Over the last 50 years, no American has ever used a legally owned automatic rifle in a violent crime. And the use of illegal automatic rifles by violent criminals is close to nonexistent.
TV shows such as Miami Vice have created a myth that America's streets are teaming with criminals carrying military hardware. Gun-control advocates have exploited this myth, calling for bans on semi-automatic "assault weapons," which are also rarely used in crimes. (Unlike machine guns, semi-automatic guns fire one shot per trigger pull.)
Economist Morgan O. Reynolds unmasks this myth and 15 others in "Myths About Gun Control," a survey of the scientific literature about gun use released by the National Center for Policy Analysis. Reynolds also refutes the belief that guns are of little help in defending against criminals. Americans use guns for self-protection about 1 million times a year, simply brandishing the weapon or firing a warning shot in 98 percent of the cases. A survey of convicted felons found that they are more worried about armed victims than about the police.
That same survey found that a majority of prisoners had owned a handgun prior to their incarceration, but fewer than one in six of these guns had been purchased from a retail dealer. Three-fourths of the felons said they would have no trouble obtaining a weapon after their release, despite legal prohibitions.
Moreover, the weapons they obtain aren't likely to be the cheap "Saturday night specials" targeted by gun-control lobbyists. Inexpensive handguns are used in only 1 percent to 3 percent of all violent crimes.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Hits and Myths".