Every handgun is aimed at you : the case for banning handguns
- Josh Sugarmann.
- New York : New Press : Distributed bby W.W. Norton, 2001.
Where to find it
Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a national educational organization working to reduce gun death and injury, demonstrates that banning handguns is the only effective way to reduce gun violence in US society. He offers a brief history of handgun use, summarizes research and statistics on handguns and handgun violence in America, and dismantles the alternatives to banning handguns. Annotation copyrighted by Book News Inc., Portland, OR
- Introduction p. ix
- 1. Handguns 101--A Primer p. 1
- 2. History of the Handgun p. 15
- 3. Handguns and Suicide p. 35
- 4. Handguns and Self-Defense p. 55
- 5. Handguns and Crime p. 71
- 6. Handguns and Women p. 87
- 7. Handguns and Youth p. 109
- 8. Handguns and Minorities p. 133
- 9. Handguns in Public p. 155
- 10. The Case for Banning Handguns p. 177
- Afterword p. 203
- Notes p. 209
- Index p. 231
Chapter One HANDGUNS 101--A PRIMER Everyone knows a handgun when they see one. But being able to put a label on an object does not begin to explain why this particular object--the handgun---came to be responsible for an epidemic of death and injury in our nation. Before we can address this key issue, there are other questions about the handgun's essential nature that must be answered first. What different types of handguns are there? How do they work? How does a gun's design affect the chance that it will kill or injure someone? How do different kinds of ammunition affect killing power? The broadest definition of a handgun is a firearm specifically designed and built to be fired with one hand. Shotguns and rifles--often called "long guns"-- can be fired with one hand, but it's hard to do well. Handguns have a short handle called a "grip" designed to fit precisely into the hand, making the weapon feel like an extension of the body. The barrel is short enough, and the gun light enough, that it can be held without much effort. Action heroes in movies and on television are often shown using two hands in their make-believe gunfights. This two-handed technique does create a more stable platform and improves rapid-fire accuracy but is not necessary. All handguns can be held and fired with one hand. All handguns share two other key features: they are concealable and they are portable . Far smaller and lighter than rifles and shotguns, handguns can be hidden on the person and secretly carried around in public. As pro-gun expert Duane Thomas writes: "The only thing handguns really have going for them as weapons is their small size, with its resultant portability, concealability, and maneuverability. In other words, unlike a bulky rifle or shotgun, a handgun can be there when you need it." (emphasis in original) It is these design features that make handguns so convenient , which, in combination with the sheer number in circulation, explains why handguns are at the core of American gun violence. Whether the handgun is stuffed into a pocket or waistband, carried in a shoulder holster or purse, stashed in a glove compartment, or kept within reach in a nightstand drawer, real-life experience has proven that being there "when you need it" most often translates into an innocent person being shot with a handgun. Especially in moments of depression, rage, or childish curiosity, it means having a little killing machine at hand--waiting. In occasional moments of candor, pro-gun experts admit this truth. For example, handgun expert Chris Bird writes: Members of the gun-control movement believe that there are far too many guns of all kinds in American society and that these guns are responsible for much of the violence. This is probably true. Guns facilitate violence. A killer can do in a fraction of a second by exerting a few pounds of pressure on a trigger what it might take him 10 minutes and a lot of exertion to do with a baseball bat. There are two major types of handguns: revolvers and semiautomatic pistols. Each uses a different mechanical design to carry ammunition, load it into the firing chamber, fire it, dispose of empty shells, and reload fresh rounds. REVOLVERS Revolvers--also known as six-shooters, six-guns, and wheel-guns--are the older design, originally patented by Samuel Colt in 1835. Until the early 1980s, revolvers were far and away the dominant handgun in America, as opposed to Europe where semiautomatic pistols were more popular. Revolvers are easily recognized by a round cylinder, between the barrel and the grip, which acts as the magazine and holds the ammunition. The cylinder is usually divided into six chambers. Each chamber holds one round of ammunition and serves as the firing chamber for that round. (Modern ammunition consists of four parts assembled into a round or cartridge : the bullet; the gunpowder; a primer, which is ignited by the firing pin and sets off the main powder charge; and a case or shell.) When a chamber is aligned with the barrel, a small hammer falls and drives a firing pin into the rear of the round. The impact ignites the round and the bullet is propelled through the barrel. The cylinder must be rotated to bring a fresh round into play. The mechanical work in revolvers is done entirely by the force of the shooter's hand. Old-fashioned revolvers like the Colt Peacemaker were called "single-action" because the shooter had to first manually cock the gun by pulling back on the hammer, usually with the thumb, and then squeeze the trigger in a separate action. The hammer fell and the gun fired. In modern "double-action" revolvers (like the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum made famous by actor Clint Eastwood in his "Dirty Harry" roles), all the work is done in one motion via the trigger. When the shooter squeezes the trigger, internal springs and levers first cause the cylinder to rotate and the hammer to cock, then allow the hammer to fall, and the gun to fire. By reducing