Survey of Police
in Lehigh and Northampton Counties
Pennsylvania October 1997
Survey Response Rate: 56%
by Stephen L. Christopoulos
The idea for doing a survey of local police officers on the subject of firearms ownership and safety grew out of a discussion between Jim Carlisle of the Allentown Health Bureau and myself in the early summer of 1997. We both agreed that such an undertaking could prove to be both interesting and insightful. My personal motivation was curiosity.
I began researching the subject area by searching the Internet sites of groups on both sides of the issue including Handgun Control Inc, National Rifle Association, The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, Gun Owners of America, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Pacific Centre for Violence Prevention, Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership, Washington Ceasefire, and The Lawyers Second Amendment Foundation.
Searching through these organizations' material uncovered several major themes that I decided should be explored in the survey instrument including questions of opinion and of fact. My Internet search also turned up three previously conducted police surveys on the same general subject which provided a starting point for developing the questionnaire.
The table should be used as follows:
Question 8a shows 86% of responses were True while 14% were False. Look in the row labeled "Percentages near 10 or 90". The allowance is 2.0%, which means that the responses to question 8a are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Therefore, it is highly probable (95 times out of 100) that the average of repeated sampling would be somewhere between 84% to 88% True and 12% to 16% False, with the most likely figures being the 86% True and 14% False that are reported here. The questions for which there were four possible responses (Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree, Strongly Disagree) in the questionnaire can make use of this table by combining the two possible Agree responses and the two possible Disagree responses. For example, combining the responses in Question 1 results in 37.4% Agree and 62.6% Disagree. The table shows the allowance to be 3.3%. Therefore, the Agree range is from 34.1% to 40.7% and the Disagree range is from 59.3% to 65.9%.
Initial Results of Firearm Ownership and Safety Survey
There were three questions (8, 9, 38) that tested factual knowledge. The correct answers are shown below along with a brief explanation.
8. Under current law:
a.government officials decide what types of ammunition are legal -- True
The director of the BATF recommends to the Secretary of the Treasury those types of ammunition that should or should not be legally sold or owned. GCA 68 §925(d)(3);(e)(2)
b.every prospective firearm owner has to prove he or she is law abiding -- True
A person wishing to purchase a firearm must fill out Federal Form 4473 thus affirming their ability to lawfully purchase the firearm. The dealer from whom the firearm is to be purchased must accept this affidavit as proof that the individual is law abiding. GCA 68 §922(a)(6);§924(a)(1)
c.firearms dealers have to record sales of firearms on behalf of the federal government -- True
Federal Form 4473 must be filled out for each firearm sold. It records the purchaser's name, address, telephone, date of birth, and driver's license number (most common form of ID to confirm purchaser's identity). These forms must be kept for government inspection upon demand. In the event that the dealer goes out of business, all of his Form 4473's must be sent to the BATF. GCA 68 §178.124(a)
d.unelected civil servants have the power to decide what kinds of firearms may be lawfully owned -- True
The director of the BATF recommends to the Secretary of the Treasury those types of firearms that should or should not be legally sold or owned. GCA 68 §925(d)(3);(e)(2)
9. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA 68):
a.outlaws civilian possession of machineguns -- False
Any civilian who passes an FBI background check and pays the required $200 tax to the U.S. Treasury Department may own a fully automatic machinegun. Prior to the 1934 National Firearms Act, no background check or tax payment was required for a civilian to own a machinegun.
b.is modeled after the Nazi Weapons Law of 1938 -- True
According to Torrence Stephens Ph.D. Emory University, Senator Tom Dodd of Connecticut was a senior member of the Nuremburg war trials staff in 1945-46. During this time he came into possession of a copy of the original German text of the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938 which he later had translated into English by the Library of Congress. In a memo dated 12 Jul 68 Lewis Coffin of the Library of Congress wrote to Senator Dodd, "In compliance with your request and with reference to several telephone conversations between Miss Frank of your office and Mr. Fred Karpf, European Law Division, we are enclosing herewith a translation of the Law on Weapons of March 18, 1938, prepared by Dr. William Solyom-Fekete of that Division, as well as the Xerox copy of the original German text which you supplied." As the main sponsor of what was to become the GCA 68, Dodd incorporated the general concepts and many of the sections from the Nazi law nearly word for word into his legislation.
c.introduced the concept of "sporting purpose" as a way of classifying firearms -- True
GCA 68 introduced but did not define the classification known as "sporting purpose" which is a direct translation of "Sport-zwecke" in the Nazi Weapons Law. It is up to the Secretary of the Treasury through the BATF to arbitrarily decide which firearms fulfill the unspecified requirements for "sporting purpose". Under current law, only firearms that have been declared to have a legitimate sporting purpose may be sold to civilians.
