Reply to -- You Know Nothing About Guns

By Bruce A. Clark (Written 4/18/96)

Evidently, either Mr. Heinz hasn't fired many shotguns, or the ones he has been firing have had very short (illegally short) barrels. Shotguns aren't called scatterguns for nothing, but the pellets don't scatter quite that fast at close quarters, at least not with legal, 18+ inch barrels. At greater ranges, more than one person could be hit from one blast, but remember that as the range increases to where there would be a really broad pattern of shot, the energy of the pellets would be decreased. They can be devastating at close range, but deliberately hitting multiple targets like he says is not really very likely. Lets talk about accidents. There has been a lot of smoke about this, but not many facts. The data is a year or so old and comes from the NRA Firearms fact sheet for 1995.

NUMBER OF                        Approx. 200 million firearms,
  GUNS IN U.S.:                    including 65-70 million handguns

GUN OWNERS IN U.S.:              60-65 million,
                                 30-35 million own handguns

National Center for Health Statistics

ALL CAUSES                                          2,169,518
Heart Disease                                         720,862
Cancers                                               514,657
Strokes                                               143,481
ACCIDENTS                                              89,347
  Motor Vehicle                                        43,536
  Falls                                                12,662
  Poisoning (solid, liquid, gas)                        6,434
  Drowning (incl. water transport drownings)            4,685
  Suffocation (mechanical, ingestion)                   4,195
  Fires and flames                                      4,120
  Surgical/Medical misadventures*                       2,473
  Other Transportation (excl. drownings)                2,086
  Natural/Environmental factors                         1,453
  Firearms                                              1,441
Chronic pulmonary diseases                             90,650
Pneumonia and influenza                                77,860
Diabetes                                               48,951
Suicide**                                              30,810
HIV Infections (AIDS)                                  29,555
Homicide and legal intervention***                     26,513
Cirrhosis and other liver diseases                     25,429

*    A Harvard University study suggests 93,000 deaths annually related
     to medical negligence, excluding tens of thousands more deaths from non-
     hospital medical office/lab mistakes and thousands of hospital caused

**   Approximately 60% involve firearms.

***  Approximately 60% involve firearms. Florida State University
     criminologist Gary Kleck estimates 1,500-2,800 self-defense and
     justifiable homicides by civilians and 300-600 by police annually.
This puts things into perspective a little bit. To add a little bit more, the accident rate for cars and guns was the same in 1910, but now, the automobile accident rate is about 30 times that for firearms. Both have declined since about 1970, gun accidents far more dramatically. The NRA is the primary safety training organization for firearms, and has been instrumental in this decline in firearms accidents. NRA voluntary firearm safety programs have helped reduce the accidental firearm fatality rate 67% over the last 50 years, while firearms ownership has risen 140%, and handgun ownership has risen 200%.

Moreover, to quote an NRA document, "The National Rifle Association strongly believes that any instance of children dying due to firearm related accidents is unacceptable. That is why we have invested considerable effort and resources to develop the Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program.

"Created in 1988 with the help of child development and education specialists, the Eddie Eagle program was initiated by the NRA to meet the need of educating young children in the fundamentals of firearm safety. Since its inception, over 6.1 million children have been educated in what to do if they come in contact with an improperly stored firearm. The message is simple, direct, and easily understood: STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the area. Tell an Adult. To date, the Eddie Eagle Program has been implemented in over 5000 independent schools and school systems and over 1500 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states. The materials have been adopted by Cub Scout troops, churches, 4-H and other community groups.

"Accidental deaths of children involving firearms continue to decrease due to public awareness and programs such as the Eddie Eagle program. It is imperative that we allow this downward trend to continue."

It is curious and sad that the only real opposition to implementing these gun-safety programs directed at children comes from the gun control community. It is, unfortunately, analogous to those who oppose sex education for young people, even though that has been demonstrated as very effective at reducing teen pregnancies.

This is a very good point, but probably not to prove what you intended. The phenomenon you are describing has a name: "spray and pray." The private gun market tends to follow the police market. Semi-automatic pistols were not really popular with the public until they started to be adopted by police forces, who had earlier perceived that they were relatively under-armed, compared to criminals. (I don't know if this perception had a foundation in fact.) The Glocks and other semi-autos are not significantly less accurate than revolvers at the distances generally involved in police shoot-outs. So why does this happen? Unfortunately, police training has not, in all cases, kept up with the equipment. There is nothing innate about any weapon that forces an officer to just shoot and shoot. They didn't with revolvers, and they need not with semi-autos. This is a soluble problem. They need to be trained about the value of shot placement and the dangers to bystanders of "spray and pray."