the number of motions required, double-action revolvers increase the speed of accurate firing. When all the rounds in a revolver's cylinder have been fired, the empty shell casings must be manually ejected and new rounds loaded into each chamber of the cylinder. This process is easier and faster in double-action revolvers in which the entire cylinder swings open and is emptied in one motion with a built-in plunger. In a single-action revolver, the cylinder stays within the frame. The shooter opens a small, hinged gate to expose one chamber, pushes the empty casing out of that chamber with a built-in rod, replaces the round, and rotates the cylinder by hand one stop to expose the next chamber. This continues until all the empty casings have been ejected and replaced with live rounds. PISTOLS Semiautomatic pistols are handguns shaped like the letter L tipped 90 degrees to the right. The vertical leg of the L is the grip that the shooter holds. Ammunition is loaded into a detachable magazine usually inserted into the pistol's grip. Magazines typically hold from eight rounds of ammunition in older designs to as many as 20 rounds in modern "high-capacity" magazines, which stack two columns of rounds in a zigzag pattern. A spring in the bottom of the magazine forces the cartridges upward into the firing chamber. The horizontal leg of the L holds the gun barrel concealed within a movable slide and resting on a sturdy frame. Using a system of springs and internal levers within the frame, semiautomatic pistols use the force of the recoil to execute the mechanical functions done by hand in revolvers. Whenever the gun is fired, the force of the recoil pushes a long metal slide backwards against a spring. In the process, the slide ejects the empty shell casing and cocks the hammer. When the recoil's force is spent, the compressed spring forces the slide forward to its original position. On its way back, the slide picks up a new cartridge from the magazine and loads it into the chamber. The gun is now ready to fire again--the shooter need only squeeze the trigger. Using recoil to do the work means semiautomatic pistols can be fired faster and more smoothly than revolvers. When all the rounds in the pistol magazine have been fired, the shooter pushes a button to eject the empty magazine, then reloads the gun by inserting a fully-loaded magazine. This process can be done much faster than manually reloading the cylinder of a revolver. Other terms are sometimes used to describe less clearly defined categories of handguns. For example, "Saturday Night Special" describes inexpensive, short-barreled handguns made of inferior materials. Also known as "junk guns," they are considered inaccurate and unreliable, have no sporting purpose, and are best suited for criminal use. "Saturday Night Specials" are usually produced in lower calibers such as .25 and can be either semiautomatic pistols or revolvers. "Assault pistols" are handgun-sized semiautomatic assault weapons, such as the Intratec TEC-DC9 9mm used in the 1999 Columbine high school massacre, the UZI 9mm pistol, and the MAC-10 and MAC-11 in both 9mm and 45 caliber. These handguns feature a high-capacity magazine, typically holding 20 or 30 rounds, and are designed to be held with both hands close to the body and "spray-fired" with a swiveling motion, often from the hip. They are easily and quickly reloaded and can lay down a devastating rate of fire, often called "hosing down" an area. "Pocket Rocket," a term coined by the gun industry, describes small, palm-sized semiautomatic pistols with considerably higher calibers (9mm and up) than are found in "Saturday Night Specials." "Pocket Rockets" are often made of high-quality materials by mainline gun companies such as Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Glock. THE THREE DEADLY C'S Any handgun can kill a human being--after all, that's what they were invented to do. But some handguns have been "improved" to be more lethal, i.e., more likely to kill when used--just as some cars have been designed to go faster than others. Three specific design features enhance killing power: the "three deadly C's" of concealability, capacity, and caliber. This is how these "three deadly C's" work in principle: CONCEALABILITY. Because handguns can be easily concealed, they are more likely to be carried secretly--dramatically escalating the potential lethality of human conflict. It is no fun to get hit with a fist. Nonetheless, it does not begin to compare with the devastation of getting shot with a gun. As leading public health researcher Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann has aptly observed: "A lighted match can certainly start a fire, but the potential for serious injury or death is much greater if you toss in a bucket of gasoline. Likewise, violence can certainly cause harm, but the potential for serious injury or death is increased when a firearm is involved." The handgun population explosion of the past 30 years has injected lethality via concealability into every corner of society from our homes to our schools, highways, places of worship, and shopping centers. CAPACITY. The more bullets a gun carries, the more deadly it becomes. Most handgun shootings happen at close range. Nevertheless, most bullets fired, even by trained law-enforcement officers at close range, miss their targets. Obviously the more rounds a gun can fire quickly, the more likely it is that a given shooting will result in a hit. Multiple rounds also increase the likelihood of multiple hits, which, by causing more wounds, increase the likelihood of death or serious injury. The most important trend of recent years has been the rise of semiautomatic pistols over revolvers as the dominant handgun in the civilian market. As detailed earlier, more rounds can be fired from a semiautomatic pistol, with less effort, than from a revolver, and an empty pistol can be reloaded more quickly. Beginning in the early 1980s, pistol production increased and revolver