38.The rifles commonly referred to as assault weapons and which were banned as part of the 1994 Crime Bill:
a. are fully automatic machine guns -- False
b. are single shot, self loading firearms -- True
According to BATF, the nineteen firearms banned from sales to civilians were all semi-automatic and not easily convertible to full automatic. These firearms fired one shot only with each pull of the trigger (single shot) and as a result of the bullet being fired, the mechanical action of the firearm caused another cartridge to be loaded into the chamber (self loading). In contrast, a machine gun will continue to fire for as long as the trigger is depressed.
c. are most commonly used by criminals in the commission of crimes -- False
According to the FBI and numerous reports by metropolitan police departments around the country, the firearms most commonly used in the commission of crimes are handguns.
d. use cartridges best suited for hunting small game such as gophers -- T/F
Of the nineteen firearms banned under the 1994 Crime Bill, only two fired cartridges larger than the 7.62x39mm used in the AK-47. The remaining seventeen firearms used cartridges smaller than the 7.62x39mm, the most common being the .223 Remington. Attempting to address popular misconceptions regarding the purported deadliness of assault rifles, Col. Martin L. Fackler, MD, the director of the U.S. Army Wound Ballistics Research Laboratory wrote: "Many AK-47 shots will pass through the body causing no greater damage than that produced by non-expanding handgun bullets." The .223 Remington cartridge is commonly referred to as a varmint cartridge i.e. used to hunt small animals such as ground hogs, prairie dogs, and gophers which are regarded as pests by many farmers and ranchers.
e. are standard issue infantry weapons in the military forces of many nations -- False
Most of the banned firearms were rifles that looked like military weapons on the outside but were common semi- automatics on the inside. Unlike the banned firearms, military rifles are capable of fully automatic firing, i.e. they are machine guns. No modern nation equips its military forces with single shot, self-loading rifles. Rather, they are equipped with true assault rifles that are capable of fully automatic fire with the flick of a selector switch. For example, the M-16 is the standard issue rifle of the American military. It is capable of firing semi-automatically, fully automatically, and some versions of it fire three round bursts. The AR-15 which was banned for civilian sale under the Crime Bill looks like an M-16 but is only capable of semi-automatic firing.
There were three other questions (32, 33, 34) that dealt with the meaning of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Since the Supreme Court has not ruled on a Second Amendment case, many believe there is no correct or incorrect answer to these questions. Not being an expert on Constitutional issues, I contacted The Constitution Society via the Internet who describe themselves as "a private non-profit organization dedicated to research and public education on the principles of constitutional republican government."
Their answers to these three questions follow without going into the philosophical discussions that accompanied them:
32.The United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution:
a.protect a citizen's right to hunt -- False
b.protect the state of Pennsylvania's right to create an organized military force -- True
c.protect a citizen's right to own firearms for the purpose of maintaining a peaceful and free society -- True
d.protect the right of the federal & state governments to regulate the possession of firearms among its citizens -- True
33.Current federal and state law infringes on the right of the people to keep and bear arms. -- True
34.The United States Bill of Rights:
a.contains a list of privileges granted by the government to the people -- False
b.protects the rights of the people from encroachment by the government -- True
In addition, my Internet search uncovered many dozens of articles from law review journals which dealt with the subject of the Second Amendment. Dr. Edgar Suter MD reports that "[o]f the 11 peer reviewed articles claiming the Second Amendment is a collective states' right, 5 are by employees of Handgun Control, Inc. or the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence and 3 are students. Of the 51 peer-reviewed articles noting that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right of the people to keep and bear arms, 4 are by attorneys employed by the National Rifle Association. Excluding students and employees of lobbying organizations then, 47 support the individual right view and 3 support the collective right view."
Seventeen questionnaires had comments written on them by the respondents. In the interest of full disclosure these comments are included below. In some instances, due to poor grammar or spelling, the comments have been edited to make them more easily read.
Respondent 39 - In response to question 28 this officer indicated that proper training is necessary to insure that armed civilians do not pose more of a risk to themselves than to criminals.
