The discussions concerning firearm ownership and gun rights can be an intimidating and confusing quagmire of half-truths, myths, and pseudo-factoids masquerading as good information. Newspapers and online forums are filled with bad advice that rubs shoulders with informed opinion. Here I present the top 7 most infamous gun myths, and why they are total balderdash.
1. You are four times as likely to be killed with your own gun
This particular untruth has been around for what feels like forever, and a few years ago it took a no small amount of digging by Richard Best to trace its origins. Back in the mists of time GFSA, everyone’s favourite four-letter-word, commissioned Anthony Altbeker to do a piece of research for them. The conclusion of his work was probably not what they had hoped it to be – “the methodology of the study militates against drawing the conclusion that armed victims are much more likely to lose their weapons than to use them successfully.” Despite the facts being what they are, the inconvenient truth did not stop GFSA from fabricating this deceitful soundbite and shoehorning it into every newspaper, radio, and television interview they could. In a nutshell: you are more likely to successfully defend yourself with your firearm than have it used against you. You have now seen the real research, so don’t let anybody try and convince you otherwise.
2. If your stolen gun was there, so were you
This is not so much a myth as it is a blatant piece of propaganda. Accusing innocent people, who had their lawfully-owned property stolen by criminals, for being complicit in the commission of crimes is repulsive. We do not blame women who choose to wear short skirts for being raped, and we do not blame the owners of stolen vehicles when terrorist use their cars to run people over: we blame the perpetrators. Victim blaming is reprehensible and abhorrent, and I do not think I need to explain why.
3. Hollow point ammunition is illegal
The punters of this statement usually try to reinforce it with misinterpreted evidence. Firstly, the Geneva Convention deals with, among other things, how prisoners of war should be treated: it has nothing to say about what ammunition may not be used. Secondly, the Hague Convention does prescribe allowed ammunition types, but it is only applicable to the armed forces of its signatories, and even then is only in effect during times of war. Neither of these conventions are remotely relevant concerning what self-defence ammunition civilians are allowed to carry in their firearms. Members of the SAPS are only allowed to use issued ammunition in their service weapons, and seeing as that they are not equipped with hollow point cartridges there appears to be some sort of confusion about the legality of the ammunition among some of them. Hollow point ammunition, even the now-defunct Black Talon stuff, is perfectly legal: nowhere in the Firearms Control Act is it prohibited. If you can buy it in a gun shop, it obviously has to be legal.
4. You only need 5 rounds for self-defence
A special type of braai-fire expert is usually guilty of uttering this one. Anyone who deems it necessary to carry more than 5-or-so rounds of ammunition in their SD gun is a “Rambo”. Of course a five-round limit is enough, until the day it isn’t. The majority of people who carry firearms for protection do so as a last resort insurance policy: if you need to use a firearm to defend yourself, you are already in a very undesirable situation. It does not make sense to hamstring your chances of survival by not carrying sufficient ammunition to see yourself through an already statistically unlikely event, and it is an incontestable fact that capacity does matter. This does not imply that you should be carrying a belt-fed machine gun – carrying one or two spare magazines is a reasonable compromise. In the event of an ammunition or magazine malfunction, having a spare magazine on your person can literally mean the difference between life or death. Saying that you will only need 5 rounds of ammunition, is a little like saying that the number of lifeboats aboard the Titanic was completely adequate.
5. If you don’t fire a warning shot, you will be in trouble
This myth is so pervasive that I recently published two articles talking about it – here and here. There is no legal requirement for you to first fire a warning shot before defending yourself by use of lethal force – if you reasonably perceive your life, or that of another innocent party, to be in imminent danger, you may use lethal force to neutralise the threat. In fact, warning shots can be dangerous and have unwanted consequences: you are responsible for where the bullet you fire comes to rest. If your warning shot ricochets and strikes an innocent person, or damages property, you will be held fully accountable. Also, if you have time to contemplate firing a warning shot while under attack, that is time you can spend far more constructively by doing other things.
6. Carrying 1-up is dangerous
There are a handful of pistols that are unsafe to carry with a round chambered: Norincos, Tokarevs, and the SIG P320. Still, there is an odd coven of empty-chamber-carry apologists who stalk South African gun fora and social media groups. They come up with some pretty weird and wonderful reasons as to why carrying your defensive handgun with the chamber empty is the desirable way to go. This blog has already discussed the demerits of this line of reasoning ad nauseam – here, here, here, and here. I will deal with it in summary. No acclaimed defensive instructor teaches this method, and most of them do not even talk about it (they assume their prospective students are intelligent enough to understand why it is a stupid idea), although Rob Pincus did a very short video about why it makes no sense to him. It is not safer, it is not faster, and it gives you zero benefit or advantage to carry this way. I know of at least one person who was shot and killed in front of their family because they couldn’t get a round chambered in time during a house robbery. If you do not feel comfortable carrying your firearm the way it is designed to be, then seek more training to rectify the problem.
7. .38 Special snub-nosed revolvers are perfect for women
Snubbies were great in the 1980s – they were compact, reasonably idiot-proof, kind of reliable, and shot a relatively respectable cartridge (at the time). They are also incredibly difficult to reload with any sort of speed, have horrible double-action triggers, are limited to only a 5-shot capacity, have completely inadequate sights, and the terminal ballistics of the cartridge is subpar by modern standards. When they malfunction, you can bet it will take considerably more than tap-rack-assess to fix what is wrong. It takes no small amount of skill to shoot and reload a revolver competently – far more than it requires to achieve with a modern pistol. Yet there appears to be no shortage of men (ironically) who firmly believe that snubbies are simply ideal for women. I have already dealt with the dubious nature of this argument, especially the assertion that women aren’t strong enough to rack a pistol’s slide. With wonderful little slim-frame handguns such as the Glock 43 and Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (which shoot a proper 9mm Parabellum cartridge) being available on the market, there really is no reason to recommend snub-nosed revolvers to women anymore. In fact, there is no reason at all why women shouldn’t just decide for themselves what they want to carry and shoot. And I am sure they will agree with me.