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Gun Control:
It only seems like a good idea!

Read and see how a gun control advocate loses the debate

Perhaps you've debated a gun control advocate before. Then a lot of the questions and statements below might seem familiar to you. This is a very well documented set of factual answers to those typical questions, demonstrating that the Second Amendment Saves Lives.

This page was originally designed as an FAQ but evolved into a fantasy dialogue between a gun control advocate and me. Every answer I give causes the gun control advocate, whom I'll call "Bill," to essentially say, "OK, I'm drawing a line here, this far but no further." And then after I answer Bill again, he retreats and says, "OK, but now I'm drawing the line here," just a few feet closer to my position — gun control is dangerous but private ownership of firearms is a desirable benefit (even for Bill).

This page was produced by a team. I had research and writing assistance from Robert Flohr, who passed away suddenly on December 15, 2001 at the age of 36. A photo and tribute for Robert can be found by clicking here.

It's fun writing an argument where you win hands down. But my real hope is that you find this dialogue useful when you meet your next "Bill."

      Jim Babka
      President, American Liberty Foundation


Bill: Won't the police protect my loved ones and me? Isn't it sensible that the police should be the only ones to own and utilize firearms?

Me: U.S. Courts have ruled over and over again that the police have no legal obligation to protect individuals from harm, only the public in general.[1] Consider Warren v. D.C. in which the court affirmed, " . . .when a municipality or other government entity undertakes to furnish police services, it assumes a duty only to the public at large and not to individual members of the community."[2]

And of course the Court was using common sense. Think about it. There are approximately 654,600 officers employed to provide law enforcement services to approximately 265 million of the nation's inhabitants, an average of only 2.5 officers for every 1,000 individuals.[3] This statistic, of course, does not reflect the average number of officers actively deployed or on duty during a particular shift. So face it — self-defense is your job!

Bill: Don't we need more gun control laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals?

Me: Criminals by definition don't obey laws. Gun control only restricts law-abiding citizens from purchasing or owning a gun, increasing the odds that they too will be victims. People are much less likely to be victims if they are armed.

Bill: Guns are dangerous. I've heard that the safest response to an armed attacker is to simply do nothing.

Me: Perhaps in some situations that would be true. But criminologists have demonstrated that individuals use guns as often as 2.5 million times per year to protect themselves. In over 90% of these cases, the individual merely brandished their gun or fired a warning shot to scare off the attacker.[4]

For example, 3/5 of felons polled agreed that "a criminal is not going to mess around with a victim he knows is armed with a gun,"[5] and 74% of felons agreed that, "one reason burglars avoid houses when people are at home is that they fear being shot during the crime."

Women, in particular, need guns for safety. In 89.6% of violent crimes where women are the intended victims, the offender does not have a gun; and only 10% of rapists carry a gun.[6] So armed women have an advantage over their attackers.

Bill: It's not adult women that are in real danger — it's children. Guns in the home kill kids.

Me: Let's look at the statistics. Causes of death for children ages 0 — 14 in 1995, in order, were motor vehicle (3,059), drowning (1,060), fires & burns (833), mechanical suffocation (459), ingestion of food or object (213), and firearms (181).[7]

And accidental gun deaths among children declined by nearly 50% between 1970-1991, even though the population (and the gun supply) continued to expand.[8]

And notwithstanding the low quantity of firearm accidents among children (see above), most of these fatalities are not truly "accidents." According to Dr. Gary Kleck, many such accidents are misnamed — those "accidents" are probably from either suicides or extreme cases of child abuse.[9]

And it is a myth that one child (or more) is accidentally killed by a gun every day. To attain this number, anti-gun crusaders must include so-called "children" ages 18-24[10] or count minors who were "drive-by" shooting victims.

Bill: Ok, ok. Maybe I'd agree law-abiding citizens should be able to have guns in their homes, provided they keep a trigger lock on them.

Me: Holding handgun owners accountable for permitting a minor access to a loaded gun is reasonable. Dictating to them the kind of security gadget they are obligated to use is not.

