Firearms are a controversial topic worldwide, and while you’ve probably taken a side in the debate, there may be some assumptions you’re making that color your decisions. So I’m going to help you by going over some myths about guns on both sides of the fence, because it’s always better to knowledgeably argue your subject than to proclaim ignorance.
For the record, this list is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only. Anyone who owns a firearm should seek out training, and information about their legal use in the areas you live or visit.
10. Suppressors (aka Silencers)
This myth regularly shows up on lists of lies Hollywood tells about guns (right next to “if you run out of ammunition, throw away your gun”). Suppressors, sometimes called silencers, are designed to reduce the speed and sound of the gas that propels the bullet out of the barrel of the gun. The way a cartridge works is that a pin, or striker, in the gun hits a primer (usually on the round,) which ignites powder and sends the bullet projectile out of the barrel. By slowing the escaping gas, you can reduce the amount of sound produced. It can also work by reducing the speed of the bullet, reducing the sonic boom or crack.
Again, you can reduce the sound, but not eliminate it. On most rounds, you can get a 30-40 decibel reduction. In quieter rounds, like the popular small-game .22 caliber, this means a pretty significant reduction in volume from around 140 db to the 110-120 db range. But still, that’s a very loud sound, and repeated exposure can result in hearing loss. You should always have hearing protection when using firearms.
9. Semi-Automatic Firearms
When I say “semi-automatic”, many people have an image in their head of a man on a rooftop with an M16, pulling the trigger and firing off thousands of rounds (again, thanks to Hollywood). This is a false image.
In a semi-automatic firearm, whether it’s a pistol (like the Glock 17), rifle (including the controversial AR-15), or shotgun, when the round is fired, the expanding gas from the cartridge launches the projectile and then opens the chamber, ejecting the spent cartridge and, if available, using a spring system to slide the next cartridge into place ready for the next trigger pull. The gun will not fire the next round for you, and most guns are designed to prevent this from happening. This works out to one trigger pull per shot, similar to how you have to pull a trigger in a revolver to fire the next round.
Fully automatic weapons, that fire multiple rounds with one trigger pull, do exist, but they are mostly illegal for citizens to own in the United States (you have to go through some serious federal licensing headaches).
8. Assault Weapons
There’s a lot of debate over the use of “assault” weapons, but sadly, there’s not a lot of actual information. So let’s sort through what we actually have.
Many gun rights advocates argue that there is no real definition of an assault weapon, and they would be incorrect. The term “assault weapon” was legally defined in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban as a semi-automatic firearm with a detachable magazine, that contains characteristics one would find on military firearms. Simply put, it’s a civilian version of a military weapon.
Gun control advocates argue that assault weapons are much more dangerous than the average hunting rifle. And they are equally wrong. The vast majority of add-ons that turn a hunting rifle into an assault rifle are mostly cosmetic: pistol grips, folding stocks, flash suppressors – things that the shooter may appreciate, but have no real bearing on the function of the gun or on its ability to fire rounds. These are semi-automatic weapons: one trigger pull per shot, just like a revolver or your granddad’s hunting rifle.
7. Stand Your Ground
A few states in the US use a legal standard called “duty to retreat,” which basically says that, while you have the right to defend your life with deadly force, you need to make every possible, reasonable effort to get away from your attacker before using that deadly force. While this sounds nice in theory, in practice it means that a person who has to use deadly force to defend their lives may have to appear in court and be tried as a potential murderer, spending tens of thousands of dollars and potentially ending up in prison for the rest of their life, all because someone else tried to kill them and they didn’t want to die.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have “stand your ground,” or “castle doctrine”. Basically, this doctrine states that whatever space you’re occupying at the moment, you do not have to leave that space, in order to defend your life. If someone is coming to kill you, you can pull your weapon and stop them with deadly force. Some states that have this law also protect those who’ve used it from criminal and civil liability. Again, it’s great in theory, but not so much in practice. There have been dozens of cases where judges and juries have grossly misinterpreted these laws, acquitting people who chased down attackers out of revenge.
Between the extremes, you also have a patchwork of laws around the country that fall somewhere in the middle. Some states allow a citizen to only use the castle doctrine defense in their homes. Other states say they don’t really have a duty to retreat in law, do so in practice. Gun laws are very complex and that’s why it’s very important to know what they are before you purchase and use a firearm.
