John Lott Talks About Guns And Gets It Wrong – Again.

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My eye caught an op-ed the other in The Hill which is so rife with claims that are simply untruthful or wrong that I just needed to punch out a quick reply. And since I write about guns and I’m saying that someone else who writes about guns is saying things which aren’t accurate or true, obviously I’m talking about my good buddy, John Lott.

 

lott

John Lott

John has been on this kick for several years about how Democrats discriminate against minorities because they support the idea that big-city residents have difficulty getting licenses to purchase and/or carry guns.  It may come as a shock to John who lives in a nice, suburban town that is 85% white, but in fact the majority of city-dwellers throughout the United States happen to be white. They also happen to be middle class, so for John to say that excessive gun license fees show that Democrats (who usually support higher gun fees) discriminate against minorities and the poor is simply a typical example of how he often gets it wrong.

But what really grabbed my attention was his statement about the concealed-carry licensing procedure in Texas, which he claims has ‘more stringent mandatory training requirements’ than many other states. I’ll let you in on a little secret – I don’t believe that John Lott actually owns a gun. Or if he does own one, I can tell you that it’s been sitting on some shelf in a closet because this is a guy who talks about guns using verbiage that makes no sense.

First of all, Texas doesn’t have a ‘mandatory training requirement;’ in fact, the Lone Star State doesn’t have any training requirement at all. Nor for that matter does any other state. What Texas has is a one-time proficiency test which must be conducted as part of the licensing process and basically requires that the applicant prove that he or she has the ability to hit the broad side of a barn; in this case the barn being a B-27 target, which is the standard torso target used by most law enforcement agencies when the officers go to the range.

The proficiency test is based on a total score derived from where 50 rounds hit the target – the closer to the center of the target, the higher the score.  Some of the shooting is also timed with the shooter having to discharge the gun with several seconds allowed for each shot. A passing grade is 175 out of a maximum of 250 and the shooting is done at distances of 3, 7 and 15 yards.

This test is about as stringent as the diet I went on last night before I sat down to watch a Netflix movie with a big bowl of ice cream. First of all, the shooter doesn’t have to first pull the gun out of a holster so the timed shoots begin with the first shot. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall seeing anyone even in an open-carry state walking down the street with his gun pointed in front of him waiting for a target to appear. And the minimum passing score can be met by only hitting the outside target ring which in real life would mean that the bullet wouldn’t strike anyone’s body at all.

In other words, the proficiency test for getting a carry-concealed license in Texas is bullsh*t.  It’s a joke. Not only doesn’t the test show whether someone can shoot a gun accurately, but it doesn’t replicate to any degree a situation which might occur if someone actually had to use the damn gun.

John Lott has been promoting armed citizens as the first line of defense against crime for twenty years. Buffoons like Ted Nugent may take his research seriously, but when it comes to concealed-carry from a practical point of view, anyone who thinks that the Texas licensing process validates that someone knows how to use a gun for self-defense better hope they never need to use their gun for anything but fun.

It’s Not The ‘Gun Lobby’ That Wants To End Gun Regulations – It’s The Gun Owners Themselves.

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The Chicago Tribune has just published an op-ed by Fermin DeBrabender, who wrote a provocative book (Do Guns Make Us Free?) arguing that gun ownership actually reduces freedom by restricting the degree to which citizens will engage in open, political discourse when members of the audience show up toting guns.  In his Tribune piece, Professor DeBrabender makes the argument that the gun industry is facing a “market crisis” due to the collapse of demand since the election of #45 and is responding to this crisis by promoting all kinds of laws and legalisms – open carry, campus carry, permitless carry – that will “make owning and carrying a gun more common, more normal, more ingrained in our culture and everyday life.”

dealers              This is hardly a new thesis and the gun industry’s promotion of the ‘normalization’ of toting around a gun long precedes the collapse of retail sales since the replacement of anti-gun Obama and the appearance of pro-gun Trump.  But to ascribe the easing of gun restrictions to some kind of evil hand belonging to some nefarious entity known as the ‘gun lobby’ is to obscure what I believe is a necessary understanding of what gun ownership in America is really all about.

The truth is that there isn’t a gun ‘lobby’ if what we mean is the existence and activity of some kind of organized, institutionalized effort to support or promote the aims of the gun industry wherever guns are sold. Yes, the NRA has a lobbying arm known as NRA-ILA, which promotes and coordinates pro-gun legislative initiatives both in individual states as well as with the feds. There are also independent pro-gun groups in many states whose members will show up at a public hearing whenever a gun law is being discussed. And make no mistake, these groups are well-funded, they are active and they claim to be able to sway elections with their pro-gun votes.

