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More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws Paperback – June 15, 2000
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Multiple regression analyses are rarely the subject of heated public debate or 225-page books for laypeople. But John R. Lott, Jr.'s study in the January 1997 Journal of Legal Studies showing that concealed-carry weapons permits reduced the crime rate set off a firestorm. The updated study, together with illustrative anecdotes and a short description of the political and academic response to the study, as well as responses to the responses, makes up Lott's informative More Guns, Less Crime.
In retrospect, it perhaps should not have been surprising that increasing the number of civilians with guns would reduce crime rates. The possibility of armed victims reduces the expected benefits and increases the expected costs of criminal activity. And, at the margin at least, people respond to changes in costs, even for crime, as Nobel-Prize winning economist [TAG]Gary Becker showed long ago. Allusions to the preferences of criminals for unarmed victims have seeped into popular culture; Ringo, a British thug in Pulp Fiction, noted off-handedly why he avoided certain targets: "Bars, liquor stores, gas stations, you get your head blown off stickin' up one of them."
But Lott's actual quantification of this, in the largest and most comprehensive study of the effects of gun control to date, a study well-detailed in the book, provoked a number of attacks, ranging from the amateurish to the subtly misleading, desperate to discredit him. Lott takes the time to refute each argument; it's almost touching the way he footnotes each time he telephones an attacker who eventually hangs up on him without substantiating any of their claims.
Lott loses a little focus when he leaves his firm quantitative base; as an economist, he should know that the low number of rejected background checks under the Brady Bill doesn't demonstrate anything by itself, because some people may have been deterred from even undergoing the background check in the first place, but he attacks the bill on this ground anyway. But the conclusions that are backed by evidence--that concealed-weapons permits reduce crime, and do so at a lower cost to society than increasing the number of police or prisons--are important ones that should be considered by policymakers. --Ted Frank --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New England Journal of Medicine
On an average day in the United States, guns kill some 100 citizens and are used in about 3000 serious crimes. The policy discussion concerning this important problem in public health and criminal justice is one of America's most contentious debates.
At one extreme are those who would ban all guns. At the other are those who would increase the armament of our already heavily armed nation. The latter view is reminiscent of Archie Bunker's solution to the hijacking problem of the 1970s. "If everyone was allowed to carry guns, them hijackers wouldn't have no superiority. All you gotta do is arm all the passengers, then no hijacker would risk pullin' a rod."
An economist, John Lott, has cited Archie Bunker's solution approvingly as he weighs in on the pro-gun side of the debate. The title of this new book, More Guns, Less Crime, aptly describes his conclusions. The core of the book is a large statistical study of state "right-to-carry" laws.
Between 1985 and 1992, 10 states, primarily in the gun-dense southern and Rocky Mountain regions, moved from "may-issue" laws for carrying a concealed gun (police retain discretion about who gets a permit to carry a gun) to "shall-issue" laws (police must provide a permit to virtually anyone who is not a criminal). Comparing crime trends in states that did and did not change their laws, Lott concludes that shall-issue laws reduce violent crime.
In at least six articles published elsewhere, 10 academics found enough serious flaws in Lott's analysis to discount his findings completely. These critiques are consistent with my own experience in formulating models to assess whether state-level changes in the legal drinking age affected youth crime, which convinced me that Lott's statistical approach can sometimes yield invalid results.
The central problem is that crime moves in waves, yet Lott's analysis does not include variables that can explain these cycles. For example, he uses no variables on gangs, drug consumption, or community policing. As a result, many of Lott's findings make no sense. He finds, for example, that both increasing the rate of unemployment and reducing income reduces the rate of violent crimes and that reducing the number of black women 40 years old or older (who are rarely either perpetrators or victims of murder) substantially reduces murder rates. Indeed, according to Lott's results, getting rid of older black women will lead to a more dramatic reduction in homicide rates than increasing arrest rates or enacting shall-issue laws.
