

542

534

551

38%

40%

39%

39%

38%

38%

56%

56%

60%

58%

57%

65%

Morton Grove, Illinois -- On June 8, 1981, despite a history of low crime rates, Morton Grove banned private possession of handguns, effective 2/1/82. The measure was contested in federal and state court. On 12/29/81, the judge of the U.S. District Court upheld the ban, stating it did not violate either the Illinois or U.S. constitutions, because it did not outlaw all firearms. (Quilici v. Village of Morton Grove, 532 F.Supp. 1169, N.D. Ill.) The judge cited Presser v. Illinois (1886), in which the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment prohibits infringements on the right to arms by Congress, not by the states. On 1/29/82, the ban was upheld by the judge of the Illinois Circuit Court of Appeals. (Kalodimos v. Village of Morton Grove, 113 Ill. App.3d 488.) Both decisions were appealed. On 12/6/82, the ban was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a 2-1 decision. (Quilici v. Village of Morton Grove, 695 F.2d 261.) The court said that "Morton Grove may exercise its police power to prohibit handguns even though this prohibition interferes with an individual's liberty or property," and that such a measure does not violate the Illinois or U.S. Constitutions because it does not prohibit all firearms. The dissenting judge called the ruling "a new low for the fundamental principle that 'a man's home is his castle.'" The 7th Circuit also held that the Second Amendment restricts only Congress from infringing the right to arms. In dictum (oberter dictum, an opinion which does not embody the determination of the court, and which goes beyond the facts before the court), the 7th Circuit misinterpreted the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Miller (1939) as holding that the right to arms applies "only to those arms which are necessary to maintain a well regulated militia," and that privately owned handguns are not military arms. The court stated, "The right to keep and bear handguns is not guaranteed by the second amendment."
(The question in Miller was whether the National Firearms Act (1934) violated the Second Amendment by restricting possession of a short-barreled shotgun, and whether such a firearm had been proven suitable for militia use and was thus protected by the amendment. No evidence on the question had been recorded in the lower court, thus the high court ruled, "In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession of or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense." The Court ignored the use of short-barreled shotguns in trench warfare during WWI. Anti-gun activists who claim that military-type semi-automatic rifles should be denied to civilians contradictorily claim that in Miller the Court held that the Constitution protects the right to only arms that are useful for military purposes.)

The court should have taken notice of the very common use of handguns by U.S. military and naval personnel throughout our history. "Pistols were used throughout the Revolutionary War, and not just by officers. '(T)he pistol was the principal firearm of a small yet important body of enlisted men.' The cavalry, the navy, and selected infantry regiments all used pistols. The first federal militia statute (1 Stat. 271, 272, 1792) mentioned pistols, and colonial laws more generally also considered pistols legitimate arms." (Robert Dowlut, "The Right to Arms: Does the Constitution or the Predilection of Judges Reign?," Oklahoma Law Review, 36, 1983, p. 97.) Colt Models 1851 Navy, 1860 Army, and 1861 Navy revolvers and many similar handguns were used extensively during the Civil War, on both sides. The Model 1911 Colt .45 pistol was widely used by our troops during WWI (and later, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War). Though after the Court's decision in the Miller case, it is worth noting that during WWII the militia were called out to defend the home front with privately owned weapons, and a manual distributed by the War Department directed citizens to keep weapons "easily portable and easily concealed. First among these is the pistol." (Robert Dowlut and Janet A. Knoop, "State Constitutions and The Right To Keep and Bear Arms," Oklahoma City University Law Review, 1982, pp. 197-198.)

On 5/31/83, NRA filed a petition urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 7th Circuit's ruling, and in our July 1983 membership magazine (The American Rifleman) announced to its members that a ruling from the high court "ultimately could lead to a definitive federal ruling on the right keep and bear arms." (Anti-gun groups have always claimed that the NRA refuses to press for the Supreme Court to hear an important case affecting the right to arms.) On 10/3, the Court declined to hear the case. (In U.S. v. Cruikshank, 1876, Presser v. Illinois, 1886, and Miller v. Texas, 1894, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment restricts Congress, rather than individuals and state governments, from infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms.) On 10/19/84, in a 4-to-3 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the ban as within Morton Grove's "police powers." (Kalodimos v. Village of Morton Grove, 470 N.E.2d 266, Ill.). Article I, §22, of the Illinois Constitution reads: "Subject only to the police power, the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Prior to the ban, there were an estimated 3,000 privately owned handguns in Morton Grove. Compliance with the law was slight, with fewer than 20 handguns turned in or seized by police after the law took effect. Survey research by Professor Paul Lavrakas of Northwestern University indicated that 80% or more of Morton Grove households (2,400+) still had handguns two years after the law's enactment. Most people who turned in handguns were much older than the 15- to 30-year-old age group disproportionately responsible for firearm-related crime. The average person turning in a handgun was 63 years old; the mean age, 67. One handgun came from someone under age 40, two from people under age 50; three from people 70 years old or older. Crime rates remained low after the ban, except for a short-term increase in burglary.

