Why Laws that Ban Handguns but Allow Long Guns (shotguns/rifles) are Still Wrongful

I recently received an email from a gentleman who asserted that long guns (rifles/shotguns) are more effective for self defense than handguns, and that it therefore stands to reason that a handgun ban is reasonable so long as citizens are permitted to own long guns.  This is a viewpoint that I’ve heard before, espoused by those note that criminals use handguns more than any other type of gun, and believe that a handgun ban is therefore the appropriate governmental response.  For the reasons discussed below, banning handguns but permitting the ownership of long guns is neither reasonable nor constitutional, and would not solve the crime problem:

A Long gun is not a substitute for a hand gun

As a threshold matter, I will be the first to say that a long gun will almost always have more stopping power than a handgun – meaning that long guns have the potential to be much more effective than handguns for self defense purposes.  This is because shotguns and rifles tend to fire more power cartridges than those that can be fired by a handgun, and a long gun’s longer barrel generally allows the projectile to reach higher velocities than if fired from a handgun.  For example, a 12 ga. shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot is much more likely to stop a violent intruder than virtually any handgun cartridge.  Should an intruder break in during the night, I would much rather have my Remington 870 shotgun at hand, than, say, my Springfield XD handgun.

However, there are times when a handgun is the preferred self defense gun, or even the only viable option:

  • As a concealed carry permit holder, I carry a handgun for self defense.  The reason that I carry a handgun is because I can’t really conceal a shotgun or rifle as I go about my daily business.  Even if I could somehow conceal such large firearms on my person as I go grocery shopping or while I walk the dog, the weight of those guns would simply be too burdensome.  In short, for concealed carry to work, a handgun is pretty much required.
  • Long guns also tend to produce significantly more recoil than handgun.  For example, a 12 ga. shotgun may produce 10 time the recoil of a .40 S&W pistol.  As a male in his mid 20’s who stands over 6’2″ tall, I am quite capable of handling the recoil from my shotguns, and sort of enjoy the sensation of recoil energy transferring from the shotgun to my shoulder.  However, were an elderly woman with osteoporosis to fire my shotgun, she could easily end up with a broken shoulder.  Even those individuals who wouldn’t face a risk of immediate severe injury may find the recoil to be unpleasant – so much so that they may miss their target when firing in self defense, choose to not practice as often, or entirely forgo gun ownership as a result.
  • Another problem with a handgun ban is that those who are disabled, and only have the use of a single hand, may simply be incapable of aiming and firing a long gun.  This is because shotguns and rifles tend to require two hands, while handguns can generally be fired single-handedly.
  • The same concern about one-handed operation applies in to non-disabled individuals, who are faced with a situation where they need their other hand free (e.g. calling 911 with one hand and holding an intruder at gunpoint with the other hand).
  • For those who live in a home with narrow doorways and hallways, a long gun can be difficult to aim and maneuver with during a home defense situation.  A handgun, with its much shorter barrel and overall length, is easier to use under such circumstances.
  • The smaller size of a handgun makes it easier to safely store.  A gun safe suitable for a handgun can be had for well under $100, and can fit into a shoe box-sized area.  A safe for storing a long gun tends to cost many times more, and takes up considerably more space.
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Banning handguns is unconstitutional

As the Supreme Court made clear in D.C. v. Heller, the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms, including a handgun, for self defense purposes.  The Supreme Court noted that handguns are the most popular type of self defense gun (likely for the reasons discussed above), that the federal government lacks the power to deny law abiding citizens the right to have a handgun in their home for self defense purposes.  Hopefully, the Supreme Court will soon apply that same reasoning in the McDonald v. Chicago case, and similarly prevent state and local governments from denying law abiding citizens the right to have a handgun for self defense purposes.

Banning handguns doesn’t stop crime

While the wrongfulness and unconstitutionality of a handgun ban has been established, it is also worth noting that handgun bans don’t stop crime in the first place.  The city of Chicago has banned handguns for decades, yet has one of the highest murder rates of any American city, thanks to the criminals who ignore its handgun ban.  Washington, D.C., which banned handguns for decades, took turns with Chicago as the “murder capital” of the United States, thanks to its criminals who similarly ignored the handgun ban.  Even a national handgun ban wouldn’t change things, as we can see by looking to Britain: crime statistics show a 40% increase in handgun related crime in the first two years after the British banned handguns at the national level, and a doubling of gun-related crime in the following decade.

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This should come as no surprise, since criminals who are willing to commit murder will be willing to break any lesser law – including a gun ban.  Instead, criminals who want guns will buy them on the black market, steal them from police, or manufacture their own illegal guns.  The result is that the criminals are still armed, while their law-abiding victims are disarmed and defenseless.