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 Just Gun Sales That Matter, It’s The Argument Behind The Guns.

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The FBI just released its figures for NICS background checks processed in March, and the number of background checks for gun transactions, as opposed to gun licenses, has swung slightly back up.  This information, of course, has unleashed paroxysms of joy in Gun-nut Nation, because everyone has been saying that gun sales will continue to slip during the Age of Trump. Now one month’s sales don’t really tell you all that much, particularly since I suspect that many of those sales represented consumers taking advantage of price cuts by gun retailers who have to move unsold inventory off their shelves.

 

lott

John Lott

To me, the much more important impact of the Trump election is not the impact on sales, but the degree to which his pro-gun stance alters the basic narrative about the value and importance of guns. Because let’s not forget that the NRA and the other purveyors of guns as the all-American item of choice were able to promote gun sales primarily by arguing, with some degree of truthfulness by the way, that a guy like Obama in the White House meant that guns might be taken away.  And the same argument was used against Hillary’s Presidential bid and the same arguments about alleged ‘threats’ to 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ have been used to spur gun sales over the last twenty or thirty years.

But now the NRA is hoisted by its own petard, because you can accuse the Trump administration of all kinds of things, but one of the things you can’t accuse them of being is against guns. And just today our friends at The Trace posted a quick analysis of the views of incoming Justice Department attorneys, and all of them are decidedly (and somewhat stupidly) very pro-gun.

A secondary theme supporting the idea of a gun in every garage is the notion that we need all the protection we can get in an age when terrorists can penetrate the country as quickly as a new strain of the flu, and can or will mount deadly attacks wherever and whenever they please. But this argument also falls flat in the face of constant bromides from Herr Trump about how he’s going to keep us all safe. After all, if the new, tough Trump government is going all-out to protect us from harm, how can one argue that we should be concerned about personal protection at all?

So if the pro-gun narrative that preceded Trump is no longer working, what happens to the people and organizations whose mission is to spread that narrative every chance they get? I’m thinking, for example, about the fortunes of my good friend John Lott, whose books and lectures on the value of guns to protect us from violent crime has made him a visible media personality on shock-jock radio and FOX.

John runs something called the Crime Prevention Research Center, basically a home-grown website devoted to spreading his version of gun information far and wide. Actually, the site is an advertisement for his media appearances and public speeches; the truth is that John is an advocate much more than a researcher – I don’t recall the last time he actually published peer-reviewed research unless the definition of ‘research’ includes any time that someone opens their mouth.

The website and John’s advocacy activities are funded by donations from loyal supporters but the revenue levels recently haven’t done so well.  In 2013 the CPRC brought in $218,106, the following year donations zoomed upwards to $310,839, and then they dropped in 2015 to $166,736.  I don’t see the 2016 numbers but I did see an interesting comment from those idiots Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership site, who quoted an email fundraising appeal from Lott: “Unfortunately, the CPRC is literally almost out of money.  Donations have fallen off dramatically since the election.”

Gee, what a surprise. Gun-nut Nation doesn’t have to worry about losing their toys so support for pro-gun noisemakers like Lott immediately dry up. Will the same situation also begin to impact the NRA?

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.

 

 

Now Here’s A Sheriff Who Really Knows His Law.

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There’s a little town in the middle of Indiana called Goshen which is the birthplace of the great Hollywood movie director, Howard Hawks, but will now become famous as the residence of America’s most intelligent, perceptive and downright stupid champion of the 2nd Amendment, namely, Brad Rogers, who happens to be the Sheriff in Goshen and recently opined at length in a local newspaper about the importance of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

rogers              The editorial begins with a question about whether safe storage laws should be required for everyone in Indiana who owns a gun.  And Rogers demonstrates his profound knowledge of Constitutional law by stating, “The elephant in the room is the government making those laws” because the government, according to this eminent scholar, exists only for the purpose of ‘protecting’ rights, and since we have the right to own a gun, obviously mandating safe-storage would somehow infringe on that right.

Rogers then goes on to tell his readers that safe storage doesn’t “have much of an impact on safety or crime” and he quotes John Lott “of Yale Law School” whose book, Safe Storage Gun Laws, contains the following verbiage: “15 states that passed safe storage laws saw 300 more murders, 3,860 more rapes, 24,650 more robberies, and over 25,000 more aggravated assaults in the first five years.”

I wonder if anyone in the Goshen News editorial department even bothered to check anything that Rogers wrote, because if it had been checked, they would have quickly discovered that John Lott was a Resident Scholar at Yale only from 1999 to 2001 and that he has never published any book about safe storage laws.  But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be the source for a bunch of meaningless statistics about gun violence and crime that prove nothing at all about the efficacy of safe storage laws, because the real question which needs to be asked is how many gun shootings would have occurred if those states hadn’t implemented CAP laws?

Sheriff Brad is equally opposed to mandated training before someone can buy a gun.  To support his idea, he gives the example of a woman who is the victim of domestic abuse. “She decides to purchase a firearm for her own protection. The gun dealer is not authorized to give her the gun she just purchased, because she has not yet received the required government mandated training and the certificate of proficiency. This woman is not protected from a government created to protect her rights.”  Did you follow that?  I couldn’t and I really tried. The fact that this woman might accidentally shoot herself or someone else because she didn’t know how to use the gun never popped into the sheriff’s head.

