A total ban on the private possession of handguns is the ultimate goal of a Washington lobby called the National Coalition to Ban Handguns. Unlike some other gun control measures, a ban lacks popular support; only one-sixth to one-third of the citizenry favors such a measure.
Handgun-ban proponents sometimes maintain that handguns have no utility except to kill people. The statement is patently wrong and typical of how little the prohibitionists understand the activities they condemn. Although self-defense is the leading reason for handgun purchases, about one-sixth of handgun owners bought their gun primarily for target shooting, and one-seventh bought the gun primarily as part of a gun collection. In addition, hunters frequently carry handguns as a sidearms to use against snakes or to hunt game. Cost-benefit analysis hardly offers a persuasive case for a ban. One recent study indicates that handguns are used in roughly 645,000 self-defense actions each year--a rate of once every 48 seconds. (As noted above, most defensive uses simply involving brandishing the gun.) The number of self-defense uses is at least equal to, and probably more than, the number of times handguns are used in a crime. Most homicides (between 50 and 84 percent) occur in circumstances where a long gun could easily be substituted. Besides, sawing off a shotgun and secreting it under a coat is simple. Many modern submachine guns are only 11 to 13 inches long, and an M-1 carbine can be modified to become completely concealable. Since long guns are so much deadlier than handguns, an effective handgun ban would result in at least some criminals switching to sawed-off shotguns and rifles, perhaps increasing fatalities from gun crimes. In the Wright and Rossi prisoner survey, 75 percent of "handgun predators" said they would switch to sawed-off shoulder weapons if handguns were unavailable. If families had to give up handguns and replaced them with long guns, fatalities from gun accidents certainly would increase. Since handguns have replaced long guns as a home defense weapon over the last 50 years, the firearm accident fatality rate has declined. The overwhelming majority of accidental gun deaths are from long guns. Handguns are also much better suited for self-defense, especially in the home, than are long guns, which are more difficult to use in a confined setting. Rifle bullets are apt to penetrate their intended target and keep on going through a wall, injuring someone in an adjacent apartment. Further, the powerful recoil of long guns makes them difficult for women, frail people, or the elderly to shoot accurately. Lastly, a robber or assailant has a much better chance of eventual recovery if he is shot with a handgun rather than a long gun.