Not surprisingly, Lott's model fails several statistical specification tests designed to determine its accuracy, and other models lead to very different results. For example, Jens Ludwig, an economist at Georgetown University, uses a different statistical approach and finds that the movement to shall-issue laws has, if anything, caused homicide rates to increase.
One would have expected that, given the problems with Lott's model, it would have gone back to the drawing board. Instead, Lott decided to go public, writing this book, holding press conferences, and presenting his results as if they proved that permissive gun-carrying laws actually save lives.
Sometimes it is not the model that Lott uses but the data that are just plain wrong. For example, in the one analysis not involving carrying laws, Lott takes data on gun ownership from 1988 and 1996 voter exit polls and purports to show that higher levels of gun ownership mean less crime. According to the polling source, Voter News Service, these data cannot be used as Lott has used them -- either to determine state-level gun ownership or changes in gun ownership. For example, the data from the exit polls indicate that gun ownership rates in the United States increased an incredible 50 percent during those eight years, yet all other surveys show either no change or a decrease in the percentage of Americans who personally own firearms.
Overall, Lott deserves high marks for attempting to study an important and difficult issue and for assembling and sharing his data; he deserves failing marks for pressing policy makers to use his results despite the substantial questions that have been raised about his research. Permissive gun-carrying laws may increase or decrease crime, and knowing the effect is critical for determining appropriate policy. Unfortunately, Lott's results do not provide credible evidence one way or the other.
Lott's book is pro-gun, with an academic flavor; indeed, some training in econometrics is essential to assess his statistical approach. By contrast, Making a Killing, by Tom Diaz, an analyst at the pro-control Violence Policy Center, is more journalistic and can be evaluated more easily by a lay audience.
Making a Killing focuses on gun manufacturers and argues that in the past two decades, in an attempt to increase their sales and profits, these companies have deliberately increased the lethality of firearms. The case is made with quotations drawn from the industry itself.
The problem for the industry has been that, given reasonable care, guns don't wear out. With fewer young people growing up into the markets for traditional hunting and sport shooting, convincing people that they need more guns has required innovation and fear-nurturing advertising.
Instead of innovating in the direction of safer firearms (e.g., guns with childproof locks and load indicators), the industry chose the opposite direction. Manufacturers made guns to hold more rounds, increased the power of the rounds and the speed with which the bullets could be shot, and at the same time made guns smaller and more concealable.
Ammunition and accessories with "Rambo" appeal -- bipods, flash suppressors, grenade launchers, laser sights, and expanding bullets -- have also been increasingly offered. Ammunition has come on the market with names like "Eliminator-X," "Ultra-Mag," "Black Talon" (whose razorlike talons could tear protective gloves, exposing doctors to infectious diseases), and "Starfire," whose advertisements called it "the deadliest handgun cartridge ever developed for home or personal defense," with "fast knockdown" due to the "massive wound channel" it can create.
Foreign manufacturers have a surprisingly large role in the industry as owners of many domestic manufacturers and as exporters of large numbers of firearms to the United States. Reversing the image of U.S. cigarette manufacturers as sellers of tobacco to less regulated and less health-conscious markets in the developing world, the United States has been the dumping ground for surplus guns, such as Chinese AK-47s and Russian SKS assault rifles, that are forbidden in most other countries.
Whereas Lott presents statistics to argue, unconvincingly, for reduced regulation of firearm carrying, Diaz uses quotations from the industry to portray, convincingly, an industry in need of some sensible governmental oversight.