So what about the civilian owners of these semi-autos? I haven't heard of it being a problem, but the situation is a little different. Civilians who find themselves in situations where they need a firearm for defense don't necessarily react like cops. The fact that they usually prefer not to shoot is well documented -- they say they are armed, they display or brandish a weapon, sometimes they merely show the criminal a picture of a gun, and let the thug draw his own conclusions, but they generally fire only when the have to. It is usually at close range, so spraying an entire street is rarely an issue. They don't pursue a criminal; it's not their job. Once the danger is past, they are legally required not to shoot, and they usually don't want to, anyway. They just want the situation to be over. Kleck's research shows that only about 2% of civilian self-defense shootings involve innocent persons mistakenly identified as criminals, while the rate for police is 11%.

Why do civilians act this way? First, because of legal restrictions, they are sometimes carrying a weapon illegally, but do so because they feel under threat (better to be tried by twelve than carried by six) and therefore, they don't want to shoot more than necessary and only in the direst need. Second, if they are carrying legally, they have often either been through a training course or have taken the initiative to find out what they need to know. They also are aware that if they screw up, they are in deep shit, and don't have fellow officers to cover up for them, as happens too often with the police. They know that they can lose their permit to carry if they are not careful.

And what about the bad guys? I don't spend much time on them, because everything they are doing is illegal, anyway. If they cared about anything, they wouldn't be bad guys, so they might spray bullets around. But despite the headlines, they don't use a very big part of the guns extant. Every year in this country, 99.8% of all guns (99.4% of handguns) will NOT be used in a crime. When you are adding restrictions to firearms ownership or limiting the types of arms available, you are chasing this .4% by punishing the rest. That doesn't sound right to me. Does it sound right to you?

The only gun that is inherently "dangerous" is one that has a defect in design or manufacture that makes it do unexpected things, like blow up, go off unexpectedly or something else of that kind. The other dangers are caused by the shooter, not the gun, and that is what needs to be addressed. As I mentioned earlier, these weapons, the ones that potentially have militia use, are specifically the ones protected by the Second Amendment. You will not only hear it there, but you will read it in gun magazines, and for good reason. If you want to be prepared to defend yourself, don't you want the means you intend to use for that purpose to be effective? If you use the wrong kind of ammunition, a bullet aimed at someone threatening you could pass on through and hit an innocent person. And a bullet like this is less likely to stop an attack than one which causes more injury. A further potential result is that you won't stop the attack with that shot and the criminal could continue to do harm to you or to someone you love. The whole idea is to stop a deadly attack with the absolute minimum amount of firing of a weapon, and the keys to this are good shot placement, a suitable caliber of weapon, and effective ammunition. Anything else, and you are risking harm to either intended or unintended victims of an attacker. It's too early for there to be much information on possible "dangers" of the concealed carry law in Texas, and in other states which recently adopted similar laws, but there is quite a bit of information about the situation in Florida, where that type of "shall-issue" concealed carry permit law has been in use since 1987. (Much of this information comes from the NRA-ILA Research & Information Fact Sheet.)

In case you are inclined to be swayed by the recent incident, initially played up in the press, where a person was killed by a licensed firearm carrier after a traffic accident, I have been told that the facts are that after the accident, one driver, a big fellow, started to pound the hell out of the smaller, other driver, and then the smaller driver shot the big bully to prevent further damage to himself. The gun was not used out of anger over the accident itself. This does not make me in the least uncomfortable. First, the people to whom you're referring are on the board of directors, and are not executive officers, so their impact on day-to-day activities of the organization is minimal. Second, they were elected, not appointed, so despite anything you find to be objectionable, there must be enough about them which is positive to have induced people to vote for them. Third, as I mentioned earlier, I think that your characterization of one of them "fantasizing out loud about the murder of Mrs. Brady" is false, so I have less than full confidence about the accusations about the other guy. And fourth, I think that there is room in the world for people with all kinds of ideas, even ones which you or I might find objectionable. It's a person's overall contribution which really matters. Few people are completely innocent of having no nasty thoughts, and no deeds in their past that others might not like. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"?

As for "cheap shots", one good turn deserves another. Pardon me if I'm wrong, but as someone who seems to have generally progressive ideas, may I assume you voted for Bill Clinton in 1992? Even if not, as the main politician supporting gun control legislation in this country, he is one or another kind of leader of a movement of which you are a member, formally or informally. You're stuck with that, like it or not. And how do you feel about him

There are still some awful things in that bill, but it's way better than your leader Clinton wanted it to be. I'm usually no fan of Orrin Hatch, but he was right on the money when he said recently "I remember years ago when the conservatives voted to increase wiretap authority and the liberals raised concern about it, and now it's the liberals who want to expand the authority ..." (NY Times, 4/18/96, p. A10)