Gun control offers no cure-all in America
By Tom Curry, NBC News
Any attempt by Congress to enact new restrictions on gun purchases or ownership faces a reality -- America is a country in which many people own guns, weapons which will not simply disappear with the wave of a legislative wand.
Aside from any discussion over the Second Amendment, the reality of firearms currently available in the country is stark and certain.
With hundreds of millions of firearms already in the possession of Americans, limiting access to guns or limiting gun sales would be a major enforcement challenge.
Here’s a look at some basic data on gun manufacture, imports, and ownership, as well as data on crime committed by people using guns.
How many guns do Americans own?
According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2009 there were an estimated 310 million firearms in the United States (not including weapons on military bases), of which 114 million were handguns, 110 million were rifles, and 86 million were shotguns. The current population of the United States, according to the Census, is around 314 million.
A separate calculation by the Government Accountability Office estimated that 118 million handguns were available for sale to, or were possessed by, civilians in the United States in 2010.
It’s impossible to know for certain how many guns are in private hands because there is no central firearms registry. The 1986 McClure-Volkmer Act forbids the federal government from establishing any “system of registration of firearms, firearm owners, or firearms transactions or distribution.” And the 1993 Brady Act prohibits the establishment of any electronic registry of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions.
How many firearms are manufactured in the United States?
According to the annual statistical report from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2010 more than 5.4 million firearms were manufactured in the United States. In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, an average of 4 million firearms were made in the United States every year.
How many firearms are imported into the United States annually?
According to the ATF, 3.2 million guns were legally imported into the United States in 2011, up from 1.3 million in 2001.
How many firms in the United States make and sell firearms?
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, has a membership of more than 7,000 manufacturers, distributors, retailers, shooting ranges, and other businesses.
Companies in the United States that make, distribute and sell firearms employ more than 98,000 people, according to the NSSF. In 2012 the firearms and ammunition industry was responsible for as much as $31.8 billion in total economic activity in the country, according to a study done for NSSF.
Revenues for Sturm Ruger, one of the leading U.S. gun manufacturers increased from $146 million in 2004 to $329 million in 2011; another leading U.S. gun maker Smith & Wesson saw its revenues go from $120 million to $412 million in that same period.
How does the number of murders committed with firearms compare to the number of suicides committed with firearms?
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2011 there were 19,766 suicides committed with firearms and 11,101 homicides committed with firearms.
What percentage of murders are committed by people using guns?
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics, in 2011 firearms were used in 68 percent of the nation’s murders, 41 percent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults.
How has the rate of firearms-related murder changed in recent years?
In 2011 there were 14,612 murder victims, of which 9,903 were killed by assailants with firearms, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.
The rate of firearms-related murders in 2011 was 3.2 per 100,000 people – a sharp decline from 1993 when the rate of firearms-related murders was 6.6 per 100,000 people.
The number of firearms-related murder victims dropped from more than 17,000 in 1993 to 9,903 in 2011.
How many Americans have permits to carry a concealed weapon?
According to state data compiled by the GAO, there were approximately 8 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States as of the end of 2011.
“Shall issue” states are states in which the law requires authorities to issue a concealed-carry gun permit to an applicant who fulfills the objective statutory criteria if no reason for denial exists. According to the GAO, the number of shall-issue states increased from 29 in 2002 to 39 this year. In addition the number of states that that do not require a permit to carry a concealed gun has increased from one state in 2002 to 4 states in 2012.
How many purchaser background checks have been performed under the 1993 Brady Act and what percentage of applicants has been denied permission to buy a gun?
In 2009, more than 10.7 million background checks were conducted and about 150,000 people were blocked from making the gun purchase they tried to make.
From 1999 to 2009 the largest number of denials – about 900,000, or 56 percent of all denials – was due to a would-be buyer having a felony conviction. In addition, about 15 percent of denials were due to a would-be buyer having a conviction for domestic violence or being under a restraining order. Only about 1.8 percent of denials were due to mental illness.