Except if you look carefully at the history of pro-gun legislation, particularly its spread since the late 1970’s when the first wave of laws liberalizing concealed-carry began to appear, you will note that, again and again, these laws have changed the legal landscape much more in states owned politically by the GOP; gee – what a surprise considering the fact that gun owners, in the main, tend to vote red.  There are still 9 states where the issuance of permits to carry a gun are dependent upon the discretionary judgement of law enforcement officials – every one of those states happens to contain a majority of residents who usually vote blue.

What Professor DeBrabender has overlooked (and I mean no criticism of his otherwise-excellent op-ed in this regard) is that much, if not most of the impetus for liberalizing or discarding gun regulations comes not from the top, so to speak, but from the bottom; i.e., the basic attitudes on the part of gun owners themselves. When the NRA refers to gun owners as ‘law-abiding’ citizens, this may be the one statement they make which is absolutely true.  Most gun owners are law-abiding because otherwise you can’t buy or even own a gun. And guns are the only consumer product which can only be sold to legally-qualified consumers, you don’t need to pass a background check to buy a car.

Every time I go into a gun shop I’m made instantly aware of the fact that just my presence in that shop carries with it the necessity that I must follow various laws. And every weekend when tens of thousands of people visit gun shows they are all equally cognizant of the fact that their legal status is a verifiable issue if they walk up to a dealer’s table to purchase a gun. The existence of 40 million legal gun owners is a much more potent force for doing away with gun regulations than any strategy employed by the ‘gun lobby,’ and talking with those gun owners about gun violence should go hand-in-hand with worrying about whether the gun industry will sell more guns.

Do Armed Citizens Protect Us From Crime? The Cops Don’t Think So.

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If you want to check out one of the truly great internet marketing scams, take a look at the website of the Concealed Carry Association of America, an outfit started by a guy named Tim Schmidt who developed something called ‘tribal marketing’ which entices people to join (and spend money) on websites promoting the idea that membership is a very special kind of thing.  And what’s more special than believing you’re fulfilling God’s work by walking around armed? Tim’s CCAA website gets a membership ‘retention’ rate three times’ longer than the average membership website, and the longer the members hang around, the more they’ll spend.

tombstone              And believe me, there’s plenty to buy, including books, videos, clothing, gifts and novelty items, and all sorts of other stuff. Next month you can go down to Fort Worth and enjoy a fun-filled three days at the annual CCAA trade show, which includes a live-fire range where you can bang away with real guns and a guest appearance by none other than the prancing master, Colion Noir.

When I say that CCAA is a ‘scam,’ it’s not because you don’t get anything for your membership fee.  To the contrary, you get a slick magazine, a pretty decent personal liability insurance policy, a newsletter and, of course, a nice decal to stick on the window of your car. But no matter what CCAA gives you for joining, the real reason it’s a scam is because there’s simply no truth (as in none) that walking around with a gun makes you safe.  I didn’t say that you might be a little safer; I didn’t say there was a chance that carrying a gun made you safe, I said there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that you will be safe or safer if you carry a gun.

I know, I know, examples abound about all these armed citizens who pulled out a gun and chased the bad guy away. There’s only one little problem; all these armed citizens who engaged in what we call defense gun use (DGU) don’t really exist. Gun-nut Nation still cites Gary Kleck’s 1993 survey conducted which pegged yearly DGU’s at maybe 2 million and maybe more.  Funny, but the same folks who promote this survey never seem to mention the study Kleck published in 2004 where he couldn’t find any difference in outcomes for resisting crime by crime victims who didn’t use guns.

If you want to attempt a serious and honest look at whether guns keep us all that safe, I suggest you take a look at the article just published by Julie Mack, who interviewed law enforcement officials in Michigan’s 15 most populated counties asking them whether they knew of any DGUs in their jurisdictions, and “most officials could not cite a single incident in their jurisdiction within the past 12 months.” Now this doesn’t mean that the cops are necessarily opposed to concealed carry (CCW); in fact Detroit’s chief, James Craig, is an outspoken and ardent supporter both of CCW and of Donald Trump. But being in favor of CCW  and knowing that an armed citizen prevented a crime just aren’t the same.