production plummeted. [See Figure 1-1] By 1987, domestic pistol production surpassed revolver production and now leads the handgun market by a wide margin. Today, a handgun used in violence is most likely to be a semiautomatic pistol. This means the shooter will start with two to three times as many rounds as in a typical revolver. CALIBER. Caliber is simply a measure of bullet size. The higher the caliber, the bigger the bullet. The bigger the bullet, the more serious the wound. The authors of a 1996 comparative study of police ammunition wrote that "of the bullets which attain desired penetration depth, those of larger diameter are the most effective, crushing more tissue." Handgun ammunition size is expressed as the approximate diameter of the bullet, either in inches (e.g., 45 caliber, which equals .45 inch) or millimeters (e.g., 9mm). "Magnum" refers to a cartridge with an especially powerful propellant charge. The crop of semiautomatic pistols that now dominates the market is also marked by bigger calibers--i.e., bigger bullets. [See Figure 1-2] Advances in metallurgy and other technologies have made it possible for smaller and smaller pistols to be made in larger and larger calibers. (Ironically, one of the most popular of the new big rounds--the .40 Smith & Wesson--grew out of a perceived law-enforcement need for more firepower after a disastrous FBI shootout in Miami during which several agents were killed.) Predictably, trauma centers have seen an increase in both the size and number of bullet wounds. The fatality rate for persons shot by large-caliber handguns is also predictably higher than for those shot with small-caliber handguns. In addition to size, ammunition design has a direct effect on lethality. Just as gun manufacturers have designed deadlier handguns, ammunition manufacturers have marketed a new generation of more destructive bullets under euphemisms such as "defensive rounds." Among bullets, the most significant distinction is between "hollow-point" and "ball" ammunition. Ball ammunition has a solid or fully jacketed bullet, which does not expand much upon impact with an object. By contrast, a hollow-point bullet has a hole in the nose that causes the bullet to rapidly expand in diameter upon impact with an object. Wound-ballistics authority Dr. Martin Fackler has observed that "an expanding soft-point or hollow-point bullet causes more tissue disruption than a similar but nonexpanding one." In other words, expanding bullets are designed to inflict maximum trauma and cause incapacitating injury. The Geneva Convention limits military forces to the use of ball ammunition. Recently, ammunition manufacturers have vied for market share by creating exotic variants of the basic hollow-point design, such as the Winchester Black Talon bullet, later remarketed as Supreme SXT (Supreme Expansion Technology) ammunition, which incorporated six sharp, pointed hooks around an expanding mushroom. Firearm manufacturers have deliberately incorporated the "three deadly C's" into handgun design for the purpose of sparking consumer interest. This has been especially true in recent years, when the industry has found itself looking for any gimmick to help resell a saturated market. Although the entertainment media--as well as gun-industry advertising--portray handguns as being widespread throughout American history, they were actually relatively uncommon until late in the 20th century. [See Figure 1-3] Handguns constituted only 24 percent of all firearms available in the civilian market from 1899 through 1945. In 1946 handguns represented only eight percent of all firearms available for sale. The foundation for our gun-violence epidemic was laid in the 1960s by an explosive growth in the number of handguns offered for sale. In 1982, for the first time in American history, the number of handguns offered for sale was greater than the combined total of long guns. Since then, the percentage of handguns over all guns (handguns and long guns) offered for sale has hovered between about 40 percent and slightly over 50 percent. Clearly, America's gun market changed markedly in favor of handguns. These numbers do not tell the whole story, however, because handguns account for a much greater proportion of firearms violence than even this dramatic growth would forecast. The rise of handguns to dominance in the marketplace has corresponded with an increase in their efficiency as killing machines. Handgun manufacturers have steadily sought ways to enhance the "three deadly C's" in their products. The human toll in death and suffering exacted by this process has been immense. The handgun business is not static. On the contrary, it is driven by fierce competition and relies on innovation to stimulate demand and grab market share. As the emergence of high-capacity pistols, "Pocket Rockets," and bigger handgun calibers demonstrate, most of the industry's handgun innovation is directed at enhanced killing power. This will only increase. The futuristic weapons and ammunition that we see in action films are not mere fantasies. They are created through a combination of the "artistic" needs of prop-house armorers and the marketing priorities of handgun designers. The advent of ultra-strong metal alloys and sturdy, light, highly moldable plastics now allows handgun makers to drive down both size and price while increasing caliber and capacity. The industry constantly copies military and police designs, using the cachet of these services to generate crossover sales in the vastly more lucrative civilian market. Having emerged into its own in the latter 1990s, the handgun business will push harder in the 2000s to sell more new guns to more new buyers. DR. LINDA ERWIN Dr. Linda Erwin has been a practicing trauma surgeon for the past nine years. She currently works at a Level One trauma center in Portland, Oregon . I'm a trauma surgeon at a Level One trauma center in Portland, Oregon. We're one of two Level One trauma centers in the state, so we see