A gun in the home is much more likely to save a life than to kill someone accidentally. Surveys indicate that guns are used for self-defense about 2 million times a year.[11]

However, a trigger lock makes a firearm less available in a crisis. Individuals owning guns need to consider a variety of issues, including neighborhood crime rates and the presence of young children, before determining how to store their weapons.

Bill: But if there were fewer guns, wouldn't there be less crime?

Me: That would fly in the face of the facts.

Between 1973 and 1992, the number of privately owned firearms in the United States increased 73 percent — from 122 million to nearly 222 million. The number of privately owned handguns increased by 110 percent, from 37 million to 78 million, and the rate of gun ownership increased by 45 percent. But during this same period, the national homicide rate fell by nearly 10 percent.

Moreover, areas with relatively high gun ownership rates tend to report relatively low violent crime rates, and vice versa.[12]

The most interesting example of this came in 1982 when Kennesaw, Georgia enacted a law compelling each head of household to possess at least one firearm. The residential burglary rate dropped 89% in Kennesaw, while the state of Georgia dropped 10.4% as a whole.[13]

Bill: Don't get me wrong, I think people should be allowed to own firearms, but only if they pass a background check.

Me: Background checks don't work. A Justice Department study of felons showed that 93% of firearm criminals obtained their most recent guns "off-the-record."[14] News accounts have shown that a small number of criminals obtain their guns through retail outlets but they use easily acquired fake IDs or use substitute buyers, known as "straw purchasers," to buy their weapons.[15]

Bill: Sure some people get around background checks, but the issue is really safety. Overall, aren't people safer with background checks?

Me: Again, no. Background checks create waiting periods and waiting periods put innocent people in greater danger. Here are a couple examples:

  • Bonnie Elmasri attempted to purchase a gun to defend herself from a husband who threatened to kill her on several occasions. However, when she went to buy a gun she was informed she'd have to wait two days to pick it up, because there was a mandatory 48 hour waiting period. The police were aware of her plight so Bonnie Elmasri crossed her fingers and hoped she'd be safe. The next day her husband killed her and her two sons.[16]

  • A USA Today account of the Los Angeles riots noted people rushing to the stores to buy guns to protect themselves. According to the account, many of these people were "lifelong gun-control advocates, running to buy an item they thought they'd never need." Ironically, they were outraged to discover they had to wait 15 days to buy a gun for self-defense.[17]

Bill: Those are rather extreme examples but they both could've been solved with "Instant" background checks. Even the National Rifle Association agrees with that, right?

Me: There are two more problems with background checks, even the instant kind.

First, background checks are the first step to eventual gun registration. In the mid-1960s officials in New York City began registering long guns. They promised they would never use such lists to take away firearms from honest citizens. But in 1991, the city banned (and soon began confiscating) many of those very guns.[18]

But there's other modern evidence of this phenomenon as well. In two separate instances the Justice Department has attempted to register gun owners.

In 1994 they gave a grant to the city of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to construct a complex gun database using data compiled from background check programs. Fortunately, this project was struck down in the courts.[19]

In 1996 the Justice Department distributed another computer program so that police officials could effortlessly (and unlawfully) build a registry of gun buyers. The program — called FIST — kept detailed information about gun purchases and specifications.[20]

Then the FBI, the principal investigative arm of the Justice Department, in the face of specific prohibitions in the Brady Law (which authorized these checks), announced in 1998 that it would begin keeping buyers' names on hand for six months. Originally they had planned on 18 months, but chose the shorter period in response to pressure from gun rights organizations.[21]

Background checks have turned into registration databases in California as well, without legislative authority to do so.[22] In fact, civil rights attorney and author David Kopel says that several states are doing exactly the same thing as the Justice Department and California have.[23]

By the way, the National Rifle Association doesn't speak for all gun rights advocates. You are correct in asserting that the NRA supports Instant Background Checks. They also are fond of saying, "We don't need any more gun control laws; instead we should enforce the 20,000 gun control laws on the books already." I'm not interested in enforcing 20,000 bad laws.

Bill: You've taken the extreme side of this issue; surely background check laws like Brady have done some good, haven't they?

