Attacking John Lott Doesn’t Explain Gun Violence.

              If there is one person more disliked than anyone by Gun-control Nation, that person has to be John Lott. His book, More Guns, Less Crime, is considered the single, most important reason behind Gun-nut Nation’s embrace of armed, self-defense, and his ongoing effort to eliminate gun-free zones provokes anger and negative reactions throughout gun-control land.is book, More Guns

              In fact, at least one noted gun-control researcher, Stanford’s John Donohue, has basically created an entire academic career based on articles critical of Lott. Not far behind Donahue is the chief of gun research at Harvard, David Hemenway, who has likewise published multiple denunciations of Lott’s work.

              I happen to believe that the attacks on Lott’s work reflect the failure of liberal social science to explain what is really the only issue in the entire gun debate which needs to be understood, namely, how is it that less than ten percent of the individuals who each year commit a serious act of violence against someone else commit this violence by using a gun? John Lott’s basic thesis, that criminals switch from face-to-face crimes (assault) to anonymous crimes (burglary) is an attempt to explain the behavior which lies behind at least three-quarters of all gun injuries. Have either Donahue or Hemenway ever attempted any explanation of this problem? They have not.

              I have two criticisms of Lott’s work. First, the idea that criminals switch from one type of crime to another type of crime assumes that one type (assault) is really no different from another type (burglary), and that criminals switch their modus operandi depending on how they perceive degrees of risk from different types of criminal behavior. This assumption flies in the face of everything we know about criminal behavior and to argue, a la Lott, that the issuance of concealed-carry licenses (CCW) creates a ‘substitution effect’ for burglary versus assault, is to misread the nature of how and why these very different types of crimes occur.

              Second, and more important is the fact that most of the perpetrators and victims of gun violence are individuals who share similar socio-economic circumstances and demographic profiles. Both groups are overwhelmingly minority males living in under-served neighborhoods who rarely, if ever qualify for concealed-carry licenses, an argument Lott has made in other works. If the average inner-city resident is more frequently armed than years ago, this simply cannot be explained with reference to the spread of CCW over the past forty years.

              For all the sturm und drang whipped up by Donohue, Hemenway and others about the pernicious impact of Lott’s research, I have yet to see one, single response to his work which even hints at the issues I have raised above. It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sit down, pull some numbers together and create a regression analysis model that will yield a result which aligns with your particular point of view. Want to argue, as Hemenway argues, that we have high rates of fatal gun injuries because we own so many guns? Use the number of guns as your independent variable to control against fatal gun injuries and the United States will wind up on top every, single time. Now the fact that we have absolutely no idea how many of those 300 million guns are in the hands of people who might use those guns to commit a violent crime, oh well, oh well, oh well.

              I think my friends in public health gun research need to stop confusing research with hot air. God knows we have enough of the latter on both sides of the gun debate; it’s the former where most of the necessary work remains totally undone. Gun injuries are the only injury tracked by the CDC where the person who is injured and the person who commits the injury are two different people at least seventy-five percent of the time. I’m still waiting for anyone in the public health research community to ask why this fundamental fact escapes their research.

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3 thoughts on “Attacking John Lott Doesn’t Explain Gun Violence.

  1. I think I pissed off Daniel Webster the other day when I said that people doing gun violence research need to keep their advocacy hats in the drawer. As you say, we need dispassionate and hard headed research that can falsify bad hypotheses and see which good ones survive rather than scientist-as-advocate leading to possible confirmation bias. That’s why James Hansen left NASA: so he could wear his advocate hat without a conflict of interest.

    • To be fair, Dr Webster works for the Bloomberg School, so he’s already a paid shill, and his lackluster science shows it. So I say let him stay, and just disregard any claims of unbiased science.

  2. I suspect the main reasons why most seriously violent crimes are not committed with guns is because at the time of the crime a gun wasn’t present and/or the perpetrator did not intend to kill their victim.

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