Oops – Jon Lott Does It Again. He Just Can’t Stop Using Real Or Imagined Women To Advance His Views On Guns.

Everyone on both sides of the gun debate knows John Lott.  He’s been a leading promoter of the armed citizen nonsense since he published a book which claimed to find a connection between an increase in CCW and a decrease in crime.  The fact that a review committee of the National Academy of Sciences was unable to replicate his findings using his own data was a minor stumble in what has become a full-blown career promoting the idea that carrying guns around protects us all from crime.

In 1997 Lott appeared before a committee of the Nebraska legislature and stated that he had conducted a national survey which showed that nearly all DGUs (defensive gun uses) involved brandishing but not actually firing a gun.  When his survey results were challenged, Lott was unable to produce any data, claiming that it was lost when his hard drive crashed.

John Lott

John Lott

I’m not all that upset about the degree to which Lott has or hasn’t faked information about CCW, DGUs or anything else.  The truth is that once the gun nuts found a willing sycophant who would cloak his pro-gun advocacy in some kind of  ‘scientific’ or ‘academic’ approach, it didn’t really matter whether scholars on the other side of the debate agreed with him or not.  In fact, the more that scholars like Harvard’s David Hemenway and Stanford’s John Donohue call Lott to account, the more the red-meat noise machine comes to his defense.   And what the hell, a guy has to earn a living, doesn’t he?

But I’m beginning to think that Lott may have now gotten involved in a situation that even his most ardent friends and supporters may find it difficult to come to his defense. I’m referring to a story that appeared in Media Matters, regarding what appears to have been an effort by Lott to publish an article supporting  guns on campus that was actually written not by him but by a Brown University student named Taylor Woolrich.  In what can only be described as an act of journalistic identity theft,  Lott got this op-ed piece published on Fox News.com, complete with a headline that read: “Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun.”  The piece was originally sent to Fox under both their names but was rejected, then Fox changed its mind and was willing to run the op-ed under Taylor’s name but she declined but gave Lott permission to send in the piece using her name.  Except she didn’t give him permission to rewrite the entire piece, in particular the conclusion that starts with the following sentence: “Having a gun is by far the most effective way for victims to stop crime.”  What Woolrich thought was going to be a story about the trauma of stalking turned into a Lott-inspired paean to the value of citizens carrying concealed guns.

This episode wouldn’t be so interesting were it not for the fact that John Lott seems to have an interesting history when it comes to using or inventing female identities to advance and defend his own career. In various web postings, particularly websites that were critical of Lott’s work, a former PhD candidate at Wharton named Mary Rosh defended Lott, calling him the “best professor I ever had.” There was only one little problem – Mary Rosh was actually John Lott and he has never adequately explained how or why this case of false identity came about.

There’s been a lot of chatter over the years, much of it harmless or aimless, about the alleged link between sexual inadequacy and gun ownership, the idea being that guys who feel impotent in the bedroom can compensate to their heart’s content when they pull out their AR and head to the range.  In the case of John Lott, we have a major pro-gun personality who keeps using women, real or imagined, in ways that must leave him feeling embarrassed if not ashamed.  And the saddest thing about it is that he always seems to get caught.

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Guns and Violence: Believe What You Want to Believe

It’s about time that someone (namely: me) began debunking some of the myths that have been propagated by various NRA cronies who spring into action every time the gun control issue rears its ugly head.  The NRA has done a remarkable job (I’m being serious here) of pro-actively pushing its anti-gun control agenda whether the gun control crowd shows up or not.  Their strategy is very consistent: publicize research that “proves” guns protect people from crime, and make it easier for everyone to carry a concealed weapon.  An armed citizenry is a safe citizenry.  And an armed citizenry is exactly what the gun industry wants because it’s a guaranteed path to higher sales.

But in order to use “research” to bolster this campaign, the NRA also has to discredit the large body of evidence about the relationship of guns to violence that tells a very different story, namely, that guns not only don’t protect us from crime, but may actually result in less safety both for armed and unarmed citizens. This has been the consensus of public health professionals whose views were cited by the Clinton Administration to justify passage of the Brady Act which created the background check system in 1993.  Ever since then, public health professionals and researchers have been a particularly favorite target of the NRA, witness the recent attacks on Dr. Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The basic public health position on gun control was stated most comprehensively in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 1994 (April, Vol. 271, No. 16.) This editorial, endorsed by the President of every major New York City hospital and the New York Academy of Medicine called for:  expanding background checks, limiting assault rifles, taxing ammunition, restricting multi-purchases and stricter controls over dealers.  And here’s the sentence that sums it all up: “Ideally, handguns…should be banned completely, but we recognize that this strategy is not currently politically feasible.”

The NRA crowd jumped on this statement in 1994 and have been riding it ever since.  They used it to justify the de-funding of gun research by the CDC in 1997 and they continue to raise the battle cry about ‘anti-gun’ physicians, including a recent Florida law which makes it a felony for a physician to ask a patient whether there are guns in the home.  The most blatant attempt to justify the ‘armed citizen’ approach to gun ownership is a recent article by pro-gun activist and attorney Don Kates, who stated unequivocally that the National Academy of Sciences could find no evidence in a 2004 report that gun controls of any sort reduced gun violence.

Except that’s not what the NAS report actually says.  What it says is that research had not yet found any direct links between crime rates and right-to-carry gun laws.  But the report also said that there was a link between keeping guns in the home and an increased incidence of suicide,  even though pro-gun activists like Kates continue to push the idea that physicians should be prohibited from inquiring about the ownership of guns.

The conflict between pro-gun activists and public health specialists boils down to the following: both groups are advocates with very different goals.  The pro-gun activists want Americans to own more guns; the public health specialists want less violence.  And since the data on the relationship between guns and violence is somewhat ambiguous, both sides can pull what they want from the research and come up with arguments that support their point of view.