Me: According to the federal government's General Accounting Office (GAO), the answer is a resounding, "No."

To start with, the Brady Law has denied firearms to thousands of individuals, with over fifty percent of the total denials coming as a result of administrative snafus, traffic violations, or reasons other than felony convictions.[24]

Also, during the first 18 months the Brady Law was implemented, there were only seven successful prosecutions for making false statements on Brady handgun purchase forms — and only three of those prosecuted were actually incarcerated.[25] Surely there are more than three violent criminals with handguns in the entire U.S.

Perhaps the reason there were only seven successful prosecutions is because criminals can easily evade the checks using straw purchasers — if they haven't already bought a gun off the street, or just stolen one.[26]

Bill: I suppose next you're going to say that federal background checks are unconstitutional, despite the fact that the Second Amendment was written 212 years ago when people needed single shot muskets to protect themselves from wild bears or to hunt for their dinner.

Me: You're right. Background checks are not constitutional! The Second Amendment protects an individual right.

As recently as 1982 a Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution confirmed this. "The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept, and wording of the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major commentator and court in the first half-century after its ratification, indicates that what is protected is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner."[27]

But the Supreme Court also asserts that rights should be free from prior restraints. In Near v. Minnesota the Court established that government officials should punish the abuse of a right, but could not place prior restraints on the free exercise of that right.[28]

Simply put, government cannot restrict a constitutional right just because someone may abuse it. Doing so would be like prohibiting the use of automobiles because some people are reckless or irresponsible with them.

If you really believe the Second Amendment is inappropriate for today's America, you should work to repeal it. The Constitution has been amended 27 times to reflect changing attitudes toward it. The remedy for an out-of-date provision is to amend the Constitution, not to ignore it.

Bill: You said that the Second Amendment is an individual right. But it really says the right to bear arms was for militia purposes. Last time I checked the National Guard had all the munitions and guns it needed. Individuals should stop hiding behind the Second Amendment because it doesn't apply to them.

Me: According to the report by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, "There can be little doubt from this that when the Congress and the people spoke of a 'militia,' they had reference to the traditional concept of the entire populace capable of bearing arms, and not to any formal groups such as what today is known as the National Guard."[29]

The Founding Fathers endorsed this view. George Mason said, "I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers."[30] Richard Henry Lee said, "To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them . . . The mind that aims at a select militia [like the National Guard], must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle."[31]

Bill: You can quote the Founding Fathers all you want; we don't need the Second Amendment today. We need to get with the times and repeal it.

Me: There is ample evidence in recent history of the need for an armed population. Mao, Stalin, and Hitler — all needed disarmed populations and all kept them that way. Castro still keeps his population disarmed. Tyrants need to know that their subjects have little or no ability to defend themselves. The Second Amendment is the final protector of all our other rights.

Bill: I still think that the ideal situation is if no one had guns, like in England. After all, gun control has worked elsewhere.

Me: A 1998 study organized by a British professor and an American statistician established that, for the most part, crime is now worse in England than in the U.S. According to a Reuters report summarizing the study, "You are more likely to be mugged in England than in the United States. The rate of robbery is 1.4 times higher in England and Wales than in the United States, and the British burglary rate is nearly double America's."[32] According to that same study, "the difference between the [murder rates in the] two countries has narrowed over the past 16 years."[33]

And the data continues to roll in. An August 2001 story in USA Today reported that, "criminal use of handguns in Britain has increased by almost 40 percent in three years, according to a report by the Center for Defense Studies at King's College" and "armed robberies involving handguns have increased dramatically in recent years." The story went on to point out that, "Although the 'bobby' on the beat still patrols unarmed, specially trained armed response units of each police force are being called out more often. The number of incidents in which armed officers have responded has increased two-fold — from about 6,000 in 1994 to 12,000 in recent years."[34]

Hardly anyone mentions that other countries with much tougher gun bans (i.e., Brazil and Russia) have murder rates that are four times those of the U.S.[35] Australia, which banned almost all guns following the tragic multiple shooting in Tasmania (1996), has seen armed robberies increase by 73%, unarmed robberies increase by 28%, assaults by 17%, and kidnappings increase by 38%.[36]

Finally, a burglar is far less likely to break into your house when you're home if you live in an area where some civilians own firearms, because the burglar has no way of knowing which civilians have firearms. The percentage in Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, of burglaries occurring with the homeowner present, is 45% (average of all three). But in the United States, it's 12.7%.[37]

Bill, you're safer when there are more guns around. And you're safer yet when "Concealed Carry" laws are passed, giving citizens the ability to carry firearms in public places.

