Guns in America: the Debate Continues

December 13, 1985

Report Outline
Firearms Use and Abuse
The Constitutional Issue
Regulatory Patchwork
Special Focus

Firearms Use and Abuse

Legitimate Use vs. Demand for Protection

When You think of guns, do you visualize them in the hands of the pioneer, the Western lawman, the sportsman, the soldier whose marksmanship helped preserve American liberty? Or do you view guns as the tools of outlaws, urban hoodlums, gangsters and political assassins? The answer probably determines your position on gun control. But the questions also illustrate the American gun dilemma: how to balance the rights of legitimate gun owners against the demands of citizens to be protected from illegitimate uses.

There may be as many as 200 million guns—rifles, shotguns, pistols—in private hands in the United States, nearly enough for every man, woman and child to have one. Most of these weapons are owned by law-abiding citizens who use them responsibly for legitimate purposes like hunting and target shooting. But many are held by criminals; firearms were used in more than half of all murders last year, not to mention those used in holdups, burglaries, rapes and other crimes. About 1,800 people die each year in firearms accidents, and approximately 12,000 people use guns to kill themselves.

Gun control is one of the few issues on which the opposing camps are so far apart, with so little apparent willingness to compromise. Pro-gun activists, led by the well-financed and aggressive National Rifle Association, accuse the gun controllers of disarming law-abiding citizens, leaving them vulnerable to armed marauders. Anti-gun advocates, represented by Handgun Control Inc. and the National Coalition to Ban Handguns among others, assail the gun lobby for sacrificing thousands of Americans to their Second Amendment principles. Each side has its list of statistics and examples, convincing when viewed in isolation but contradictory when compared with the other side's evidence.

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Dec. 13, 1985  Guns in America: the Debate Continues
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