Reviewed by David Hemenway, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1998 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I was drawn into that research almost immediately by the sheer force of my own disbelief. I discovered fact after fact that starkly disproved the claims and "facts" so many teachers and colleagues had expressed about firearms and their relationship to violence, and which, during my long trip through academia, had led me to believe stricter gun control was just plain common sense. For two years, I read thousands of pages of information, starting with raw data from the FBI and CDC so that I would be better able to assess the claims I subsequently read in books, peer-reviewed journals, news publications, blogs, and so forth. In the course of that research, I came across numerous references to John Lott's studies, but so many of them suggested there were "fatal flaws" in his methodology (and questions about his motives) that I never bothered to read him. I simply assumed based on the sheer number of such comments that his work was indeed more propaganda than serious study. Nonetheless, I turned up enough information over the course of two years to completely change my view about guns. I now believe wholeheartedly in the right to carry, the wisdom of the 2nd Amendment, the particularly important benefits of concealed carry for women, and the notion that more firearms in law-abiding hands does make society demonstrably safer.
Now that I have finally read John Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" (3rd edition, 2010), I am ashamed that I did not consult it earlier instead of accepting at face value the facile criticisms of his work. Lott's research and claims are astonishingly thorough--meticulously explained and documented. At every turn, he (accurately and clearly) explains the challenges, assumptions, and variables that inform his findings. Often, just to cover his bases, he runs the data with, and then without, certain questionable variables (arrest rates, county sizes, etc.). Again and again, he shows that with only slight variations in the magnitude of the results, more concealed carry permits equals less violent crime (murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robberies involving direct contact with the victim, such as muggings). He also observes that those permits may contribute to a smaller "substitution effect" that displaces criminal activity into less-confrontational forms, such as property theft. On all counts, this constitutes powerful evidence that the likely presence of a defensive firearm has a statistically significant deterrence effect on criminal behavior. More concealed carry permits lead to a net decline in assaults and deaths, and a net decline in the financial costs to society. Moreover, these benefits apply to all citizens--not just those who are armed--and they increase over time, as the number of carry permits rises. They also have the greatest positive impact on African Americans and women.
Why should you take Lott's study seriously? Because it is the most comprehensive study of crime--let alone firearms--ever conducted. In retrospect, I am stunned that any commentator has dared to fault the quality of his data. If anything can be said for Lott, it is that he is meticulous in recognizing and accounting for the variables at stake. Indeed, like a responsible analyst testing a hypothesis with appropriate rigor, he tends to control in ways that actually minimize (i.e., underestimate, and perhaps even artificially suppress) the benefits of non-discretionary ("shall issue") concealed carry laws. His is the only gun control study I've seen that takes all counties into consideration (not some selective sample) and then meticulously controls for population density, arrest rates, rising/falling trends in crime prior to the passing of the carry laws, demographic factors, the number of permits issued, and so forth. Although his expansive, county-level approach is clearly the most precise way to analyze the impact of carry laws, he also consistently re-runs the regressions using state-level (aggregate) data to show that, while the precise results vary, the trends remain the same: more guns, less crime. Indeed, the scope and depth of his study is so far beyond any other peer-reviewed study of guns I've ever encountered that any blanket dismissal either of his findings or his methodology is manifestly disingenuous.
Of course, given the amount of criticism his work has received, Lott is (rightly) concerned to defend his integrity as a scholar. His seventh chapter thus quotes a series of 23 direct criticisms by other academics--each of which he capably rebuts. Whenever possible, Lott first politely plays devil's advocate: re-running his regressions in the alternative manner some critics have suggested, only to show that the results consistently yield the same conclusion: more guns, less crime. He also exposes some critics' blatant ignorance of certain statistical categories (such as what it means for victims to "know" their shooters) and then lays bare salient points or critical factors those critics ignore. One devastating effect of these clear, well-reasoned rebuttals is to expose the patently un-scientific anti-gun bias that drives most critical "concerns" about Lott's study. Yet Lott never dispenses with civility or stoops to base political jabs. A few times, he briefly speculates on the kinds of credible concerns that could be raised about his work--politely leaving it for the reader to note, in unflattering contrast, that the criticisms that have actually been leveled at him fall very short of that standard. Ever the responsible scholar, he chiefly defends his integrity by clarifying his robust methodology and letting the data speak for itself.