Under federal law it is a crime to sell or otherwise transfer a firearm to any person who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” In addition almost all states have similar laws.
What are the limitations on the data on gun ownership, gun usage and crime?
A 2005 data review done by a panel of criminologists, statisticians, and epidemiologists for the National Research Council concluded that there is a lack of reliable data and “in some instances—firearms violence prevention, for example—there are no data at all.”
The NRC report said that “none of the existing data sources, by itself or in combination with others, provides comprehensive, timely, and accurate data needed to answer many important questions pertaining to the role of firearms in violent events.”
The panel reported that “even some of the most basic descriptive questions cannot be answered with existing data.” It cited such unanswered questions as:
• What proportion of suicide or homicide victims were under the care of a mental health professional? What proportion of those victims were intoxicated at the time of death?
• In what proportion of spouse or intimate-partner homicides committed with a gun does the offender take his own life or the lives of the victim’s children or protectors?
• Did the number of people shot with “assault weapons” change after Congress enacted the 1994 ban on certain types of such weapons?
by Thomas Sowell
Recently by Thomas Sowell:
Must every tragic mass shooting bring out the shrill ignorance of "gun control" advocates?
The key fallacy of so-called gun control laws is that such laws do not in fact control guns. They simply disarm law-abiding citizens, while people bent on violence find firearms readily available.
If gun control zealots had any respect for facts, they would have discovered this long ago, because there have been too many factual studies over the years to leave any serious doubt about gun control laws being not merely futile but counterproductive.
Places and times with the strongest gun control laws have often been places and times with high murder rates. Washington, D.C., is a classic example, but just one among many.
When it comes to the rate of gun ownership, that is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the murder rate is higher in urban areas. The rate of gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, but the murder rate is higher among blacks. For the country as a whole, hand gun ownership doubled in the late 20th century, while the murder rate went down.
The few counter-examples offered by gun control zealots do not stand up under scrutiny. Perhaps their strongest talking point is that Britain has stronger gun control laws than the United States and lower murder rates.
But, if you look back through history, you will find that Britain has had a lower murder rate than the United States for more than two centuries – and, for most of that time, the British had no more stringent gun control laws than the United States. Indeed, neither country had stringent gun control for most of that time.
In the middle of the 20th century, you could buy a shotgun in London with no questions asked. New York, which at that time had had the stringent Sullivan Law restricting gun ownership since 1911, still had several times the gun murder rate of London, as well as several times the London murder rate with other weapons.
Neither guns nor gun control was the reason for the difference in murder rates. People were the difference.
Yet many of the most zealous advocates of gun control laws, on both sides of the Atlantic, have also been advocates of leniency toward criminals.
In Britain, such people have been so successful that legal gun ownership has been reduced almost to the vanishing point, while even most convicted felons in Britain are not put behind bars. The crime rate, including the rate of crimes committed with guns, is far higher in Britain now than it was back in the days when there were few restrictions on Britons buying firearms.
In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the 1990s – after decades of ever tightening gun ownership restrictions – there were more than a hundred times as many armed robberies.
Gun control zealots' choice of Britain for comparison with the United States has been wholly tendentious, not only because it ignored the history of the two countries, but also because it ignored other countries with stronger gun control laws than the United States, such as Russia, Brazil and Mexico. All of these countries have higher murder rates than the United States.
You could compare other sets of countries and get similar results. Gun ownership has been three times as high in Switzerland as in Germany, but the Swiss have had lower murder rates. Other countries with high rates of gun ownership and low murder rates include Israel, New Zealand, and Finland.
Guns are not the problem. People are the problem – including people who are determined to push gun control laws, either in ignorance of the facts or in defiance of the facts.
There is innocent ignorance and there is invincible, dogmatic and self-righteous ignorance. Every tragic mass shooting seems to bring out examples of both among gun control advocates.
Some years back, there was a professor whose advocacy of gun control led him to produce a "study" that became so discredited that he resigned from his university. This column predicted at the time that this discredited study would continue to be cited by gun control advocates. But I had no idea that this would happen the very next week in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.