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Tackling some gun myths

Visual commentary by Aaron McKinney
Visual commentary by Aaron McKinney
The government is coming for your guns: If you are a convicted felon or have been adjudicated insane, by law you should not have any firearms. Otherwise, no one is coming for your guns. One could argue that we’re starting on a slippery slope with the very modest gun-safety laws proposed by President Obama, but the fans of unlimited personal firepower aren’t that nuanced. As Alex Jones showed recently on CNN, they are saying that fearsome Obama and the New World Order is rounding up all of America’s guns, all 300 million or so of ’em. The reality is that gun-control and safety advocates are almost universally careful to say they respect the need and constitutional right of people to have and use firearms.
 
If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns: This is what the brainy types call a tautology. It is an internally true and self-reinforcing statement. However, that doesn’t mean it has anything to do with the world -- and it doesn’t. It is true that a total gun ban would make a lot of outlaws, but as noted, that’s not happening. But also note that if you outlaw murder, which we have wisely done, only outlaws will murder, which is also true. And so the answer would be to legalize murder? We would have many more murders without the threat of legal sanction. A better tautology: If people or gun dealers refuse to comply with several modest gun-safety laws, then those people think that it’s OK to ignore the law when they find it inconvenient. And they would also be outlaws.
 
The NRA is an electoral juggernaut that the politicians cannot ignore: The NRA Political Victory Fund spent $16 million to elect its preferred candidates last November. They might have accomplished more by burning the money. Less than 1 percent of these expenditures benefited a winning candidate. According to an analysis of all 1,038 NRA endorsements in the 2004‐2010 election cycles, the NRA’s endorsements swung the result in just four races, meaning that the chance that an NRA endorsement will be the factor that places a pro‐gun candidate in the House is less than 0.4 percent.
 
The NRA represents gun owners: Suggesting that the National Rifle Association represents gun owners is like saying Exxon-Mobile represents car owners. According to a poll last year by GOP consultant Frank Luntz, 74 percent of NRA members agree that would-be gun buyers should have to pass a background check -- and that percentage rises to 82 percent of all gun owners. The NRA has stridently opposed the background check, and some 40 percent of all gun purchases are made by buyers who are not screened for felony convictions or serious mental-health problems.
 
Personal firearms have kept America free: The gun manufacturers push the idea that only personal firearms have kept the yoke of tyranny off Americans for the last 236 years. But it was the Continental Army that kicked out the redcoats, the U.S. Army that freed the slaves and the Justice Department that ended the tyranny of Jim Crow -- while white supremacists were exercising their Second Amendment rights by murdering unarmed, but ultimately successful, civil rights workers. It was nonviolent resistance and the force of law that ended the tyranny of modern racial subjugation in the South, not AR-15s and high-capacity magazines. In fact, for most of America’s history, the country, and many state and cities, have had far greater restrictions on firearms that what we now have. The Republic has managed to survive quite well.
 
More people are gun owners, and that makes for a less violent society: The NRA, as a mouthpiece for gun manufacturers, likes to boast that there are something on the order of 300 million guns in the United States. That’s true, but what they don’t tell you is that there are overall fewer gun owners. (The difference is that some of those who are buying guns are hoarding lots and lots of them.) New York University’s Patrick Egan, assistant professor of political science, has documented that we as a nation are at historic lows in terms of gun ownership. Fewer than 20 percent of households have a shotgun or pistol in their homes, and the percentage of all gun owners is less than 50 percent. As the percentage of gun owners has fallen, so has the overall violent crime rate, which peaked around 1990 and has fallen by almost half since then.  
 
Semi-automatic rifles are fundamentally different from automatic rifles: Semi-automatic weapons fire without cocking but with a pull on the trigger. Automatics, commonly called machine guns, spray fire for as long as the trigger is pulled back. But in practice, most people use full automatics in a semi-automatic mode to be able to control the accuracy of the weapon. For those gunners who just really want a fully automatic firing experience, have no fear: Legal and illegal conversion kits are easily available to upgrade a semi-automatic weapon. Slate, the online magazine, recently documented a neat conversion kit that costs less than $400, is totally legal and converts a semiautomatic AR-15 into a shoulder-fired automatic weapon capable of spraying 900 rounds a minute. Conversion kits like that, by the way, don't work on deer rifles.