Bill: If we allow people to carry concealed guns in public places, the United States will become like the chaotic days of the Wild West, with shootouts all over the place. Surely you aren't going to argue everyone should be able to carry a gun in public?

Me: Yale Law professor John Lott has compiled the most extensive research on this subject to date. He published his findings in a well-documented book called, More Guns, Less Crime. No book on either side of the issue is as thorough in its documentation.

According to Lott, if states that didn't have concealed-carry laws had actually had them in 1992, there would have been at least 1,140 fewer murders, 3,700 fewer rapes, 60,400 fewer aggravated assaults, and 10,990 fewer robberies — all based on state and county government crime reports.[38]

Bill: All the points you make are really good, but you have to admit it's a good thing the government has banned semi-automatic "assault weapons."

Me: What is an assault weapon? Semi-automatic assault rifles are virtually identical to the semi-automatic hunting rifles, many of which have been on the market since World War II. Basically, the difference is one looks more "military." And the expression "assault weapon" is a misnomer anyway because a true assault weapon is capable of flipping back and forth between semi-automatic and automatic with the flick of a switch. Also 10, 20, and 30 round magazines have existed for hunting rifles for decades.[39]

The rifles in question didn't appear to be posing any real threat when they were banned. In 1993 the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that violent criminals use a "military-type gun" only in about 1% of crimes nationally.[40] In Chicago, crime statistics indicated that someone was 67 times more likely to be stabbed or beaten to death than to be shot by an assault weapon.[41]

But assault rifles are excellent for self-defense. Korean merchants protected themselves during the Los Angeles riots with guns that are now banned as assault weapons. Their stores were left standing while others were burned to the ground.[42] Certainly there are situations where more than six bullets are necessary to protect and defend oneself.

A report by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution goes further. It says, "In the Militia Act of 1792, the second Congress defined 'militia of the United States' to include almost every adult male in the United States. These persons were obligated by law to possess a [military style] firearm and a minimum supply of ammunition and military equipment."[43] I think that speaks for itself.

Bill: You really know your stuff. I'm going to have to re-think my position.


[1]John D. Brophy, "Public Safety: Fact or Fiction," members.aol.com/copcrimes/brophy.html.

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[2]Warren v. District of Columbia, D.C. App., 444 A. 2d 1 (1981).

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[3]Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Crime in the United States (1998)," p. 291.

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[4]Gary Kleck & Marc Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun," The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law (Fall 1995), vol. 1, pp. 173, 185. (Specific issue is not online.)

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[5]U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, "The Armed Criminal in America: A Survey of Incarcerated Felons," Research Report (July 1985), p. 27. See also DaveKopel.org/2A/LawRev/LawyersGunsBurglars.htm.

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[6]Don B. Kates, Jr., Guns, Murders, and the Constitution: A Realistic Assessment of Gun Control (1990), p. 29, citing U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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[7]National Safety Council, Accident Facts: 1998 Edition, pp. 10-11, 18.

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[8]David B. Kopel (ed.), Guns: Who Should Have Them? (1995), p. 311.

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[9]Gary Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1991), pp. 271, 276.

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[10]Gary Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1991), pp. 276-277.

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[11]American Liberty Foundation, "Supporting the Claim of the 'Intruder' Ad."

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[12]Daniel D. Polsby & Dennis Brennen, "Taking Aim at Gun Control," Heartland Executive Summary (1995), Heartland.org/studies/polsby-sum.htm.

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[13]Gary Kleck, "Crime Control Through the Private Use of Armed Force," Social Problems (February 1988), vol. 35, p. 15. See also www.FBI.gov/ucr/cius_00/00crime6.pdf (350k PDF file).

