SALT LAKE CITY — The debate over gun control never seems to die down. In early March, the issue received national attention when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives proposed and then rescinded an ammunition ban. In Utah’s recently completed legislative session, the Senate passed a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Gov. Gary Herbert pledged to veto it.
Unfortunately, misinformation often clouds the debate. Here are facts that contradict six of the more common inaccuracies
Armor-piercing is misleading
In early 2015, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives proposed a ban on “green tip” ammunition. The justification for the ban was that this type of ammo can pierce law enforcement body armor. The bureau withdrew the proposal in March after a public backlash.
According to a National Institute of Justice report, virtually all modern rifle bullets can penetrate the body armor typically issued to police departments. Police agencies use body armor that will protect “against both the street threat and the officer’s handgun.” Protecting against rifle fire would require heavy, bulky and costly military grade body armor — something that simply isn’t practical for most police officers.
Semi-automatic is not the same as automatic
Semi-automatic weapons have a gas-action mechanical system that reloads the weapon after each shot until the magazine is empty. While this action is sometimes used for military-style rifles, it is also commonly used for hunting rifles, shotguns, handguns and target rifles. Howstuffworks.com explains that semi-automatic weapons fire a single bullet each time the trigger is pulled. Double-action revolvers do as well.
In contrast, automatic weapons are not common, even though television crime shows make it appear as though criminals have ready access to them. According to the Violence Policy Center, “A machine gun is a military weapon capable of fully automatic fire. That is, the weapon continues to fire until it runs out of ammunition, so long as the trigger is pulled down. In the United States and elsewhere around the world, these weapons are likely to only be found on a battlefield.”
Assault rifles are not necessarily high powered
The most popular assault-style rifles in the United States resemble the M16 used by the U.S. military since 1963. It fires a .223 caliber bullet. That military connection likely accounts for much of the popularity of civilian semi-automatic versions.
In World War II and the Korean War, the U.S. military provided troops with rifles that fired a 30.06 round. Not coincidently, the 30.06 became a very popular round and a vast array of civilian rifles use the 30.06 cartridge. Layne Simpson, a field editor for Shooting Times, wrote that the 30.06 is “number one in sales among all big-game cartridges with the major ammunition manufacturers.”
The energy or power of a bullet comes from a combination of weight and velocity. According to ballistics tables from ammunition maker Hornady, a .223 bullet weighing 68 grains leaves the muzzle at almost 3,000 feet per second and produces 1,323 foot pounds of energy. At 400 yards, the energy has dropped to 600 pounds. By comparison, a 165-grain bullet from a 30.06 also leaves the muzzle at almost 3,000 feet per second; however, the bigger bullet generates more than 3,100 pound of energy and still has more than 1,700 pounds of energy at 400 yards.
Because of its lower power, the .223 caliber is not commonly used for hunting big game animals like deer or elk. According to a state-by-state listing from thefirearmsforum.com, some states ban the .223 cartridge for hunting large animals. Utah regulations on hunting big game allow hunters to use “any rifle firing centerfire cartridges and expanding bullets.” However, most Utah hunters opt for larger calibers and more power.
Military.com describes the .223 round as “an extremely adaptable cartridge for any kind of small game.”
High-capacity magazines are reasonable
In 1993, Congress passed a federal assault weapons ban that prohibited magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammo. That provision expired in 2004, although some states, counties and cities still ban such magazines. A popular argument against high-capacity magazines is that no one needs that much firepower for hunting or for self defense.
Unfortunately, criminals often travel in packs. In March 2015, the Chicago Police Department warned residents about a series of robberies in the Hyde Park area. In these attacks and two other nearby incidents, “between two and three black male attackers, aged between 19 and 22 years old, came up to victims and demanded their property,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Surely 10 rounds is not overkill for someone potentially fending off three or more criminals. In February 2015, the San Francisco Bay News reported that “several armed males tried to force their way into the  caller’s home, also occupied by a female and two children.” A gun battle ensued and the suspects were arrested after one of the men sought treatment at a local hospital for a gunshot wound.
News articles often show that attacks on one individual by multiple armed assailants are fairly common.
A gun does not equal a marksman
Hollywood makes difficult shooting feats seem routine. Having a high-powered rifle with a scope is no guarantee that a shooter will be accurate, just as having the very best golf clubs doesn’t make someone a great golfer.
Handguns are especially inaccurate. Massad Ayoob is a world-renowned shooting instructor who has written more than 1,000 articles about firearms and self defense. He wrote that “the handgun is the most difficult of firearms to shoot well. There’s less to hang on to. There’s a shorter radius between the front and rear sight than with a rifle, meaning a greater unnoticed human error factor in aiming.”
Without training and practice, most people could not hit a large watermelon at five yards with a handgun. In a tense situation with a racing heart and surging adrenaline, someone with extensive experience and skill would still have a hard time hitting that watermelon at 10 yards.
Concealed carry permit holders commit fewer gun crimes than police
In response to a February New York Times editorial, political columnist and economist, John Lott Jr. reported that in Texas in 2012 (the last year for which data was available,) the rate of misdemeanors and felonies committed by concealed carry permits holders was six times less than by police officers.
“Firearms violations among police occur at a rate of 6.9 per 100,000 officers. For permit holders in Florida, it is only 0.31 per 100,000. Most of these violations were for trivial offenses, such as forgetting to carry one’s permit. The data are similar in other states,” Lott wrote in the article.
Obviously, simple legal possession of a firearm is not an inducement to commit crime.
There is no doubt that gun regulations will continue to stir heated debate, but resolving important issues will be easier when common misconceptions are clarified.
This picture shows a 30.06 cartridge on the left, compared to a .223 caliber cartridge. The 30.06 was the U.S. military round during World War II. The .223 is the current military cartridge. On the right is a shotgun shell loaded with buckshot.
In the images below, on the left at a shooting school in Nevada, a student is firing an automatic weapon under the supervision of an instructor. Automatic weapons continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed.
In the image at right, the person is firing a semi-automatic handgun. Semi-auto weapons fire a single round each time the trigger is pulled. The empty shell casing self ejects (see spent rounds above the weapon) and loads the next round in the magazine.