From the Frontiersman in Alaska

Criminal headlines cloud the truth in gun control issue

Outdoors in Alaska, by Howard Delo

"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." -- The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

I'm not going to debate the issue of individual gun ownership versus the National Guard approach here. That question is clearly answered if one reads the articles and letters written by the Founding Fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution and its first Ten Amendments.

What I want to talk about is who owns guns and why, and why many people fear guns. The numbers cited come from several different reports. The first is a 1996 report by the Police Foundation, titled "The National Survey of Private Ownership of Firearms in the United States." Another is the "National Gun Policy Survey," released in 2000 and prepared by the National Opinion Research Center. More information is also available from the National Rifle Association and the National Sports Shooting Association.

The general consensus is that between 220 and 250 million firearms are privately owned in the U.S. Approximately 60 million Americans own at least one firearm and at least 45 million homes, nearly half of all U.S. households, have at least one firearm. About half of those 45 million homes with a firearm have at least one handgun in the house.

The Police Foundation report states that 26 million firearms owners own 77 percent of all privately owned firearms, roughly an average of seven guns per person. The National Gun Policy Survey reveals that Republicans are more likely to own a firearm than Democrats. About 50 percent of Republicans said they had a firearm in their home versus only 32 percent of Democrats.

Americans purchase an average of around 3.5 million firearms per year, usually 1.4 million rifles, 1.3 million handguns and 800,000 shotguns. Firearms are purchased and kept by around 20 million people for hunting. Another 20 million own firearms for target shooting and nearly 30 million folks have firearms for self-defense or home protection. Three million more Americans own firearms because they enjoy collecting them.

Interestingly, the main reason given in the Police Foundation report for not owning a firearm is affordability, not safety issues or anti-gun sentiment. This same report states that around one-third of adults who currently do not own a firearm would consider getting one if their financial situation would allow it.

John R. Lott Jr., in his book "The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong," looks into the reasons why many people fear guns. Lott is an economist without an agenda in the firearms ownership debate. He looked at private gun ownership from the perspective of costs versus benefits and made logical conclusions from his research. Because of his scholastic and scientific status and approach to this study, his findings and conclusions, while "politically incorrect," have been impossible to impeach.

Lott found that the benefits of private firearms ownership far outweigh the costs. For instance, he found that guns were used defensively about two million times a year, more than four times more frequently than the rate guns were used in crimes. He also found that most people have never heard or read about such defensive firearms use because of the major bias against guns in the television and large press media.

Bad news sells, so the news media would much rather report a story about a murder or robbery where a gun was used, rather than a story where a homeowner used a firearm to scare off a burglar. A child being shot by another child is a guaranteed headline story. The media are concerned that running a story where a gun is used in a positive manner might encourage people to obtain a firearm.

Media ignorance about firearms and the constant reporting of the negative use of guns are the major reasons why people fear guns.

Howard Delo is a retired fisheries biologist living in Big Lake. Send your comments and ideas to editor@frontiersman.com, or call (907) 352-2268 and leave a message for Howard.

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Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper