Guns and gun laws: Facts and Myth

A common misconception is that talking about gun safety can be contentious but the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree about ways to stop gun violence. So when you are talking to someone about gun violence prevention, arm yourself with the facts and be prepared to discover that reducing gun violence is a priority for gun owners as well as non-gun owners.

“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

If that is true, then we need to be very careful about who is able to buy a gun. Background checks reduce gun violence by preventing criminals from buying guns. No responsible gun seller or owner wants to arm a felon and background checks are a highly effective tool to stop gun sales to those who are prohibited from buying a gun. 

“If someone wants to kill someone, they’ll find a way with or without a gun.”

One look at assault death rates in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries with strong gun laws shows that statement is not true. Due to the highly lethal nature of guns, countries with easy access to guns see much high rates of assault death. That’s why other OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) like France, Spain, Japan, Canada and Australia that have effective gun laws have much lower rates of assault death than the United States. 1 See also Rienzi, Greg. Guns In American: Facts, Figures, October 12, 2016.

“Gun laws are not constitutional.”

US Supreme Court Justice Alito stated in the McDonald decision: “It is important to keep in mind that Heller, while striking down a law that prohibited the possession of handguns in the home, recognized that the right to keep and bear arms is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” (Emphasis Ceasefire Oregon) 554 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 54). We made it clear in Heller that our holding did not cast doubt on such longstanding regulatory measures as “prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” Id ., at ___–___ (slip op., at 54–55). We repeat those assurances here. Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations, incorporation does not imperil every law regulating firearms.” (Emphasis Ceasefire Oregon)

“We need guns for self protection.”

Actually, guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crime. Data from Gun Violence Archive and the CDC show that private citizens are far more likely to use guns to harm others or themselves than to use them to kill in self defense.

In fact, in 2016, there were only 1,993 verified defensive gun uses in the United States involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 14,415 criminal firearm homicides, and 22,938 suicides completed by firearm. [2.  Gun Violence Archive and CDC]

Read more in GVPedia’s “The Defensive Gun Use Myth Explained.”

“Gun laws just don’t work.”

States with easier access to legal guns rank higher on an aggregated scale of indicators that includes gun-related homicides, suicides.

In 12 states where child access prevention laws had been in effect for at least one year, unintentional firearm deaths fell by 23% from 1990-94 among children under 15 years of age. 2

In 2007, Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase (PTP) handgun law, which required all handgun purchasers to obtain a license verifying that they have passed a background check. The repeal of that law contributed to a sixteen percent increase in Missouri’s murder rate, according to a new study from researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. 3

“Chicago’s strict gun laws aren’t stopping shootings there.”

Before we discuss Chicago, let’s look at Hawaii which has some of the toughest gun laws and the lowest gunshot death rate (along with Massachusetts). Hawaii is the perfect experiment state because the variable of guns easily being brought into the state is highly controlled. As you will read below, Chicago bears the deadly burden of weak gun laws in Indiana and Wisconsin. If the City of Big Shoulders were an island, the death rate would likely be much lower.

Chicago is a tragic example of how more guns does not equal less crime. Chicago’s violence problem is directly linked to the number of illegal guns available in the city.  

In May, 2014, The City of Chicago presented a report in conjunction with the Office of the Mayor and Chicago Police Department. Their findings were:

(1) Chicago’s violence problem is directly linked to the number of illegal guns available in the City;

(2) Sixty percent of guns recovered in crimes in Chicago were first sold in other states, many with weaker gun laws; and

(3) A small handful of gun stores, three from Cook Country and one from Gary, Indiana, continue to be responsible for a disproportionate number of crime guns recovered on Chicago’s streets.

Tragically, Chicago is an example of why we need strong national laws to stop easy access to firearms.

“Swimming pools are more dangerous than guns.”

Shall we stop campaigns to reduce poisoning deaths because the gun lobby feels that “not enough” children die from poisoning? No. Should society stop cancer research because “not enough” children die from cancer? Of course not. We must work as a society to eradicate illness and improve the safety of all products, including pools and guns. So far, no one has brought a swimming pool to a school to drown children. This red herring statement attempts to move the focus away from a crucial point: guns are highly lethal and should be secured at all times.

Is the statement above true? Not entirely; it is misleading.

Examine the graph below from the National Center for Health Statistics for the ten leading causes of injury deaths for 2014. For infants under one year of age, 29 babies died from unintentional drowning and 15 died from fire or burns. Would the gun lobby tell people to stop using smoke detectors in their homes? No. That would be ridiculous.

In the 1- to 4-year-old category, 388 children drowned and 47 died from firearm homicide. (This ignores the 149 who died from unspecified homicide.) Unintentional drowning includes lakes, rivers, ponds, and oceans—not just swimming pools. But for argument’s sake, let’s say all 388 children drowned in swimming pools. Does that mean we should ignore the other 979 deaths in the 1- to 4-year-old category? No.

Now examine the 10 – 14 years old category. Two hundred and eighty-nine children died from gunshots (suicide and homicide). One hundred and five drowned. Would the gun lobby have us focus on drowning prevention only for children under 10? Of course not.

Deaths of children are horrific. They devastate families and communities. Many people throughout the United States work to reduce death and injury in all forms. We are grateful to and applaud everyone who works to improve the lives of our children—including legislators who enacted laws that make pools safer, chemists who discovered methods to reduce germs in pools, and researchers who developed methods to save someone who is drowning. Ceasefire Oregon has taken on the work of reducing gun violence by educating the public about gun violence prevention and working to enact laws to reduce gun violence.

We urge everyone to take pool safety, and all safety issues, seriously. Whether you are learning to swim, fence, or ride a bike, educate yourself about safety.

Perhaps the best response to the fallacious statement, “Swimming pools are more dangerous than guns,” is to ask: When was the last time someone took a swimming pool to a school and used it to murder children?

“Guns are heavily regulated.” No, they’re not.

Did you know that teddy bears have to meet federal health and safety standards, but guns don’t?

  • Guns are the only consumer products manufactured in the United States that are not subject to federal health and safety regulation. All other products that Americans use or come into contact with are regulated by a federal health and safety agency.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates household and recreational products such as toasters, lawn mowers, and toys. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of food and prescription drugs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulates motor vehicles.
  • Thanks to the political clout of the gun lobby, firearms escaped safety regulation in the 1970s when the U.S. Congress created the major product safety agencies. This unique exemption has allowed gunmakers to innovate for lethality rather than safety. As a result, today’s gun industry thrives on developing, manufacturing, and marketing highly militarized firearms including high-capacity pistols, assault weapons, and 50 caliber sniper rifles.
  • Guns kill more than 33,000 Americans every year. We can stop this epidemic of gun violence: regulate firearms to reduce death and injury and protect public health, just as we do for all other consumer products.

“Cars and knives are used to kill people so why not regulate those?”

People can far more easily run from knives than bullets which is why guns are far more lethal than knives.
Vehicles are sometimes used to kill people but no one has driven a car into a school, a church, a mosque, or a shopping mall to kill people. If firearms were as regulated as cars, guns would be registered, gun owners would be trained and licensed, and guns would be required to have safety features including chamber loaded indicators, locking devices (like keys are used to lock cars), and smart guns (using biometrics or RFID) would be commonplace.
  1.  Healy, Kieran. Assault Death Rates 1960-2013, October 1, 2015
  2.  Peter Cummings et al., State Gun Safe Storage Laws and Child Mortality Due to Firearms, 278 JAMA 1084, 1084 (Oct. 1997)
  3.  Science Daily, Repeal of Missouri’s background check law associated with increase in state’s murders, February 15, 2014