There’s an outfit out there called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association that has been going around the last couple of years drumming up support among sheriffs to oppose any Obama-inspired gun laws. I can’t figure out exactly what they are going to do now that a pro-gun President’s coming to town, but for the last eight years they’ve had a good run. On the other hand, you have to remember that most sheriffs are responsible for law enforcement in rural areas that tend to vote red.  Goshen went 60-40 for Trump over Hillary, so one shouldn’t be surprised that Sheriff Rogers would be against gun control since he has to stand for re-election in 2018.

On the other hand, before everyone in the gun violence prevention community (GVP) gets completely hot and bothered about Sheriff Brad’s stance on guns, there’s also a lesson to be learned here by GVP.  Because like it or not, many of the sensible ideas for reducing gun violence bear on the ability and activity of law enforcement agencies to enforce new laws.  And enforcement costs time, and time costs money, and the last thing a local police department wants is to be given a new law to enforce without the funding necessary to carry it out.

 

 

 

Do Guns Make College Campuses Safer? Not At All.

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The Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University has just issued an important report on guns and college campuses which is summarized in a Washington Post op-ed or you can download the entire report here. Basically, the report argues that, Gun-nut Nation’s claims to the contrary, allowing guns on college campuses does not enhance security or safety, but will result in more, not less gun violence in academic environments.

 

      The Texas Tower

The Texas Tower

The Hopkins report follows shortly after the University of Texas ended its ban on campus-carry, which makes it the eighth state to allow people with concealed-carry permits to bring their guns with them to school.  But there are also 24 states which grant colleges and universities a local option to allow guns within their campus domains, which leaves only 18 states whose college campuses are still gun-verein.  Some of the states where guns aren’t allowed in academic environments are heavily regulated states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois.  But there are also some surprises on the no-campus list, including gun-rich states like Missouri, Georgia and the Gun-shine State most of all.  Gun-nut Nation tries year in and year out to open college campuses to guns in Florida, but so far common sense prevails.

In trying to assess whether guns are a risk or benefit to college life, the authors note that they are forced to rely on data which measures this question for society as a whole. But this approach still yields sufficient evidence to make a judgement about one of the cardinal tenets of Gun-nut Nation’s infatuation with campus carry, namely, the notion that educational settings attract the real gun nuts – the mass shooters – because colleges and universities tend to be gun-free zones.

The evidence that gun-free zones attract mass shooters comes from one place and one place only, namely, the alt-right media postings of my good buddy John Lott.  I enjoy following his rants if only because you can always count on John to invent a definition that will justify what he is trying to argue regardless of whether the definition bears any relationship to reality at all.  His latest attempt to promote the idea that gun-free zones attract mass shooters is to define a gun-free zone as any place where residents don’t have easy access to owning guns.  So even though mass shootings have never been a feature of New York City life, as far as John is concerned, the Big Apple is a completely gun-free zone.  Get it?

The real problem with any analysis of mass shootings is that we are forced to infer the motives of mass shooters because most don’t survive the shooting incident itself.  These events are usually, but not always, homicides followed by a suicide, thus our understanding of the how and why of such events is a function of looking for similarities in the circumstances surrounding those shootings, such as where they took place, who were the victims, and so forth. The one mass shooter who has supplied an overwhelming amount of in-person, forensic evidence is Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, but if you want to download, read and try to figure out his motives from the 1,500-page Manifesto he posted online prior to the event, good luck and Godspeed. Even the court-appointed psychiatrists who examined him prior to trial couldn’t figure him out.

While nobody can say for sure why gun violence, particularly mass gun violence, occurs in certain places and not others, the Hopkins report aggregates and summarizes enough research to state (beyond any doubt) that gun assaults and gun suicides occur much more frequently wherever guns are present, regardless of whether concealed-carry is sanctioned or not.  If John Lott didn’t exist, Gun-nut Nation would invent him, because there is simply no research which shows that our society, and particularly our college campuses are safer because civilians are walking around with guns.  But since when did the pro-gun argument have anything to do with facts anyway?

 

 

The Way Things Are Going Isn’t Good News For People Who Love Their Guns.

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The other day a student studying public health came to my gun shop and spent an hour talking to me about guns. After going through the current numbers, which depressingly appear to be going up, she asked me if I could predict the eventual role of guns in American life. And I told her that predictions seem to be based more on what you want to see happen than what you know will happen, and this is certainly the case with guns.  On the other hand, the annual demographic projections made by Pew have just been released, and if the way that different demographic groups behave with guns continues to be the way they will behave with guns, the issue of gun violence in the long run may take care of itself.

