John Lott

More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, 3rd Ed, by John R. Lott

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  1. Finished this book, recommended to me by a gun-loving friend and colleague of mine.

    I tried hard – and succeeded, I dare think – to maintain an open mind throughout the book, looking up references where needed, etc.

    I can see why Lott thinks that more guns equals less crime, but I think he has missed the mark, so to speak. And reading reviews of his work, I see now that I am not alone, as his work has been largely and roundly criticized by other experts in the field.

    Basically, he claims, as the title suggests, that the more guns we have in society the more criminals will be deterred.

    I see several problems with the book. To name just a few:

    1) Poor references. For instance, he claims that concealed handguns are more cost-effective at reducing crime and that they provide a higher return than law enforcement, incarceration, other private security devices, or social programs like early educational intervention, but then cites a largely irrelevant article on an empirical analysis of Lojack (Kindle Locations 1958-1960). Lojack is a good analogy for concealed handguns, but the reference here seems out of place.

    2) In many places he seems to ignore data that contradicts his position. For example, in his discussion on mass shootings (Kindle location 1715), he does not even mention the famously successful case of the Australian gun buy-back and related reforms following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. As noted by Hopkins researchers,

    “Overall, Australia’s reforms have proved a resounding success. We have not had another mass shooting since 1996, and the firearms mortality rate today is 1/100,000—less than half what it was then (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012), and one tenth the current United States rate. This dramatic improvement in public safety has not stopped the United States gun lobby from misrepresenting the Australian experience as part of its campaign against firearm regulation. A National Rifle Association (NRA) infomercial video produced in 2000 claims crime rates have skyrocketed and Australia is overrun by criminals as a result of the reforms. The misinformation was so outrageous that our Attorney General took the unusual step of writing a letter of complaint to Charlton Heston, then president of the NRA.”Bloomberg, Michael R. Reducing Gun Violence in America [Kindle Locations 3887-3893]. Johns Hopkins University Press.)

    Similarly, more recent data have been published showing decreases in mass shootings both in Australia after the 1996 National Firearms Agreement and in the USA after the 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapon Ban, but with an increase after the ban expired in 2004 (https://doi.org/10.1108/JCRPP-05-2015-0013).

    3) In several places he drastically overstates, such as stating that concealed-handgun laws “virtually eliminated mass public shootings” (Kindle location 1947).

    4) He claims to be cautious not to confuse association with causality, but when it suits his bias, he talks of associations as if they are causalities. For example, observing a decrease in murder rates for a given local and time period, which is associated with concealed-handgun laws, he seems to assume that the decrease in murder rates are caused by the concealed-handgun laws, as if murders go and look up the number of permits listed and then decide whether not to commit murder, which seems a little absurd to me.

    5) And perhaps most damningly, Lott has been accused, rightfully and not vengefully it seems, of academic dishonesty. As reported by the admittedly liberal publication Mother Jones (but citing the highly reputable academic journal Science):

    “Earlier this year, Lott found himself facing serious criticism of his professional ethics. Pressed by critics, he failed to produce evidence of the existence of a survey — which supposedly found that ‘98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack’ — that he claimed to have conducted in the second edition of ‘More Guns, Less Crime’. Lott then made matters even worse by posing as a former student, ‘Mary Rosh,’ and using the alias to attack his critics and defend his work online. When an Internet blogger exposed the ruse, the scientific community was outraged. Lott had created a ‘false identity for a scholar,’ charged Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy. ‘In most circles, this goes down as fraud.’”
    https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2003/10/double-barreled-double-standards/

    Indeed subsequent to his widely publicized work, other independent investigators reanalyzed his data and found that the deterrent effect he reported was due in part or whole to unmeasured variables. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147667)

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