a little more than half of the major injuries in the state. And I've been doing that for approximately nine years. I'm trained in general surgery and thoracic surgery. And I guess the really salient part of my training was that, before I came to this job in 1992, I spent three years in Great Britain. For two of those years I worked as a general surgeon--covering the emergency room, doing trauma among other things--and also spent a year as a chest surgeon. In England, I didn't see a bullet hole in anybody. Then I started doing trauma here. And it just seemed like we were seeing kids shot right and left. The contrast between those two cultures, and my experience as a physician in those two cultures, was a big impetus for me to get involved with firearm issues. I think one of the big issues when we talk about handguns is how uninformed most adults are about the nature of children, even the children right in front of them that they see every day. They're unaware of how [children's] brains work, how they think, what they can and can't do intellectually, what they can and can't do in terms of having good judgment. We know that most children are pre-rational creatures until about age 12. They're pretty impulsive and curious and have to hear something over and over and over for it to sink in. They need protecting and they need adults to create a safe environment for them. And even though adults will protect children from other dangers they see in the environment, they will ignore the danger that a handgun represents by living in denial about how their child is going to interact with that weapon. But, you know, I think there are some people who have a romantic relationship with firearms and they are not going to be touched by factual information. I used to have a handgun, a Czechoslovakian 9mm pistol. It was the classic thing. My father gave it to me for protection. But to tell you the truth, I just got to the point where I saw too many people who actually had grown up with handguns, who had used them in the gun culture here in Oregon, who supposedly knew what they were doing, that ended up shot unintentionally. I just got to the point where I couldn't stand to have it around. The other thing that was clear to me was that I do have kids in my life. You know, I have nieces and nephews, and all kinds of unofficial nieces and nephews, and I couldn't bear the thought of having kids in my house and having a handgun in my house at the same time. And that was another reason it just had to go. And also, I have friends that are police officers who have had to shoot someone in the line of duty. It was very clear to me in talking to them that that one act defined the rest of their lives in the sense that they relived the moment over and over on a daily basis, thinking, "What could I have done differently to have avoided shooting that guy?" And, you know, watching the impact of that on people, that's just not an impact I want on my life. It just didn't make any sense in terms of making anyone safer. So I just couldn't think of a single good reason to keep the handgun around, to tell you the truth, and I had a lot of reasons to get rid of it. I still have family members who own handguns, and it terrifies me. And we just have to agree to certain rules when I'm in their house, because I'm just not comfortable in a house that's got a handgun. We've had a suicide with a handgun that impacted our family some years ago. In fact, we've had several suicides with handguns. So our family has been touched by that. In fact, I find it increasingly difficult to find a family that hasn't been touched by it. I'm always going to have some grieving as part of my job. You can't save everyone--regardless of the mechanism of injury--but there is a real frustration with gunshot wounds for me because I see them as all just so totally, utterly preventable. And it's very hard to have to go out and tell parents and families that a kid is dead or a child is never going to really be the same because of an injury. The grief that that engenders is palpable. When somebody gets shot in the spinal cord or in the brain, they're frustrating injuries because you can't really fix it. It's a done deal. And it's really hard to take care of those people, to buoy them through their recovery and acclimation to their new situation. It's very difficult and it just doesn't have to happen. It just doesn't have to happen. It seems like I just keep saying to people that there is no reason on the planet why I shouldn't be able to be a trauma surgeon right here in Portland, Oregon, or anywhere else in this country, and not see a bullet hole in three years. I mean, if I can do that in Great Britain, then there is no reason I shouldn't be able to do that here. Folks in England get mad. They get in fights. They drink like fish, God knows. Yet they seem to be able to create a culture where they can manage to deal with their anger and their conflicts nonviolently without these weapons around. And I just don't see why we can't do that here. I think handguns are a real factor in this country in eliminating childhood. If you look at childhood as a protected time when a kid can play and be safe and develop freely, then a lot of that is going away because of handguns everywhere. I get letters from little kids who are in elementary school, who worry about getting shot in school. That wasn't a part of my childhood. It hasn't always been a part of childhood in this country, and it has no business being a part of childhood today. And I think that there is no more compelling reason for getting a grip on these guns and getting something sensible happening than to restore childhood for our kids. Copyright (c) 2001 Violence Policy Center. All rights reserved.
This item is about
- New York : New Press : Distributed bby W.W. Norton, 2001.
- Includes bibliographical references (p. -230) and index.
- xvii, 238 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
- OCLC Number
- Other Identifiers
- LCCN: 00060547