I can't say enough about the importance of this book. Do not trust the claim that Lott's work has been "discredited", "fatally flawed," or "funded by the gun lobby." Lott explicitly refutes those attacks in this book, and I have verified to my own satisfaction that those are indeed false claims designed to deflect attention away from his compelling pro-gun findings. Read this book for yourself. It matches the findings of my own personal two-year study into these issues, though I might have saved myself a lot of time and work by consulting Lott's book sooner. He explains the variables and various analytical concepts very clearly (the substitution effect, the endogeneity problem, the perils of looking only at raw measures instead of slopes/trends over time, etc.). This diligent effort to empower (non-expert) readers by allowing them to understand what is at stake in the measures before delving into the data is one clear sign that his intention is to inform readers truthfully, not manipulate their political views. His habit of checking, re-checking, and checking his regressions again--verifying how the results change as certain variables are included or excluded--is another good sign. And yet another is the modest and precise way he reports his results: never engaging in bombastic or exaggerated claims, but always frankly acknowledging the limits of what can be reasonably concluded from the data. By the end of the book, you will understand many of the flawed assumptions and misunderstandings which underlie the oft-cited "evidence" that stricter gun control enhances public safety.
If you're anti-gun and Lott's book does not give you pause and force you to reconsider the potential benefits of an armed society, you either did not read the book with an open mind, or you do not know how to distinguish a precisely-reasoned argument from a merely political one.
Well done Mr. Lott. I cannot fathom the amount of energy and intellectual rigor you must have invested in this massive project, but I am grateful to you for this impressive and substantial contribution to knowledge.
What I find in reading this book is a scholarly, measured examination of the statistics of the relationship between gun ownership and non-discriminatory ("shall issue") concealed carry permit laws.
Even more than that, I find his manner of expression to be most reassuring. He is not making a point or promoting a political position. He is simply OBSERVING what is.
This reminds me of a situation some years ago working on a project for a State of California government department. I am, by the way, a former Federal, State and Local civil servant. An issue came up regarding what State agency - if any - had jurisdiction over the construction work of the project. In particular, what agency was responsible for reviewing construction plans and issuing a construction permit. Stay with me here....................., and you'll see where this is going.
So, being the project engineer (you knew that, right?) I approached the State agency that the Department building the project stated had jurisdiction. When I reported what that agency stated - in writing - that they did not have jurisdiction, the Department employee stated that I was stating my "opinion" about the matter. This is willfully confounding opion with observation. I was simply reporting what I had observed, and provided the source documentation. Yet, the civil servant I was dealing with insisted on declaring this observation an "opinion" since he did not like the factual information that was presented to them.
John Lott faces a similar situation - in that folks who disagree with his OBSERVATIONS want to declare them OPINIONS.
John Lott expresses himself very precisely as a researcher. He analyzes the data, and does so very, very carefully, and then announces what THE DATA REVEALS. He does this time, and time again throughout the book. He even observes when the data points to a conclusion that is different than his original hypothesis. That's called intellectual honesty.
The problem that we have in our society today is that many folks are so entrenched in their (apparently) mindless attachment to political positions, that they are apparently incapable of actual rational thinking.
As near as I can tell, the anti-gun lobby falls into this category, and continues to believe that the way to solve crime involving guns, is to take guns away from law-abiding citizens - ignoring the FACT that criminals don't obey the law, and never will. They also don't seem to realize that if they can take away others' constitutional rights, under different circumstances, THEIR constitutional rights could be taken away.
I am a staunch 2nd Amendment supporter, and it gives me great satisfaction to find a scholar that has taken the (huge amount of) time to examine the facts relating to gun ownership and crime.
While Dr. Lott has his share of critics, most of these criticisms are politically motivated. All on has to do is look at violent crimes figures posted annually by the Federal Government to see that they correspond with much of what Dr. Lott writes in More Guns Less Crime. Simply put, this book is a must read for anyone interested in how concealed firearms laws affect violent crime rates. I plan to use this book as a reference for a long time to come.