Because the truth is, and I won’t back down on this no matter how many Gun Nation trolls send me the crazy emails that I will receive, if you aren’t walking around with a shield on your chest, you simply don’t need a gun.  You might like guns; you might (like me) want to own lots of guns; you might not understand why everyone doesn’t want to have a gun, but you don’t need a gun.  Even Ted Nugent eats mostly store-bought food and the number of people who honestly have used a gun to defend themselves from criminals, contrary to John Lott’s bullsh*t, is absurdly small.  So owning a gun just isn’t like owning a car or even a droid.  And if you want to believe that a gun makes you “free,” then you go right ahead because something called the Constitution, not your AR-15, allows you to believe anything you want.

That being said, the bottom line of the Pew demographic report is that this country is steadily and inexorably moving towards a population profile that just doesn’t favor guns.  Right now we are still racially more than 60% White, but the flood of non-White immigration will not abate no matter what Trump says, and twenty years from now the non-White and the immigrant-based population will be climbing towards 50%. Colion Noir can prance around a shooting range all he wants, but the bottom line is that non-Whites, generally speaking, aren’t particularly attracted to guns.

Perhaps the bigger change, because it encompasses racial categories, is the degree to which women are steadily moving ahead into positions of economic power and cultural influence both within the public arena and at home.  The proportion of single-parent households continues to increase, the proportion of women who are the sole primary family financial provider is pushing towards 50%, and women continue to make gains in the workplace in terms of leadership on the job.  I don’t care how many times home-schooling queen Dana Loesch tells us that she loves her guns, most women don’t agree. And the fact that, according to the NSSF, there’s been a surge in women participating in the shooting sports is a function of changes in how families participate in social activities, not in the number of women who buy and own guns.

Let’s understand something: a prediction is not a fact.  So it could turn out, although I doubt it, that Pew’s projections of how the country is changing will ultimately be at variance with what the country’s population looks like down the road.  For that matter, who can say for sure that women, new immigrants and minorities will continue, in the main, to be anti-gun.  But there are two reasons why what I see in the current trends will end up being true.

First, Pew’s work isn’t just a one-shot deal.  They base their predictions on the continuation of trends they have been following and charting for more than thirty years.  Second, Gun Nation really hasn’t come up with a solid argument for gun ownership beyond what they have been saying for the last thirty years, and these groups have remained resistant to guns over that entire span of time. And unless Gun Nation can figure out a way to make their case to new immigrants, minorities and women, the country will contain less people who want to own guns.  And guess what?  Less guns means less gun violence.  It’s as simple as that.

 

A New Study Says That Gun Control Really Works. It Does?

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The GVP community is abuzz with the recent publication of a study that is being advertised as showing that more gun-control laws equals less gun violence.  At least this is the headline in a story about the study published by Vox which states that gun control “actually works.”  Except that’s not exactly what the study says.  The scholars analyzed 130 peer-reviewed articles published between 1950 and 2014, although only 58 articles were utilized to create a scale of responses to various changes in gun laws, of which 50 of the articles were published since 2001.

The article groups those 58 studies into three, broad categories: (1). studies which examine the effects of laws covering personal behavior with firearms (e.g., CCW, castle doctrine) on homicides and gun homicides; (2). studies covering changes in firearms laws that target gun access and homicides; (3). studies on the effects of changes in firearms laws that target gun access and suicide. Grouping the studies into these three categories produces results that are, to put it mildly, somewhat mixed.

conference-program-picOn the question of the relationship between arming civilians and increasing or decreasing gun violence, the jury is exactly split.  Half the articles cited found that laws which made it easier to walk around armed resulted in drops in homicides; the same number of articles found that the extension of CCW resulted in more homicidal deaths.  It should be pointed out that a majority of articles on both sides of this issue were pro and con contributions to the John Lott ‘more guns = less crime’ thesis, including, of course, the seminal publications by Lott himself.

On the issue of whether gun-control statutes play a role in diminishing gun homicides, the studies listed appear to confirm the idea that more gun laws lead to less gun violence, at least this is what the articles appear to say.  But when I looked at the article by Rosengart, which is cited no less than three times in support of the notion that more gun laws leads to less gun violence, the author in fact concludes that, “No law was associated with a statistically significant decrease in the rates of firearm homicides or total homicides.” Another article by T. B. Marvell is summarized as showing almost an 8% reduction in gun violence, but the author in fact states that, “even with many different crime measures and regression specifications, there is scant evidence that the laws have the intended effect of reducing gun homicides.”

As for the grouping of articles purporting to show a connection between more gun laws and less gun suicides, here again the articles all appear to support the idea that CAP laws, background checks, minimum purchase age and banning of small, cheap guns lead to reductions in gun suicide from 3% to as much as 45%.  But once again I find myself drawn to the text of one of those cited articles which says, “No law was associated with a statistically significant change in firearm suicide rates.”

The authors of this study admit that “challenges in ecological design and the execution of studies limit the confidence in study findings and the conclusions that can be derived from them.” Which is a polite way of saying that their conclusions should be taken with several grains of salt. But I am not surprised that the public health scholarly landscape still has major gaps when you consider that research funding has been basically non-existent since 1998.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that the funding spigot gets turned back on and all those research gaps are filled in.  And let’s further say that when the research holes are completely filled that it turns out that more gun-control laws really do result in gun violence going down.  Do you think for one second that the NRA would accept the research as valid when it comes to gun control and begin to change its tune?

 

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