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Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Can You Trust Handgun Control, Inc.?

I got a new mailing last week, under the signature of Jim Brady, asking me to renew my Handgun Control membership.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

In his attempt to assassinate the President, John Hinckley — a man with a history of mental problems — had purchased a $29 Saturday Night Special handgun in Texas where no waiting period or background check is required for gun buyers. He used that gun to shoot the President, a secret service agent, a policeman and me.

Brady Bill Would Not Have Saved Jim Brady

Interesting that Brady doesn’t mention that Hinckley bought his gun months earlier, so that even if the Brady Bill had been in place, Hinckley still would have had plenty of time to buy his gun and attempt the assassination. Moreover, Hinckley’s mental problems would not have been discovered by any legally possible background check — instantaneous or combined with a waiting period — because of the constitutional guarantee of privacy which shields psychiatric patients.

Here’s another excerpt:

ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN — Machine guns, assault pistols and other rapid-fire weapons were designed for one thing: killing. They have no place on our streets or anywhere in our country. Yet, the NRA fights any proposed limits on these killing machines as a violation of “gun owner’s rights.”

Wow. Hard to believe there can be so many misstatements in three sentences. Let’s take it one piece at a time.

HCI: “Designed For One Thing: Killing.”

Since a gun is potentially lethal, it can be used to threaten lethality without having to kill. If the person threatening the lethality has criminal intent, the gun can be used to obtain a victim’s compliance for robbery, rape, or other extorted behavior. If the person threatening the lethality has a non-criminal intent, the gun can be used to obtain a criminal’s surrender before, during, or after a crime is attempted or committed.

In addition to killing, a gun can be used to produce a cone of shock force sufficient to incapacitate a person who would otherwise be able to deliver a lethal attack. This is technically called “stopping power,” and is the reason that police and others who obtain guns for non-criminal purposes prefer larger caliber, higher-power firearms, which can drop an attacker quickly. The intent of shooting an attacker is not to kill; it is to instantly incapacitate. With certain wounds sufficient to stop, however, the wound is sometimes also fatal. Nonetheless, the death of the attacker is a by-product of the force needed to stop a lethal attacker; the attacker’s death is not the intent of a defensive shooting.

Stopping Versus Killing

Stopping power and killing power are two different things. The “phasers on stun” of Star Trek illustrate effectively the concept of “stopping power at a distance” with a sufficiently advanced technology that there is a low mortality rate to the entity so stopped. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that fantasy world, where stopping without high risk of mortality is possible. In the real world, if a person is threatening lethal force and needs to be stopped from attacking, the only effective way to stop them quickly from a safe distance is to shoot them, usually at the center of body mass, with around 150 or more grains of metal. Handguns are optimized to do this: they are engineered to be “machines that stop lethal attackers before they can murder.”

That murderers misuse them to murder tells us no more about the engineered purposes of handguns than the fact that kitchen knives, icepicks, rat poison, baseball bats, and water can also be misused as implements of death.

A Gun Defined By Function, Rather Than Purpose

What is the function of a gun? It is to shoot something. An electron gun, for example, shoots electrons onto a plate so to emit photons and produce a visible image. This is called television.

The function of a firearm is to fire a projectile. The purposes to which that object may be put depend (a) on the qualities of design engineered into it and (b) the actual purposes to which it is put by the end-user.

For example, a baseball bat is designed to hit baseballs. That is its intended purpose by its designers and manufacturers. That may or may not be the purposes of the persons using it, depending on whether they are baseball players or rioters in South Central Los Angeles.

The Manufacturers’ Intended Purpose For The Guns They Make

The primary purpose of firearms designed and manufactured by Colt, or Smith & Wesson, or Glock, is entirely limited to end-users who wish them for defensive combat or threat of such against criminal attackers, or for sporting purposes. Firearms manufacturers are unhappy when their products are used by gangsters for drive-by shootings, or to rob the clerks of a 7-11, and if they knew a way to prevent criminals from getting their hands on them without depriving honest people from getting them also, they would encourage it.

Arms As The Empowerment Of The Citizenry

In addition to uses of defensive firearms in combat, firearms can also be used as part of the force necessary to secure the political sovereignty of the private citizen in a democracy.

The concept of liberty is that of a society organized on the basis of universal individual rights — rights which are equally held by every individual in that society.

What do we mean by a “right”? It is the moral authority to do something without needing prior permission from another to do it.

No matter what the institutions are of a given society, or what names they are called, the fundamental question is whether rights in that society are universally held by all the people, or whether they are reserved to those with the political power to get their own way.

Other Uses Of Arms

Firearms can be used to hunt animals, for the ecologically sound purpose of controlling their population so that they don’t breed themselves into greater numbers than can be supported by the food supply available to them, causing them slow death by starvation, or causing them to attack humans or domesticated pets to obtain food.

Firearms can also be used for target shooting, a sport which many enjoy as much as other hand-eye competitions, such as baseball, cricket, archery, golf, bowling, or video games.

So it is clearly demonstrable that guns have other purposes than killing. And, in fact, 99.4% of firearms are used for purposes other than killing.

I am not arguing that guns can’t kill. I am arguing against Handgun Control, Inc.’s contention that this is the only purpose to which they can be put. Guns, as inanimate objects, have no purposes of their own. To impute a purpose to them implies that they were engineered to perform a certain function by purposeful beings.

This is not an academic or trivial point. The rhetorical phrases ” … were designed for one thing: killing” and “killing machines” are misstatements with political purpose: to deny that guns have moral or otherwise lawful functions, particularly by others than police or armies.

So, when I point out that guns can threaten instead of killing, I am both describing a function to which they can be put and a lawful and moral purpose for which a person might wish to obtain them.

A Big Lie Told To Discredit One’s Opponent

Handgun Control, Inc.:

Machine guns, assault pistols and other rapid-fire weapons were designed for one thing: killing. They have no place on our streets or anywhere in our country. Yet, the NRA fights any proposed limits on these killing machines as a violation of ‘gun owner’s rights.’

The truth:

The self-loading, semi-automatic firearms that Handgun Control is trying to ban are not machine guns or machine pistols; they are handguns and rifles with firing capabilities no better than revolvers and hunting rifles in use for a century. Fully automatic machine guns have been illegal to own without a rare and expensive federal license since 1933, and no new licenses have been issued since 1986.

And the National Rifle Association of America and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, does not “fight any proposed limits on these killing machines as a violation of ‘gun owner’s rights'” because that particular battle was lost half a century ago.

In other words, Handgun Control is attempting to persuade its constituency that there is a danger from machine guns on the streets in order to mislead them into thinking that proposed legislation against “assault weapons” is needed, and that NRA is opposing it.

There is no such danger and the “assault weapons” legislation is not aimed at it: it is aimed at the self-loading single-shot-per-trigger-pull rifles, shotguns, and pistols which Americans have been owning for self- defense, recreation, and animal-population control for over a century. And lying about the existence of machine guns on the streets and charging that NRA is attempting to keep them there is a Big Lie that Hitler or Stalin would have used.

— February 9, 1993


Next in Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns is The Mark of Kane Is on Firearms Reporting

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