Kennesaw, Georgia -- In April 1982, Kennesaw government officials responded to the Morton Grove ban by passing an ordinance "to provide for the civil defense of the City of Kennesaw, and further in order to provide for and protect the safety, security and general welfare of the City and its inhabitants." The ordinance states that "Every head of household residing in the City Limits of the City of Kennesaw is required to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition therefor," except criminals, persons with moral or religious objections, and those mentally or physically incapacitated. (Code of Ordinances, Chapter 8: Civil Defense and Disaster Relief, Section 8-10, enacted March 15, 1982.) Gun ownership rates were not expected to change after the ordinance; most households were presumed to have firearms. Instead, it was expected that publicity surrounding the ordinance would warn criminals that residents were capable of protecting themselves and their community and would do so with the government's blessing. Between 1981-1985 violent crimes in Kennesaw dropped 71%; burglaries dropped 65%. Between 1981-1993, Kennesaw's population doubled, but burglaries dropped 16%.

California's Proposition 15 -- On 11/2/82, by 63%-37%, Californians defeated a handgun ban initiative that anti-gun groups and their allies in the press were sure would be overwhelmingly approved. An estimated 250,000 Californians registered to vote solely because of the handgun issue; 54 of California's 58 sheriffs opposed the proposal. The Washington Post reported that the Director of the Nat'l Coalition to Ban Handguns called the vote "a temporary glitch." On 5/6/83, Pres. Ronald Reagan, a two-term California governor, commended NRA for helping to defeat the ban, saying, "You shocked California last November when you mobilized to help send Proposition 15 down to defeat. You pointed out that police would be so busy arresting handgun owners, they would be unable to protect the people against criminals. It's a nasty truth, but those who seek to inflict harm are not fazed by gun control laws. I happen to know this from personal experience."

Oak Park, Illinois -- Despite stable or declining violent crime and burglary trends in other Chicago suburbs, rates of those crimes increased sharply in Oak Park between 1977 (when the village banned handgun sales) and 1984. (See table.) In 1984, Oak Park banned private possession of handguns altogether, prompting a citizens' movement to repeal the ordinance. In 1986, after Oak Park prosecuted a resident who used a handgun to fire on robbers who held him up in his service station, the mayor of Kennesaw, Ga., declared the man an honorary citizen of Kennesaw, and presented him a plaque stating that the Georgia town was "proud of citizens such as yourself who stand up for their constitutional rights to own and bear arms in defense of their lives and property." When challenged by a reporter about Oak Park's increase in burglaries after banning possession of handguns, the village's president could respond with only a personal attack, accusing the journalist of trying to "insist on the gun nut (Kennesaw's mayor) being right."

Homicide

Robbery

Aggr. Assault

Burglary

Oak Park

+58%

+83%

+113%

+109%

U.S.
Suburbs

-13%

-5%

+5%

-19%

U.S.

-9%

+8%

+17.0%

-12%

Evanston, Illinois -- Evanston banned handguns in mid-1982. By 1983, Evanston's robbery rate had risen 8%, while nationwide suburban areas experienced a 20% decline, and the U.S. rate declined 16%.

Wisconsin -- Despite media predictions of a landslide victory by anti-gun activists, voters in Madison rejected a non-binding handgun ban referendum in April 1993, by 51%-49%. On 11/8/94, Milwaukee voters rejected a binding handgun ban proposal by 67%-33%, and Kenosha voters defeated one 73%-27%. A non-binding handgun ban referendum in Shorewood passed by 576 votes. In 1998, Wisconsin voters approved, 3-to-1, an amendment to their state constitution protecting the right to arms "for security, defense," and other purposes.

Public Opinion -- A 1998 national survey of voters by Lawrence Research found that by an 8:1 margin, Americans believe you have the right to use a handgun to defend yourself in your own home. By a 3:1 margin, they believe that to fight crime, getting tough with criminals is more effective than banning guns. A U.S. News & World Report poll published 5/22/95, found that 75% of Americans believe "the Constitution guarantees you the right to own a gun;" 18% disagreed. On 1/24/94, NBC TV News asked viewers "Should handguns be banned?" By 80%-20%, respondents said "no." A June 1993 Luntz-Weber Strategic Services poll found that only 21% believe "all guns should be outlawed," only 9% believe restricting firearms is "the single most important thing that can be done to reduce violent crime," and only 8% believe guns are "the most important cause of violent crime." The public favored mandatory prison for criminals, over "gun control," 70%-25%. Polls claiming that the public supports additional restrictions on firearms generally have been commissioned by anti-gun groups or conducted by firms with histories of support for their activities, and often occur after a major media blitz castigating firearms.

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