07 February 2009


We should ban all firearms that have no legitimate, sporting purpose.

Gun control activists pretend that there are such things as "illegitimate" and "legitimate" guns, then claim to be "reasonable" in wanting to outlaw only the former group--those that they, the national media and cynical politicians demonize as "assault weapons," "Saturday Night Specials" or "junk guns."

The pretense has an obvious flaw: Any firearm, regardless of type, size, caliber, cost or appearance, can be, and is most often by far, used for legitimate purposes. Despite the powerful images cast by nightly news broadcasts and violence-oriented TV programs, guns of all sorts are put to good use far more often by the tens of millions of upstanding gun owners than they are misused by evil or irresponsible people. And despite protestations to the contrary by anti-gun groups, there is no gun or type of gun that criminals generally prefer.1

One long-time gun control supporter, criminologist Philip Cook, has rejected the "illegitimate" gun theory. "Indeed, it seems doubtful that there are any guns that are 'useless' to legitimate owners, yet useful to criminals," Cook wrote. "Any gun that can be used in self-defense has a legitimate purpose, and therefore is not 'useless.' Similarly, any gun that can be used in crime can also be used in self-defense."2

Why do today's anti-gun groups campaign to outlaw only certain, often arbitrarily defined groups of guns? Because they have seen the incremental approach to civilian disarmament work in other countries, such as Australia and England.

First targeted were handguns, portrayed as the guns of criminals, versus rifles and shotguns, portrayed as the guns of sportsmen. (This is despite the widespread use of handguns for personal protection and sports.) Failing in their attack upon all handguns, anti-gun activists later focused upon compact, small-caliber handguns, which they labeled "Saturday Night Specials."

Then, in the late 1980s, the leader of one anti-gun group called upon his peers to downplay handguns in favor of a new target of opportunity. "[T]he issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press and public," wrote anti-gun crusader Josh Sugarmann. "Assault weapons" are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully-automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons--anything that looks like a machine gun is presumed to be a machine gun--can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. . . . Efforts to restrict assault weapons are more likely to succeed than those to restrict handguns."(Emphasis in the original.)3

Sugarmann noted that gun control groups get a boost when "something truly horrible happens." Then, in 1989, a drifter who had slipped through the criminal justice system numerous times used a semi-automatic rifle in a multiple shooting in Stockton, California. Anti-gun activists, politicians and reporters put handguns on the back burner and launched a campaign against a new target of opportunity.

Putting their "illegitimate" gun theory into practice, anti-gunners claimed that semi-automatic rifles were the "weapons of choice" of criminals, despite reports from state and local law enforcement agencies showing that such guns were used in very small percentages of violent crime.

The Federal "assault weapons" law took effect in September 1994, prohibiting manufacturers from including features such as bayonet mounts and flash suppressors on various semi-automatic rifles, with similar restrictions on shotguns and handguns. Considering that there had been no crimes committed previously with bayonets affixed to rifles, and criminals in no way benefit from any of the features prohibited, the irrational law was purely political in motivation and consequence.

With the "assault weapons" law on the books until its scheduled expiration in September 2004, gun control advocates--who since 1989 had claimed that those guns were the "weapons of choice" among criminals--changed their tune overnight. They began claiming, as they had during the early and mid-1980s, that compact handguns were the "weapons of choice." The "Saturday Night Special" term, with its racist roots,4 was dropped in favor of "junk guns," implying that the next guns targeted for prohibition were only the least expensive, poorly made handguns. In fact, their proposals would ban compact handguns irrespective of price or quality.

Criminologists on both sides of the gun control debate have rejected the notion that compact handguns are the weapon of choice of criminals and that they have no legitimate purpose. Early in the debate, The Police Foundation reported that the "evidence clearly indicates that the belief that so-called 'Saturday Night Specials' (inexpensive handguns) are used to commit the great majority of these felonies is misleading and counterproductive" and "seems to contradict the widespread notion that so-called 'Saturday Night Specials' are the favorite crime weapon."5

More recently, criminologist Gary Kleck observed that "most SNSs are not owned or used for criminal purposes. Instead, most are probably owned by poor people for protection." Laws directed specifically at SNSs, Kleck says, "would have their greatest impact in reducing the availability of defensive handguns to low income people."6

Refuting the idea that compact handguns are somehow useless for protection, James J. Fotis, Executive Director of the 65,000-member Law Enforcement Alliance of America has said: "Small-caliber handguns have been carried by law enforcement officers for years, often as backups to their primary handguns. These handguns are useful for protective purposes because of their concealability and serve the primary function of 'backup' if a disarming occurs or if you have no time to reload. There is no reason to believe that small-caliber handguns are any less useful for protection when in the hands of other law-abiding citizens."7

Aside from other objections to prohibiting certain kinds of guns, there is also the issue of the futility of such a policy. As a study for the National Institute of Justice concluded, "There is no evidence anywhere to show that reducing the availability of firearms in general likewise reduces their availability to persons with criminal intent, or that persons with criminal intent would not be able to arm themselves under any set of general restrictions on firearms."8 Additionally, a law restricting certain guns, even if successful, might be counter-productive. As Gary Kleck has noted, criminals deprived of specific guns would merely switch to other, perhaps more effective, guns.9


1. Partial listing: Kleck, Targeting Guns; Don B. Kates, et al., "Problematic Arguments for Banning Handguns," The Great American Gun Debate, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1997; Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Guns Used in Crime," July 1995; Joseph F. Sheley and James D. Wright, In the Line of Fire: Youth, Guns, and Violence in Urban America, N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995; James D. Wright and Peter H. Rossi, "The Great American Gun War: Some Policy Implications of the Felon Study," The Gun Control Debate: You Decide, Lee Nisbet, editor, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1990; Steven Brill, The Police Foundation, "Firearm Abuse: A Research and Policy Report," 1977.

2. Philip Cook, "The 'Saturday Night Special': An Assessment of Alternative Definitions from a Policy Perspective," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1981, p. 1737.

3. Josh Sugarmann, "Assault Weapons and Accessories in America," The Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence and The New Right Watch, Sept. 1988, pp. 26-27.

4. B. Bruce Briggs, "The Great American Gun War," The Public Interest 45, Fall 1976, p. 50.

5. See footnote 1, Brill, pp. v, 49.

6. Gary Kleck, Point Blank, pp. 85-86.

7. Telephone inquiry.

8. James D. Wright, et al., Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America, N.Y.: Aldine de Gruyter, 1983, p. 138.

9. Kleck, Targeting Guns, p. 134.



Isaac said...

Darn it, shooting criminals is a sport if I ever heard it.

My country doesn't allow guns, and criminals can just bugger off with their loot with nobody able to take a shot at them.

Robocop said...

Welcome back!