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U.S. | Police State and Prisons

The Four Most Widely Believed Myths About Gun Control
by Al Carroll
Friday Jun 13th, 2014 12:32 PM
These are the four most pervasive myths maintained about gun control by their opponents, designed to make debate or dissent on the issue impossible and unanswerable:
1. Gun control does not work.
2. It is barred by the Constitution.
3. It would lead to dictatorship, or firearms keep us free.
4. Guns prevent crime/make us feel safe.
Adapted from an excerpt from Presidents' Body Counts at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/419159

The latest domestic massacre in the news is no longer unusual. It is not even by itself, with several other mass shootings also happening recently. What is striking about these shootings is that they no longer bring much outrage, for gun control opponents have in place a series of myths filled with blindness and lack of understanding on the history of firearms in US history.
So hardened are these defenses that there often is no debate at all, and the notion of moderate voices on these issues seems unlikely. I write this article as a man who grew up hunting rabbits and deer in Texas, learning to shoot before I began middle school. I have a lifelong familiarity with guns as a hunter, an army veteran, and a historian who writes about veterans and issues of war, peace, and human rights, and a believer in subsistence hunting rights for Native peoples and the rural poor. Yet I am sure none of that will stop gun rights absolutists from dismissing out of hand the evidence I present.
These are the four most pervasive myths maintained about gun control by their opponents, designed to make debate or dissent on the issue impossible and unanswerable:
1. Gun control does not work.
2. It is barred by the Constitution.
3. It would lead to dictatorship, or firearms keep us free.
4. Guns prevent crime/make us feel safe.

To which I answer:
1. Gun control clearly can work. It worked in the Old West. It worked in Germany after World War I. It worked after Prohibition. It worked in Australia in halting gun massacres. It works in any number of nations with lower far lower death rates from both crime and suicide thanks to gun bans. To what extent a nation should have it is another issue.
There probably is no other era where ideas about it are shaped more by Hollywood than the Old West. The west was not nearly as violent as portrayed on film (except in violence done against Natives, where Hollywood has yet to depict such genocide accurately.) One of the reasons most of these small towns were not that violent was that gun control was common. Sheriffs often barred the carrying of guns. You had to turn yours in to the sheriff as you entered town, and you picked it up as you left.
In Weimar Germany, immediately following World War I, Communists and other leftists tried to overthrow the government. One way they were defeated was by the government banning and seizing guns. Keep in mind a democracy did this. German gun control stopped a Communist revolution. The Nazis, when they came to power, loosened gun control.
Because of Prohibition and the violent struggle for the bootleg trade, the US successfully barred sawed off shotguns, machine guns, and buying guns by mail. This is a success gun rights absolutists ignore. How often does one hear of a drug gang shootout with tommy guns, or a school shooting where the shooter bought the gun by mail?
Australia is just the latest example of a nation's gun control efficiency. Since passing in the 1990s, some murder or suicide rates have dropped by at least a third, by some estimates as high as three quarters. What is often missed by both sides of the debate is that gun suicides kill many more than violent crime. Cutting off access to guns to the mentally ill would be the biggest source of saving lives.
Why would suicides drop? Wouldn't people just kill themselves with something else? No, most suicides are cries for help. Once a suicide fails, or others intervene, many don't try suicide again. Many other ways of killing yourself, like sleeping pills, are not as effective as guns. People take too much and throw up, or are saved by getting their stomachs pumped. A bullet to the temple is far more final.

2. Gun control is not barred by the Constitution. The NRA, acting for the gun industry, has pushed a lot of false ideas with the intent of spreading paranoia and thus gun sales. There was little standing army in the US at the time of the Constitution. Thus the NRA sometimes claims a militia was meant to be “every adult male.” This is false. Militias meant “every adult white male.”
The purpose of a militia was not “to preserve freedom.” Just the opposite, militias were designed to preserve slavery and murder Indians or rebellious slaves. Militias were slave catching patrols. They also were vigilante groups designed to attack Indians. There was nothing noble about militias, and it is ludicrous and ignorant of basic history to paint them as such. With the end of slavery and war against Natives, their purpose is gone, long since dead.
In over 200 years, the courts only ruled on gun control twice. In US v Cruikshank in 1876, the Supreme Court ruled “the right to bears arms is not granted by the Constitution.” That is a direct quote from their decision. In US v Miller in 1939, the Supreme Court ruled the federal government can limit any weapons not related to a militia. If you are not part of the National Guard or reserves, the Constitution does not protect your gun ownership. The last decision by the court, the Heller case, was obviously influenced by decades of NRA rhetoric. The court ruled 5-4, along purely ideological lines.
It may surprise many readers, but the NRA did not get involved in gun control issues until the 1970s. It was mostly an apolitical gun safety organization, until Wayne LaPierre, conspiracy crackpot that he is, was elected president. The NRA actually favored some gun control as late as the 1980s, such as background checks. To keep gun sales up, LaPierre has become more deranged, peddling more extreme conspiracy theories over the years.

3. This is the easiest myth to dispose of. Guns do not keep a nation free. The voice of its people does. Guns do not guarantee freedom because governments can always get more powerful weapons than the public can. There are many democracies with gun control, some with greater freedom than the US. Every nation in Scandinavia, for example, has strict gun control but nothing like the Patriot Act.
Dictatorships do not fear gun ownership, but free voices. Typically their first acts are to shut down universities, newspapers, unions, and churches, not gun shops. Dictatorships even hand out guns. Latin American dictatorships created paramilitaries for their supporters.

4. Guns sometimes prevent crime, but not as much as banning them does. The study often quoted by the gun industry claims guns are used over 2 million times a year to stop crime. It has obvious exaggerations and even outright lies. Much of what many in the study claimed was stopping crime never happened, and in many cases the gun owner was committing a crime, assault or threats. No credible study has found over 100,000 uses of a gun for self defense a year. The Department of Justice only found about 83,000 cases of self defense for six years, or less than 16,000 a year. The number of deaths or injuries from guns is those same years was one and a half times as high.

There are still perfectly valid reasons for gun ownership, such as some forms of hunting. Even self-defense can be a valid argument, but not for blind unthinking gun worship. Guns rights defenders should not argue from ignorance of the cause they believe in, or from irrational conspiracy theories. No one, virtually no major organization or political leader seeks to ban all guns. Gun groups have put their cause in the bizarre situation of even defending wife beaters' alleged “right” to have a gun. Such an approach will backfire, leading to stricter regulation down the line since it becomes easy to paint all gun rights advocates as lunatics.

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Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and a former Fulbright Scholar. His other books are Medicine Bags and Dog Tags: American Indian Veteran Traditions from Colonial Times to the Second Iraq War and Survivors: Family Histories of Colonialism, Genocide, and War. He is a longtime activist and researcher for NewAgeFraud.org. More information on him can be found at http://alcarroll.com.