Undaunted by their inability to actually validate the ‘widespread’ occurrence of DGUs, Gun-nut Nation has fallen back on the notion that the increase in CCW licenses, estimated at roughly 14 million nationwide, has been a significant factor in the continued decline of violent crime. Once again, the research shows that this rationale for spreading the gospel of concealed-carry simply isn’t true.

Want to play cowboy, walk around with a gun and pretend you’re in Dodge City, you go right ahead. But Dodge City experienced, at best, two murders each year and Dodge City banned guns in the 1870s, a law that was strictly enforced by lawmen like Wyatt Earp. I don’t know a single man, including myself, who didn’t have a Roy Rogers revolver when he was a kid. But I grew up and some of my Gun-nut friends might think of growing up too.

Why Do People Stop Owning Guns? A Possible Answer

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Sometimes surprises come from the funniest places, like a study of the relationship between religious belief and gun ownership which turns out to yield possible answers to one of the major points of disagreement in the gun-violence debate. But before we get to the big surprise, let’s spend some time looking at the basic findings of the study itself.  Published by David Yamane, a sociologist at Wake Forest who teaches an undergraduate course on the sociology of guns, this study attempts to create a ‘nuanced’ view of gun owners based on looking at gun ownership relative to religious belief and what Yamane refers to as various forms of religiosity, such as attendance at religious functions and strength of religious beliefs.

church             What Yamane claims to have discovered is that, contrary to what many people believe, evangelical Christians are no more likely to own guns than Catholics, Jews and people who profess no specific denominational orientation at all, although evangelicals are more oriented towards gun ownership than members of mainline Protestant denominations (Episcopalian, Methodist, et.al.) But when Yamane talks about gun ownership, it’s very important to understand that he defines a ‘gun’ only as a handgun, basing this choice on the fact that lately more and more Americans state that the primary reason they own a gun is for self-defense.

Yamane’s focus on handguns is an important nuance to inject into the gun debate because the motives that drive people to own handguns, by definition, will be different than the reasons why people own and use long guns whose design and function basically fit the requirements for hunting and sport. And I wish that more gun scholars would follow Yamane’s lead in this respect and nuance their own research to take into account the differences involved  in the ownership of handguns as opposed to the general ownership of guns.

On the other hand, Yamane has to be careful not to push his nuanced methodology too far.  Because as he admits, most gun owners own multiple guns, and the fact that they consider their primary reason for currently owning guns to be self-defense doesn’t mean that they aren’t also buying and using long guns for hunting and sport.  So the fact that someone decides to own a self-defense gun because he doesn’t trust the government to keep him safe, still leaves open the question as to why that same person owns other types of guns. Which makes correlating the reasons for gun ownership with other social or cultural factors a bit more difficult to do.

But let’s leave those issues aside and get to the big surprise which awaits the reader if he/she can wade through the sociological jargon which permeates sections of the text. Yamane states at the outset that gun owners tend to live in rural areas, the South and the Great Plains/Mountain West. But he notes that when these folks move out of those places, the only population which retains the same or higher rate of gun ownership are former residents of rural zones. But what he doesn’t tell us (perhaps the data simply doesn’t exist,) is where these ‘out-migrants’ go to live, because with the exception of former rural dwellers, folks who leave the South or the Midwest and Great Plains show a significant decline in their ownership of guns.

This is a very important finding and may represent a great gift to the gun violence prevention (GVP) community because a major proposition of the gun-control crowd, fiercely contested by the other side, is that more laws help curb gun violence. So if the ‘out-migrants’ caught in Yamane’s data become less involved with guns after they leave the places where they were born and grew up, does this perhaps mean that they are moving into areas which have greater regulation of guns?

The fact is that most states with strong gun regulations also tend to be states with lower per-capita ownership of guns. But which came first – the lack of guns or the tough gun laws?  Too bad the answer to that question still isn’t known.

Why Do Some People Commit Gun Violence But Most People Don’t?

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Over the next couple of news cycles, no doubt gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates will be engaged in an intense discussion about whether Trump’s SCOTUS nominee will help open the floodgates for more pro-gun legal decisions.  But with all due respect to concerns and fears about whether the Age of Trump will see a further tilting of the legal landscape in favor of the NRA, I would suggest that perhaps there is a much more pressing issue which GVP needs to address.

urban             If the preliminary numbers turn out to be correct, 2016 will have seen a significant uptick in gun violence, and so far 2017 promises to be more of the same. And while there is certainly some kind of correlation between the existence of legal gun controls and gun violence levels, the truth is that we still do not know why more than 120,000 Americans pick up a gun, point it at themselves or someone else and pull the trigger each year.  Theories may abound, but the reality is that we just don’t know.  So how you do come up with an effective strategy in response to a problem when you cannot say with any degree of certainty that you know why the problem exists?

