Myths and Facts About Gun Violence in America
The Joyce Foundation and our grantees believe that the toll that gun violence takes on our communities is preventable.
As families across the country – in Orlando, FL, Charleston, SC, Newtown, Conn., and countless other towns – grieve the loss of a loved one who fell victim to gun violence, the Joyce Foundation and our grantees remain committed to keeping our communities safe and free of gun violence. The nation mourns collectively when public mass shootings make headlines, but every day firearms end the lives of Americans whose deaths goes unmentioned.
There are several myths circulating in the public dialogue about gun violence in America. As a foundation committed to research-based grant-making, the Joyce Foundation and our grantees are dedicated to presenting the facts about the threat of gun violence to public safety and public health:
Myth: There is decreasing public support for policy solutions to curb gun violence.
Fact: The majority of Americans support common-sense measures to prevent gun violence.
For example, 92% of Americans support a measure requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers, while 56% of Americans support a measure banning military-style assault weapons. In fact, even 72% of NRA members and 83% of gun owners nationally support requiring criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun. While public opinion polling by Gallup has shown varying support for "stricter gun laws," recent polls have shown an increasing desire for stricter gun laws. Prominent pollsters have discussed why the Gallup polls differ from other national polls.
Myth: All we need to do is enforce the laws already on the books.
Fact: Better gun enforcement and stronger gun laws are both needed to reduce gun violence.
Gun enforcement is critical, and law enforcement agrees. But even law enforcement believes that enforcement, without stronger laws, is not enough. The guns and ammunition used by the suspect in the Aurora shooting were all legally purchased under current law – including a military-style assault weapon and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. That’s because existing gun laws are riddled with loopholes and gaps. For example, a 1994 law that banned the sale of military-style assault rifles was allowed to expire in 2004. There are also numerous steps that the federal government could take to step up gun enforcement. But federal enforcement action on guns has been constantly hampered by the efforts of the gun lobby, which has left the federal agency responsible for enforcing firearms laws – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) – under-funded and without permanent leadership.
Myth: "Stand Your Ground" laws are needed so citizens can defend themselves.
Fact: Citizens have always had the right to defend themselves. The facts show that “Stand Your Ground” laws are making our communities less safe.
The right to self defense is a longstanding part of our common law. "Stand Your Ground" laws passed by states in recent years change that well-established law so that citizens no longer have a duty to retreat from dangerous situations, even in public places when they can safely do so. Recent research shows the laws do not deter crime and that states that have passed these laws have more murders. "Stand Your Ground" laws also appear to make racial disparities in our legal system more pronounced. According to an Urban Institute study of states with "Stand Your Ground" laws, a white shooter who kills a black victim is much more likely to be ruled justified than a black shooter kills a white victim. Whatever the original intent of these new laws, the facts show they are making our communities less safe.
Myth: Guns don’t kill people – people kill people.
Fact: More guns mean more gun murders and more gun suicides.
The Harvard Injury Control Research Center has accumulated a considerable body of evidence about the relationship between gun availability and gun violence, concluding that more guns mean more gun murders and more gun suicides.
Myth: America’s gun laws don’t work.
Fact: Research demonstrates the effectiveness of a wide range of gun laws, including:
- Background checks: Background checks on gun sales work. Since its inception, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has blocked more than 2.8 million permit applications and gun sales to felons, the seriously mentally ill, drug abusers, and other dangerous people who are prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms. But because an estimated 22% of gun transfers occur without a background check, more comprehensive gun background checks are necessary to curb gun violence and gun trafficking.
- Regulation of gun dealers: State gun laws designed to regulate gun dealers, including regular compliance inspections, are effective in reducing gun trafficking.
- Bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines: Deadly assault weapons equipped with high capacity ammunition magazines have become the weapons of choice in mass shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School. These weapons and attachments enable shooters to fire dozens of rounds before pausing to reload. Assault weapons were banned in the U.S. between 1994-2004. The 1994 law was riddled with loopholes which made it easy for gun manufacturers to evade; even so, an analysis by the Washington Post found a decrease in seizures of guns with high capacity magazines by Virginia law enforcement while the law was in effect. Seizures spiked after the law expired.
Myth: Gun ownership is on the rise and guns are everywhere.
Fact: Gun ownership in America is in decline.
Actually, gun ownership is significantly in decline in America, according to the General Social Survey, one of the leading sources of data in social science research. A vast majority of the American public do not own firearms, but those Americans who own guns own more of them.
Myth: If someone had a gun at the scene of a mass shooting, tragedy could have been prevented.
Fact: There is no credible evidence that the carrying of hidden, loaded weapons decreases crime.
There is no credible evidence that the carrying of hidden, loaded weapons decreases crime. In fact, the argument that more guns equal less crime has been thoroughly debunked by a range of academic researchers.
Myth: The Second Amendment is a barrier to stronger gun laws
Fact: The Second Amendment and recent Supreme Court decisions do not block stronger gun laws.
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Since the Heller decision, lower courts across the nation have found a wide range of firearms law constitutional. Put simply, the Second Amendment and recent Supreme Court decisions are not barriers to stronger gun laws.