By Petr Svab
The dream of a gun-free America has never been more ephemeral. While calls for gun control still abound, their effectiveness is thrown into question by the reality of gun ownership. And the disconnect seems to be growing.
Polls suggest the majority of Americans don’t own a gun and support stricter gun laws. Gun ownership has stagnated for decades, according to Gallup.
In reality, however, gun sales have been breaking records in recent years, with a significant portion going to new gun owners, according to industry estimates.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s expansive gun control agenda boiled down to a single piece of legislation so far that expanded background checks and offered grants for state red flag laws, but didn’t go as far as banning any particular weapon.
On the legal front, the Supreme Court in June tossed some concealed carry restrictions in New York, de facto greenlighting challenges to similar statutes in other states.
Any proposition to actually disarm Americans is just a “pipe dream,” said Thomas Hogan, an adjunct fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, and former federal prosecutor.
The gun control argument posits that if gun ownership is restricted it will be more difficult for a bad actor to obtain a firearm and gun crime would thus decrease.
A common counterargument is that areas with some of the strictest gun laws, such as New York City, Chicago, or Philadelphia, suffer much more gun crime than many areas with less stringent gun laws.
Proponents of gun control usually retort that the strict laws are neutered by the fact that criminals can obtain guns in a neighboring state with looser laws.
However, criminals seldom buy their guns legally. A 2016 government survey of prison inmates showed only about 9 percent went to a gun store or a pawn shop to buy the firearm they carried while committing their crime. Less than one percent got it at a gun show. Almost 43 percent said they found it or got it online or from a private person, such as a relative or friend. About 6 percent said they stole it (pdf).
Simply making it harder to legally get a gun does little because the citizenry is already armed to the teeth, Hogan pointed out. In his view, the ship on making guns scarce has sailed, and was, in fact, never moored to begin with.
“The first mass-produced item in the United States was the Samuel Colt revolver,” he told The Epoch Times.
Gun control activists give the example of Australia, which substantially disarmed its population through a mandatory gun buyback campaign.
But Americans are armed on a different scale. For more than a decade, the country has had more guns than people and the ratio keeps increasing. Gun sales especially exploded in 2020 and 2021, coinciding with the rise in violent crime. Over those two years, gun owner ranks have grown by nearly 14 million, estimated the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), an industry group.
Even Among Democrats, about one in nine got a gun in 2020, an Epoch Times Big Data Poll found.
America has “never been at that point” where gun confiscation would have been feasible, Hogan said.
“Out of the 350-400 million firearms in the United States, how many would be handed in?” he asked. “All the lawful gun owners would hand their guns in, but the criminals would not.”
He estimated it would take hundreds of years to disarm Americans, in no small part because firearms don’t easily deteriorate.
“You can take your guns, you can bury them in the backyard, and 50 years later, you could dig them up and with a cleaning kit, a very basic cleaning kit, inside of about five minutes you could have your firearms working just fine,” he said.
Gun control proponents primarily target sporting rifles, particularly the AR-15, which they argue was designed to kill people in wars and has no legitimate use in civilian hands.
Critics have countered this argument on several levels.
It’s true that AR-15 (AR stands for Armalite, the original designer) was developed for military use. Its civilian, semi-automatic version, however, has become one of the most versatile rifle platforms and the most popular sporting rifle in the United States with about 20 million in circulation, according to the NSSF.
Despite their proliferation, rifles are used in only about 1 percent of violent crimes in the United States, while about one in five involves a handgun, according to 2020 crime data submitted to the FBI by about half of the country’s police agencies.
For obvious reasons, a criminal’s favorite gun is a small, easy-to-conceal pistol, Hogan said.
The AR-15 has been sometimes portrayed as “high powered” and particularly deadly and other times as not powerful enough to be useful for hunting. Neither argument is quite right.
Most shootings, even mass shootings, occur at a close range where the advantages of an AR-15 over a handgun—accuracy and bullet velocity—diminish, while the disadvantageous bulk and weight become more prominent. The rifle was used in a significant share of high-profile mass shootings, but there’s little evidence the shooters picked it because it was the deadliest weapon. In fact, there are much deadlier rifles than the AR-15 available on the market.
The hunting argument, on the other hand, is outdated. The AR-15 was originally designed to accept the military-use 5.56 ball ammunition, which is indeed unsuitable for hunting. Advances in ammunition technology, however, have enabled the development of many rounds that made the rifle popular among hunters of small and mid-size game, particularly hogs.
Then there’s the constitutional argument.
The Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Proponents of gun control, even some Supreme Court Justices, have interpreted the amendment to allow extensive restrictions on gun ownership. They argue that it only protected the right to bear arms for organized state militias, which were transformed into the National Guard after the Civil War.
Second Amendment advocates, on the other hand, say that most of the current restrictions should be nixed. They point out that if the right to bear arms is underpinned by the need to draw a militia from the populace—in no small part to deter the government from becoming tyrannical—then the populace needs to be free to hold firearms.
The Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and reiterated in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010 that the Second Amendment also protects the right to bear arms for self-defense.
Various parts of gun laws have been constantly pushed in one or the other direction over the past few decades with Democrat-leaning states adding more restrictions and Republican-leaning states removing some.
The Supreme Court, holding a 6-3 conservative majority, earlier this year dealt a blow to gun control proponents as it struck down a New York state law that made it hard to get a permit to carry a firearm outside of one’s home.
The opinion has opened a door to challenging similar laws, such as those banning gun possession in “sensitive places.”
Thus, unless the legal landscape changes dramatically, Americans are unlikely to lose their guns anytime soon.