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Handguns: Summary

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Handguns account for over one-third of Americas' 250+ million privately owned firearms. More than one million new handguns are sold in the U.S. annually. About three-fourths of new handguns are semi-automatics; most of the remainder are revolvers. A quarter of households has one or more handguns.

Defense: The most comprehensive study of defensive gun use, by award-winning criminologist Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz (1993), found that handguns were used for defense nearly two million times per year, amounting to two-thirds of defensive gun uses. Kleck separately studied National Crime Victimization Surveys and found that people who use guns to defend themselves are less likely to be attacked or injured than people who use other means, or no means, of protection. Kleck has concluded that guns are used to defend against crime 3-4 times more often than to commit it. Forty states have Right-to-Carry laws allowing people to carry concealed handguns for protection away from home, and such states have lower violent crime rates, on average, compared to the rest of the country. Since 1991, the number of states that have Right-to-Carry laws has risen from 17 to 40 (an all-time high) and violent crime has dropped 38 percent.

Target Shooting: Millions of handgunners enjoy recreational shooting, and hundreds of thousands participate in thousands of local, state, regional and national handgun matches, such as NRA Bullseye and NRA Action Shooting, International Shooting Union, International Practical Shooting Confederation, and International Defensive Pistol Association events, at 10,000 NRA-affiliated shooting clubs, and commercial and military ranges. Two-thirds of NRA's 55,000 Certified Instructors are certified in handgun disciplines. 

Hunting: Most states allow hunting with handguns. Acknowledging the growth of handgun shooting sports in a 1998 report to Congress, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms 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.

Handgun Bans: Gun bans have historically been aimed at minorities and disfavored political classes. The French Black Code (1751) and southern states' Black Codes after the Civil War prohibited possession of firearms by blacks. Tennessee's "Army and Navy" law (1879), prohibited handguns other than expensive army or navy pistols, thus denying handguns to poor blacks, as do modern bans on relatively inexpensive handguns referred to by gun control advocates with the racially-charged term "Saturday Night Specials." New York's Sullivan Law (1911) prevented new immigrants from legally obtaining handguns, by prohibiting possession of a handgun without a license issued at the discretion of the police. Washington, D.C., banned handguns in the mid-1970s, within 15 years its murder rate tripled, and for the last 20 years D.C. has usually had the highest murder rate of any major U.S. city. (The Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008, overturned the ban as a violation of the Second Amendment.) Chicago banned handguns in 1982 and in a decade murders with handguns more than doubled. Sen. Barack Obama has expressed support for a complete ban on handguns. 

Anti-Gun Groups: Brady Campaign chairwoman Sarah Brady has said, "the only reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes." The group's first chairman, Nelson Shields, said crime victims should "put up no defense - give them [the criminals] what they want." The group's supposed legal expert, Dennis Henigan, has said that self-defense is "not a federally guaranteed constitutional right." The group has called for "a ban on the manufacture, sale, and importation of all handguns and handgun ammunition" and "to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition...totally illegal."


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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.