Respondent 69 - This officer indicated that civilians who want to legally own machineguns must obtain the appropriate Class license.
Respondent 142 - This officer typed the following at the end of the questionnaire: "Your survey questions appear to have bee[n] written with a NRA background worded in a manner that any one for gun control is un American. Questions not answered were left blank because there was no absolute answer. GET A JOB......"
Respondent 145 - In response to questions 36 and 37 this officer indicated he would only participate in house to house searches if there was an appropriate warrant issued.
Respondent 158 - This officer did not answer questions 9a, 9c, 32b, 36, 37 instead he placed "?" marks beside them indicating his lack of knowledge. In response to question 25 this officer wrote "depends who" in the margin.
Respondent 160 - This officer also put "?" marks next to questions 36 and 37.
Respondent 189 - This officer wrote many comments throughout the questionnaire. Next to 8b he wrote "background check", next to 17 he wrote "except duty weapon - secured but not available", next to 26 he wrote "under most circumstances", next to 28 he wrote "vague question unable to properly answer -2 questions", next to 29d he wrote "read 2nd Amendment", next to 30d he wrote "if those guns turned in were not properly secured", next to 32c & 32d he wrote "ambiguous questions -interpretation?", next to 33 he wrote "could lead to this", and next to 42 he wrote "if the gunowner is properly trained in safety -use of force".
Respondent 239 - At the bottom of the third page below question 34 this officer wrote "JUST KEEP THE LAWYERS AWAY FROM IT & INTERPRET IT THE WAY IT WAS WRITTEN!".
Respondent 243 - In response to questions 36 and 37 this officer wrote "If ordered I'd have no choice in the matter?".
Respondent 268 - Under question 34a this officer wrote "They are given by God, not the Gov't!".
Respondent 287 - Next to question 17 he wrote "Just put it out of view", he modified the words gun ownership in question 27 with the word "legal", under question 28 he wrote "If they are not ready to properly use said firearm & it [is] taken away from them by the 'Bad Guy'", and in response to questions 34c and 34d he indicates that the Bill of Rights is not an outdated document.
Respondent 293 - This officer wrote many comments throughout the questionnaire. Next to 6 he wrote "the[y're] criminals", under 28 he wrote "A responsible civilian gun owner is educated in the firearm he owns +/or carries", under 29d he wrote "one reason 200+ years ago, the colonists believed so!", he replaced the word "privileges" in 34a with the word "rights", in response to 36 and 37 he wrote "tricky question" and "only with a valid 4th Amendment search warrant", and at the end of the questionnaire he wrote " Steve: Very interesting survey - good luck. You should ask for a follow up written answer on some of these questions. You might find out that many cops are very pro-Constitution + very rights opinionated; opposite of the way the media portrays them".
Respondent 304 - This officer crossed out a typo in question 24 and wrote the following at the end of the questionnaire: "China has the right idea. Only the police and the military have guns and there is very little gun related crime/accidents!"
Respondent 348 - This officer put his name and telephone number on the questionnaire and challenged me to "debate some issues". He wrote several paragraphs addressing his perception that the questionnaire was worded in such a way as to elicit a specific set of responses. In his words "they are negative form questions." He also wrote "Criminals do not own legally received weapons. They steal them & then use them for a purpose." He also asked "Is this survey another tactic to support the N.R.A.?" At the end of the questionnaire he had some advice "You should ask questions [such as] why do we have the increases in crime today - attitudes, drugs, culture, etc.?"
Respondent 349 - This officer was in the same police department as respondent 348. At the end of the questionnaire he wrote "Your survey results are going to be seriously skewed because of the wording of a majority of your questions. I think you would be a hell of a lot more responsible if you had asked questions about hand guns as opposed to 'long' guns and/or 'assault weapons'."
Respondent 367 - This officer wrote "NO WAY" next to questions 36 and 37.
Respondent 371 - This officer had no knowledge of GCA 68 in questions 9a, 9b, 9c. At the bottom of page one he wrote in response to questions 9 and 10 "Ask me what I think about these laws if in fact they are laws and I'll tell you what I think about them."
Surprisingly to me, a great many of the chiefs to whom I spoke and those few officers I came in contact with when I picked up the completed surveys expressed great support for my project. There were many comments to the effect that it was about time someone asked them what they thought about the issues. The general feeling was that the media took the easy way out by asking these kinds of questions only of the big police organizations such as the national union leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police or the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
Stephen L. Christopoulos, MHA