Gun Control War Targets Our Worst Nightmares

By Sileo, Chi Chi | Insight on the News, June 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

Gun Control War Targets Our Worst Nightmares


Sileo, Chi Chi, Insight on the News


While many Americans tout the Brady Bill and the ban on semiautomatic weapons as victories against gun-toting maniacs, other citizens see them as an all-out assault on their constitutional rights.

The only thing Americans seem to want more than they want guns is gun control. In May, after furious infighting and dramatic last-minute reversals, the House of Representatives passed by only two votes a ban on the manufacture and importation of semiautomatic assault weapons. Just months earlier, after a battle, Congress passed the Brady Bill, which requires a waiting period and background check for the purchase of handguns. The gun-heaven state of Virginia (which once held the dubious distinction of being the gun supplier to East Coast criminals) has enacted a law limiting handgun purchases to one per month. All this, despite massive lobbying efforts by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups.

In the wake of recent mass murders such as those committed on the Long Island Rail Road, where Colin Ferguson killed six people aboard a commuter train, and in San Francisco, where Gian Luigi Ferri stormed a downtown law office and gunned down eight people, public opinion has grown increasingly in favor of gun control. In fact, according to a 1993 Gallup Poll, more than 70 percent of Americans - including a majority of gun owners - like the idea.

This is bad news for gun-ownership advocates, who see their rights being chipped away a little at a time. Civil libertarians - some of whom do not use or own guns - nonetheless are up in arms about erosions of Second Amendment rights. The subject of gun control has even emerged in internal debates among members of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has never come out in full force for the Second Amendment.

Concurrently, gun sales upswing - by as much as 50 percent since 1985, according to some estimates. People who own guns are holding tightly to them as more and more Americans, gripped by a mounting fear of crime, decide to take their safety into their own hands.

There are 200 million legally purchased firearms in the United States; nearly half of all American households contain at least one gun. And a significant number of these are handguns: affordable, concealable, easy-to-use - and the center of the firestorm behind the Brady Bill and other gun-control proposals.

"Handguns are disproportionately used in gun violence," asserts Jeff Muchnick, legislative director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which advocates a ban on the manufacture, sale and purchase of guns by and to the general public.

Do handguns deserve their dark reputation? Every year, more than 600,000 Americans - mostly young, black, urban males - face a handgun-wielding criminal. Given the level of violence in most U.S. cities, though, that number represents only a fraction of all crimes. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, handgun crimes represent about 10 percent of all violent crimes and 27 percent of crimes by armed criminals. Less than half of all murders are committed by handgun-wielding assailants, and handguns are used in approximately 7 percent of all rapes, 8 percent of all assaults and 18 percent of all robberies.

Antigun groups call handguns a key element in domestic slayings, accidental deaths and suicides; pro-gun groups call them a decisive factor in preserving life, limb and property. But the figures cited by both sides are hotly contested. For every harrowing anecdote that Washington-based Handgun Control Inc., or HCI, produces about a child being killed by a gun left lying around the house, the NRA can offer a heroic story about a woman defending her children or herself from a violent intruder.

Many of the commonly accepted "facts" in this debate are open to interpretation. The National Center for Health Statistics, for example, says that more people between the ages of 15 and 24 die as a result of handgun use than as a result of all natural causes combined.

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