And don’t make the mistake of following the CDC in this respect and begin by making some kind of distinction between intentional gun injuries on the one hand, and unintentional gun injuries on the other. Because the people who commit intentional gun injuries (males, ages 15 to 35) also happen to be the people who shoot themselves or other accidentally with a gun. To paraphrase Walter Mosley, if you put your hand on a gun, it’s going to go off sooner or later.

But what’s interesting is that gun violence, as serious and scary as it may be to those either directly or indirectly involved, is still, statistically speaking, a rare event.  Last year over one million people were arrested for trying to really injure another person, what is called aggravated assault.  In less than 6% of those attacks, the attacker used a gun. How come the other 95% didn’t use a gun?  And don’t tell me they couldn’t get their hands on a gun.  And even though people who commit suicides use a gun in half those successful attempts, what about the other half?  After all, using a gun to end your life is really about the only way you can guarantee to really get the job done.

Virtually all of our knowledge about the how and why of gun violence comes from public health research which, notwithstanding the lack of funding, continues to appear.  But virtually all the research, in keeping with public health methodology, attempts to create an epidemiology of gun violence; i.e., figuring out how to respond to the injury by figuring out where, when and how it occurs.  Which tells us a lot about who gets shot, but tells us next to nothing about the shooters themselves.  Which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that as I said above, the 115,000+ gun injuries that occur each year are, for the most part, rare events.

To which the immediate objection is that maybe on an overall basis gun violence is an infrequent event, but in certain neighborhoods it’s as frequent and common as the veritable slice of apple pie. Except that even in the worst, most violent-ridden neighborhood say, West Chi, most crimes of violence are committed without the use of a gun.

So where does this leave us when it comes to figuring out a strategy for reducing gun violence? To be sure, if Judge Gorsuch is a threat he deserves to be opposed and condemned.  But when it comes to ending gun carnage, he’s not the elephant sitting in the living room.  The elephant is what we still don’t know about why people pick up guns to hurt themselves or someone else, and we need to figure that one out.

Jeff Sessions May Believe That Longer Sentences Curb Gun Violence But He’s Wrong.

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The moment that the 45th President nominated Jeff Sessions to be the People’s Lawyer, everyone on both sides of the gun debate began to shout out. The NRA posted television ads saying that “our nation’s chief law enforcement officer will work tirelessly to defend our rights while protecting us from violent criminals.”  As to the former, Sessions was an outspoken champion of the 2005 PLCAA federal law immunizing gun makers from tort suits; regarding the latter, he is known to be ‘tough on crime,’ in particular violent crimes caused by a gun.

sessions             Sessions is one of a number of public officials who has been fervently impressed by a gun-control initiative in Richmond, VA known as Project Exile, which mandated lengthy federal prison time for anyone convicted of a gun crime in a city whose gun violence rates in the early 1990s ranked it as one of the most violent urban centers in the entire United States. In 1997, when the program first began, Richmond experienced 140 homicides, or an annual rate of 73!  In 1998 homicides dropped by 36%, and continued to dwindle down over the next few years.

The good news is that by 2005, homicides in Richmond dropped to 84, then to 76 in 2006 and to 31 in 2008.  From 1997 until 2010, more than 1,300 people were convicted of gun crimes and received prison sentences which totaled more than 8,000 years, for an average prison stay of more than 6 years per crime.  No wonder Tough Guy Trump has praised Project Exile, but in all fairness the program was strongly supported by a Richmond City Councillor named Tim Kaine.  The program was also supported by folks in the GVP community, including the Brady Campaign, then known as Handgun Control, Inc.

There were also some dissenting voices, most notably from various Gun-nut groups like saveourguns.com, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and, of course, Larry Pratt.  And lost in the rhetoric were complaints from federal judges who heard these cases and claimed they were an ‘overreach’ of federal authority, along with the charge that the program was inherently racist and led to over-incarceration of black defendants who always end up as the chief victims of any over-zealous response to crime.