6. Magic Bullets
Every so often, there’s a new concern over a new type of “cop killer” bullet that will magically defeat everything in its path. The truth of the matter is this: there is no such thing as a magic bullet. However, knowing how your bullet will behave when it reaches its target is crucial in deciding what kind of bullet you need to choose.
Let’s talk about hollow point bullets. Hollow point bullets are designed to dissipate their energy into their target, reducing penetration into the target, thus lessening – but not eliminating – the likelihood of coming out the other side and harming someone else. In contrast, a full metal jacket is designed to penetrate its target, and continue until it slows to a stop. That’s why hollow points are usually recommended as a good personal defense round; it’s more likely, should you have to use it, to stay in the bad guy and not harm anyone else.
Over the years, design names and manufacturing tricks have given some a great deal of concern. The key to remember is that, at the end of the day, there’s not much you can do to a bullet to make it more or less dangerous that hasn’t already been done.
You may have heard that you’re 43 times more likely to kill yourself or someone you know than you are to kill a criminal with a gun. This statistic is from a study done by Dr. Arthur Kellerman back in 1986, and is used by gun control advocates to challenge the usefulness of owning firearms. But is it a myth?
And the answer is: kinda. The devil is very much in the details of the strongly criticized study. Part of the problem is that Kellerman, in his study, only focused on gun deaths and not gun use, ignoring incidents where guns protected, but did not take, life. He was also criticized for failing to provide complete data, recognize contradictory studies, and include suburban or rural areas in his studies.
However, common sense does dictate that people who own guns are more likely to use them than people who don’t, often in tragic ways. Statistics show that more gun deaths occur via suicide than by homicide and accidental shootings combined. My personal advice is that if you do choose to own a weapon, please make sure that those who you trust have a plan to remove your guns in case you show signs of suicidal behavior. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please get help. In the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255.
4. It’s Easy to Buy a Gun
After tragic events, there’s often a focus on how firearms are acquired by members of the general public, usually focusing on strengthening requirements and restricting access to certain types of weapons. The result has been a series of laws that have been designed to keep guns out of the wrong people’s hands.
If you’ve never bought a gun, you may be surprised at all the hoops you have to jump through to get one. To start off with, many states have some sort of licensing or permitting process for guns and gun owners, which can take weeks or months to complete. Once you have your permit or license, you have to meet a fairly long set of federal requirements (age, legal status, mental status,) in order to purchase a firearm. Federal firearms license dealers are required, by law, to do an instant background check on you, to make sure you’re not on the FBI’s long list of people who aren’t allowed to own a gun. Only after you jump through all the hoops, are you allowed to walk out the door with your gun. Even private sales between people can be very complex.
There’s also the part where you have to pay money for your gun. Guns, in case you’ve never been shopping for one, tend to be expensive, and fluctuating supply and demand can quickly drive prices up. Even in the cheapest of times, guns are an expensive investment. You can easily expect to spend $300-600 on a decent lower-cost handgun, rifle, or shotgun, and it’s very easy to spend more. This doesn’t include the cost of licensing, accessories, and ammunition. Training classes and range time are also prudent investments that can cost big money. If you go hunting, purchasing the right equipment is a big investment, as is the investment of processing your harvested meat. Used guns can save you some money (usually 20-30%) on your investments, but make sure to have them checked out by a knowledgeable person before you buy them.
3. You Need a Big Gun
“Why do you NEED an AR-15?” It’s a common enough question by those who favor gun control, and if your focus is personal defense, a smaller weapon would probably suffice. When we get down to simple practicality, a lot of people who look at guns get weapons far more powerful than they actually need, and in doing so, can put others at risk.
If you live in an apartment complex with people on the other side of the typical apartment paper-thin walls, while it may be cool to own a larger caliber handgun like a .45, you take the risk that a missed shot (which you are legally liable for) will go through the wall and injure someone other than the person coming after you. A smaller caliber firearm with the proper bullets can defend your life without creating a higher risk of injury.
The same concept exists for hunting. A lot of deer hunters tend to favor large rounds like the .30-06 Springfield (called the 30-aught-six) to take down their prize whitetail. The problem with the .30-06 is that in areas where the distance between you and the target is likely to be less than 100-150 yards, the 30-06 is overpowered. A less powerful round, like the 7mm or 270, is plenty powerful to quickly take down a deer and not do major damage to the carcass. I’ve talked to some hunters who encourage people to hunt deer with a teeny little .22, but I ignore them because a .22 is more likely to cause the animal needless suffering, than to actually take it down.
