By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the National Rifle Association has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. No wonder: When it comes to hard numbers, some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments are full of holes.
Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.
Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it’s clear there’s no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you’ll rest easy knowing that America’s roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.
Sources: Congressional Research Service (PDF), Small Arms Survey
Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people—people kill people.
Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as assault-weapons bans or safe-storage requirements. Update: A recent study looking at 30 years of homicide data in all 50 states found that for every one percent increase in a state’s gun ownership rate, there is a nearly one percent increase in its firearm homicide rate.
ownership vs gun death
Sources: Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society.
Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
• Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.
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Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5
Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer.
Fact-check: Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death by gun.
• For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.
• 43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm.
• In one experiment, one third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a handgun pulled the trigger.
Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.
• In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.
Myth #7: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in states with lower gun ownership rates.
Myth #8: “Vicious, violent video games” deserve more blame than guns.
Fact-check: So said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre after Newtown. So what’s up with Japan?
United States Japan
Per capita spending
on video games $44 $55
per 100 people 88 0.6
in 2008 11,030 11
Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Small Arms Survey (PDF), UN Office on Drugs and Crime
Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners.
Fact-check: More guns are being sold, but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population.
• About 50% of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45% say they do. Overall, 35% of Americans personally own a gun.
• Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.
Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws—we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Fact-check: Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns illegally.
• Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t require background checks. 40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
• An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.
• 20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives did not have a permanent director for 7 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.