I have just posted a detailed paper on SSRN with the above title and it is available for download right here. This paper is an attempt not to exonerate Lott for any of his shortcomings, nor to play devil’s advocate for what he says or writes, and certainly not to push some backdoor kind of support for his work. I have previously written about him and by just mentioning his name without adding the usual gun violence prevention (GVP) sobriquet like the ‘discredited’ or ‘dangerous’ John Lott I have been accused not only of being his partner, but also of being a secret mole for the NRA.
People who make comment like that without bothering to read what I actually have said about Lott’s work are doing their best to make sure that no common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners will ever exist. What? Am I saying that the GVP isn’t interested in finding ways to communicate with ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ policies to regulate guns? No. What I’m saying is that the gun-control community never refers to themselves as being ‘responsible;’ it’s always the other side which needs to meet some kind of responsibility test. And funny, when pro-GVP scholars ask gun owners what kinds of ‘reasonable’ public policies they would support, the list always seems to start and end with policies which reflect what GVP advocates feel should be supported, and never policies advocated by the other side.
This may come as a great shock to my GVP friends, but while there is clearly strong support among gun owners for background checks and the like, I’m willing to bet that if you asked the average gun owner what he’s doing to reduce gun violence, there’s a good chance he’ll tell you that he keeps a loaded handgun by his side. It may be kept at home, it may be dangling from his belt, but since more than 60% of Americans believe that a gun makes you safer than not having a gun, then the gun owner who tells you that the best way to protect yourself from violence is by owning a gun isn’t just whistling in the dark. And since guns are apparently found in only 40% of all American homes, this means that a lot of non-gun owners buy the ‘gun makes you safer’ line as well.
Lott’s an easy target because anyone who makes an occasional appearance on Fox or is interviewed by an AM talk-show jock is, by definition, an enemy of the folks who care about reducing the carnage America suffers from guns. But Lott has never (read: never) said anything about the extraordinary cultural shift which has moved us from 60% supporting a total handgun ban in 1960 to the current number which is below 25%. By the time Lott wrote his first paper, only one in three Americans supported a handgun ban, so Lott was able to capitalize on this shift in public opinion, but he didn’t make it up.
What we are looking at is an extraordinary case of cognitive dissonance in which the people who decide they need a gun to protect them, particularly if they want to walk around toting the damn thing, happen to be the people least likely to ever be victims of violent crime. Several years ago I was at a gun show in Lancaster, PA, which is a nice farming town about 60 miles due west of the Liberty Bell. Pennsylvania had just changed their right to carry (RTC) law from ‘may issue’ to ‘shall issue,’ and the sheriff’s office in Lancaster was overwhelmed with folks wanting to apply for their license to carry a gun. I happened to overhear several guys talking who had just spent four hours waiting on line, and when one of them laughed and said, “Well, there’s never any crime out here anyway,” the other responded in a very serious tone, “Yea, but they could come out from Philly. You never know.”
What my paper really talks about is what we need to understand about this cultural shift in attitudes towards guns and how we need to incorporate this shift into the public narrative promoted by the GVP. Because we can sit around all day and shoot verbal arrows at John Lott but so what? The bottom line is that too many Americans have decided that the only thing between them and mayhem is owning and carrying a gun. The fact that their decision results in more mayhem somehow escapes from being said.
And despite what you may think, you simply can’t blame that attitude on John Lott.