Like most special law-enforcement initiatives that cost extra dough, Project Exile petered out in the mid-2000s after funding was cut by Congressional Republicans in 2003.  But meanwhile, homicides in Richmond remained well below levels recorded before Project Exile went into effect in 1997-98.  That is to say, until this past year.  In 2016, the final murder number may end up at 60, the highest since 2007, and this would bring the annual murder rate back up to 30, which puts the former capital of the Confederacy back in the high end of gun-violence cities big time.

Nobody really knows for sure how come gun killings in Richmond have suddenly spiked last year, just as nobody really knows how come they dropped so significantly twenty years ago.

Back in 2002 several noted public policy and gun researchers, Steve Raphael and Jens Ludwig, published an assessment of Project Exile for Brookings, and decided that the “reduction in Richmond’s gun homicide rates surrounding the implementation of Project Exile was not unusual and that almost all of the observed decrease probably would have occurred even in the absence of the program.”  Why did Raphael and Ludwig come to this conclusion? Because the same drop in violent crime occurred at roughly the same time in many cities which didn’t have any special anti-violence programs running at all.

Trying to figure out why America experienced a 50% decline in violent crime from the mid-90s until the mid-years of the following decade has become an academic cottage industry, without any real consensus as to the cause. Senator Sessions may believe that getting ‘tough’ is an effective to what has now become a new upwards spike in gun violence, but it won’t work until and unless we figure out why sometimes violent crime goes up and other times goes down.  The solution hasn’t yet been found.

Why Do Americans Stand Their Ground? Because The Law Says We Can.

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Last September I reviewed Caroline Light’s book, Stand Your Ground, and said it was a must-read.  The book is now about to be published, so I thought I would go back and discuss what I didn’t cover in my previous review.  Last time I discussed the major theme of the book, which is how and why America departed from the British, common-law tradition of retreating in the face of a direct threat and replaced it with laws which basically sanction the use of homicidal force in just about any kind of direct confrontation that might occur.  And what’s the most efficient way to respond to a real or imagined threat? We all know the answer to that.

laws           This time, however, I want to look at the issue which is somewhat tangential to Professor Light’s primary concern, but nevertheless must be addressed. At the same time that states began passing SYG laws, they also began easing restrictions on the ability of citizens to walk around with guns, two legal developments that are promoted vigorously by Gun-nut Nation, and which may set the legislative gun agenda on Capitol Hill in the Age of Trump.

For SYG and CCW the argument in favor goes like this: gun-owners are extremely law-abiding, people with concealed-carry permits even more so, bad guys will always try to avoid a criminal situation where their victim might be armed, hence, the armed citizen protects society from crime.  The NRA has been peddling this formula for more than twenty years, they trot it out every time an act of gun violence occurs in places where citizens should be able to carry guns (schools, airports, etc.) and Trump vigorously promoted this nonsense at every opportunity during the campaign.

But what if it’s not nonsense?  What if the end result of people walking around with guns is no real increase in gun-violence?  In that case, what difference would it make if a bunch of children masquerading as adults want to pretend they can behave like citizen-protectors and use their guns to shoot the bad guys and reduce our risk of harm?  The problem is that the evidence on the value of people carrying guns and playing cops and robbers is ambiguous, if not wholly incorrect, but the counter-argument, that the presence of armed citizens increases the risk of gun violence is also not a proven fact.

On the pro-gun side we have, as always, the works of Gary Kleck and John Lott. On the basis of 221 completed telephone interviews, Kleck decided that armed citizens were responsible for preventing upwards of 2 million crimes each year. Kleck’s fantasy has been more or less consigned to the dustbin and replaced by John Lott’s statistical mish-mash which nobody else can validate or reproduce. He says that when the number of concealed-carry licenses goes up, violent crime goes down.  Lott could teach Donald Trump a few things about how to get caught in a lie and keep insisting it’s the truth.

For GVP, the evidence pointing to increased gun violence in SYG states is not entirely conclusive but it’s strong.  On the other hand, the argument that letting people walk around ‘strapped’ generates more gun violence is less clear.  The numbers of gun deaths committed by CCW-holders averages roughly 100 per year – that’s not even 1 percent of all gun homicides and in many states the toll is less than 1 per year.

I like Caroline Light’s book – concise, readable and the analysis of court decisions is very well done.  It’s too bad it will only be taken seriously by advocates on one side.  The other side is too busy awaiting the day that every single last, bothersome gun law will finally be put to bed.  But a funny thing seems to be happening in DC because more people may show up to rally against Trump than to celebrate his great day. And most of the folks who give Trump low marks so far happen to be people who aren’t enamored of guns.  So we’ll see what we see.

 

 

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