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[14]Department of Justice, "Survey of Incarcerated Felons," p. 36.

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[15]Pierre Thomas, "In the Line of Fire: The Straw Purchase Scam," The Washington Post, August 18, 1991. See also Pierre Thomas, "Va. Driver's License is Loophole for Guns: Fake Addresses Used in No-Wait Sales," The Washington Post, January 20, 1992.

See also "Straw Guns Linked to Crime" (OregonLive.com/news/00/01/st011601.html) and ATF Crime Gun Trace (ATF.treas.gov/firearms/ycgii/1999html/ycgii/index.htm)

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[16]Congressional Record, May 8, 1991, pp. H2859, H2862.

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[17]Jonathan T. Lovitt, "Survival for the armed," USA Today, May 4, 1992. (Not online; may be purchased from USA Today)

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[18]Local Law 78 of 1991, signed by Mayor David Dinkins on August 16, 1991.

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[19]Bureau of Justice Assistance, Grant Manager's Memorandum, Pt. 1, Project Summary, September 30, 1994, Project Number: 94-DD-CX-0166.

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[20]Copy of "FIST" (Firearms Inquiry Statistical Tracking) software at GOA headquarters, Springfield, Virginia. See also Pennsylvania Sportsman's News, (October/November 1996).

The default on the "FIST" computer software is for police officials to indefinitely retain the information on gun owners — despite the fact that the Brady law only allows officials to retain the data for 20 days. One wonders who will ensure that this information will be deleted after the twentieth day.

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[21]National Instant Criminal Background Check System Regulation, Federal Register, vol. 63, num. 210, p. 58311 (October 30, 1998).

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[22]David Kopel, Policy Review 36 (Winter 1993), p. 36.

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[23]David Kopel (ed.), Guns: Who Should Have Them? (1995), p. 88.

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[24]General Accounting Office, "Gun Control: Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence prevention Act," January 1996, pp. 39-40, 64-65. (Report is unavailable online but may be ordered from the GAO.) See also "The Brady Scam" (CivilLiberty.about.com/library/weekly/aa062998.htm?terms=Brady)

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[25]General Accounting Office, "Gun Control: Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence prevention Act," January 1996, p. 8. (Report is unavailable online but may be ordered from the GAO.)

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[26]General Accounting Office, "Gun Control: Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence prevention Act," January 1996, p. 4. (Report is unavailable online but may be ordered from the GAO.)

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[27]U.S. Senate, "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms," Report on the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary (1982), p. 12. See also AmericanSelfDefense.com/gunfacts3.0.pdf (423k PDF file).

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[28]Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, 51 S. Ct. 625, 75 L. Ed. 1357 (1931).

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[29]U.S. Senate, "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms," Report on the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary (1982), p. 7.

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[30]Johnathan Elliot (ed.), The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, vol. 3, p. 425.

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[31]Richard H. Lee (?), "Letter from the Federal Farmer," Poughkeepsie Country Journal, Letter XVIII, January 25, 1788.

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[32]"Most Crime Worse in England Than US, Study Says," Reuters, October 11, 1998. See also Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and Wales, 1981-96," (October 1998)

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[33]Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and Wales, 1981-96," (October 1998) p. 116:iii.

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[34]Ellen Hale, "British Fear Rise of 'Gun Culture'," USA Today, August 7, 2001.

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[35]John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control (2000; second edition), p. 241.

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[36]Australia Bureau of Statistics, as cited in More Guns, Less Crime.

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[37]Gary Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1991), p. 140.

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[38]Gary Kleck, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1991), p. 54.

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[39]Officer William R. McGrath, "An Open Letter to American Politicians," The Police Marksman, (May/June 1989), p. 19.

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[40]U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991," (March 1993), p. 18.

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[41]Matt L. Rodriguez, Superintendent of Police for the City of Chicago, 1993 Murder Analysis, p. 12-13.

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[42]"Koreans make armed stand to protect shops from looters," Roanoke Times & World News.

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[43]U.S. Senate, "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms," Report on the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary (1982), p. 7.

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