The key here is to think of guns as tools, and you need to pick the right tool for the right project. If you wouldn’t use a 30 pound sledgehammer to pound in a nail for a family portrait, then you probably shouldn’t use an overpowered gun to hunt squirrels. Similarly, if you wouldn’t use a tack hammer to try to break up concrete, you probably shouldn’t use an under-powered gun to take down a grizzly bear.
2. Gun Control and Crime Rates
One of the biggest debates in the US is whether gun control actually reduces the rate of crime. Gun control advocates point out that other countries with heavy gun control tend to have lower murder rates, while gun control opponents point out that, where strict gun control has been implemented in the US, violent crime has skyrocketed.
So what’s the truth? Well, if we look at the top 20 cities for murders per 100,000 residents, we find that nine of them are in seven of the states with the strictest gun control laws in the country (Newark, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Oakland, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Stockton, CA; Washington, DC; Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; and Buffalo, NY). However, 11 of them are in states that have fewer restrictions on guns, with the top three most dangerous cities (New Orleans, LA; Detroit, MI; and St. Louis, MO) all in states that have a lack of gun control.
So what can we draw from this? Well, the first thing is that gun control doesn’t actually work. Even if Chicago isn’t as violent as New Orleans, it’s still a violent place to be, where handguns were banned up until recently and yet, mysteriously, people were still murdered with them. Scientific studies have backed up this conclusion. It’s like the laws against illicit drugs: those drugs are illegal and yet, people who shouldn’t acquire them still do so.
The solution? Well, there is a correlation between gun violence and another metric: socioeconomics. To put it simply, the same cities you tend to see on the top of the murder list are the same cities you see on the top of the poverty rate list. So the question then becomes: what can be done to lift those poverty-stricken areas out of poverty? If you come up with a workable solution, let me know.
1. The Second Amendment
Lots of international folks wonder why the US doesn’t just ban all guns, and the reason is found in our Constitution: the Second Amendment. The problem is that most people don’t really understand what the Second Amendment means, and the result is a lot of arguing on both sides. So I’m going to try to help clear things up.
First, let’s look at the text: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Now, to today’s folks, the second part of the Amendment is fairly clear, but that first section gives us a lot of pause. Gun control advocates argue that, since most states have replaced the militia with the National Guard, then the right to keep and bear arms for the average citizen isn’t really covered here. Therefore, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, that should be revoked. The problem: that’s not what the Amendment says.
You have to consider the historical context. The US was a country born of war, where the average citizen could grab his musket or Pennsylvania long rifle, walk out the door, and join up with some other average citizens as a small militia group. They could be used to conduct small raids against the British and their militias, to weaken the armies prior to everyone fighting in the big battles. When the war was over, the standing army was heavily reduced, and militias would be called up if needed. In other words: the militia was, pretty much, the military of the country.
This leads us to two elements of interpretation. First: since common men could be called into service to protect the country, they would need to be armed, and so, the right to bear arms would have been needed for national security. However, the other element is that, because these men had just fought a Revolution against the British militia and government, the right to bear arms represented the right of the citizens to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In order to keep the government in check, the right to bear arms was needed. This second interpretation is backed up, heavily, by the recorded discussions on the amendment by Patrick Henry, Noah Webster, George Mason, James Madison and, ultimately by the Supreme Court in US v. Cruikshank and Presser v. Illinois. In other words, because a person could be called up to militia, and because our government could become a tyrannical dictatorship, the right of the people to arm themselves shall not be infringed.
Where the real debate kicks in, is whether this right can be limited. And the answer to that question is: yes. Much like your first amendment rights don’t cover slander or screaming “fire” in a crowded theater, your second amendment rights can be limited within reason. The Supreme Court has said, in US v. Miller, that the government does have the right to restrict access to certain firearms – in that particular case, a sawed-off shotgun. There’s also been a few cases – including the recent District of Columbia vs. Heller - that have determined the rights of the government to restrict firearms access to felons and the mentally ill. In other words: the Second Amendment protects your right to bear arms, but can be reasonably limited for the purpose of public safety.