John Lott Shares Gun Research in Grand Junction
Author of More Guns, Less Crime Puts "Reason" back in "Reasonable Gun Laws"
by Ari Armstrong, March 12, 2000
Yale Professor John Lott, Jr. spoke March 11 in Grand Junction, Colorado about his research into gun laws and crime. The most extensive statistical study ever conducted on crime, More Guns, Less Crime shows that civil arms deter crime and stop criminals.
Linn Armstrong of Grand Junction's Pro Second Amendment Committee introduces John Lott.
Lott shared these ideas and gave an over-view of his research as the keynote speaker at the Pro Second Amendment Committee's annual awards banquet. In addition to coordinating firearm safety classes, the independent Committee conducts an annual essay contest for Colorado students on the topic of the Second Amendment -- nine students were presented with awards during the banquet.
Lott was greeted with a standing ovation by the 234 attendants, most from Grand Junction but about a dozen from the Denver area. Before his talk, Lott granted interviews with the three local televisions stations, a radio station, and the Daily Sentinel newspaper. Scores of participants brought copies of Lott's book to the author for a personalized autograph.
Before Lott took the stage, leaders of the local group were recognized for their achievements and the essay awards were announced. And several Colorado civil gun rights advocates took a moment to share their thoughts on Colorado politics.
Debra Collins, the state coordinator for Second Amendment Sisters, a group working to organize rallies opposite the so-called "Million Mom March," called on women and their families to help her organize Mother's Day events both in Washington, D.C. and in Denver supportive of civil gun rights. She said, "If it saves just one life, it's worth it -- and my gun saved my life." She said recently proposed legislation would have endangered her life had it been in effect earlier. At one point, Collins' violent ex-husband broke into her home, where she held him at bay until police could arrive at the scene. At the time, her gun had been purchased by her then-20 year old boyfriend (now her husband), and the gun wasn't incapacitated with a trigger lock. Collins said current proposals to discriminate against 18-20 year olds and mandate trigger locks would have made it harder for her to defend her life.
Those who wish to participate in the Armed Informed Mothers events can contact Collins at email@example.com or at 303.918.8125.
Ed Cole, a Boulder resident, took the stage to praise the outreach efforts of the Pro Second Amendment Committee in Grand Junction and to urge members to become actively involved in the political battle for Second Amendment civil rights. To get an idea of the level of dissatisfaction with Governor Bill Owens' gun restriction proposals, Cole asked of the audience: "Raise your hand if you voted for Owens in 1998. Now keep your hand up if you intend to vote for Owens again." Nearly the entire audience had initially raised their hands -- then all but about a dozen lowered them. Of those with their hands left in the air, many were elected officials. Owens, who has been nick-named "Governor Gun Control" by some civil rights advocates, won his office with disproportionate support from the Western Slope and the Eastern Planes.
Linn Armstrong served as master of ceremonies. He introduced retired Mesa State College professor Mort Perry, a Purple Heart World War II veteran, who gave the invocation.
Later Armstrong joked about Denver being on the "back range" of Colorado while Grand Junction sits on the "front range," reversing the distinction prevalent among those living in the eastern part of the state. Armstrong and his wife Sharon have been actively involved in the Pro Second Amendment Committee since its inception a decade ago. He can be reached for information about the group's essay contest or local firearms safety classes at 970.464.5177.
After the dinner and the announcements came to a close around 8:00, the audience welcomed Professor Lott to the stage.
Lott said before the banquet that in the past he didn't necessarily support gun ownership for the purpose of self-defense. He cited as a motivating factor for conducting his study his perception that much prior work on both sides of the issue had been limited in scope and inconclusive. He wanted to compile the best research available on crime and American gun laws, in particular concealed carry laws. Many scholars such as David Kopel of Golden's Independence Institute acknowledge that Lott surpassed his goal.
"Bad things happen with guns," Lott began, "but guns also stop bad things from happening."
"Must of what we think we know about guns is actually misleading," he continued. He said the popular press tends to report mostly the tragedies involving guns, not the cases of successful self-defense, for the simple reason that the tragedies are seen as more newsworthy. The tragedies involve innocent deaths, whereas cases of self-defense usually don't even involve injury. In most cases, armed citizens prevent crime by brandishing a gun and scaring away the criminal. There was no rape, no murder, no other grizzly crime committed -- the crime was prevented. That isn't nearly as dramatic for the 10:00 news to show or for headlines to print.
"We need to take into account the items not covered in the news," Lott said. For instance, the school shooting at Pearl, Mississippi was cut short by the armed principal of the high school. However, out of around 700 newspaper stories about that shooting, only 19 even mentioned the principal, and only 13 said the principal stopped the attack. Only a handful mentioned the principal stopped the attack with a pistol.
Another misperception, according to Lott, is that passive behavior is the best response when confronted by a violent criminal. It's true that passive behavior is better than some types of active behavior, Lott said. For instance, women who use their fists to defend against rapists and muggers are often seriously injured by the stronger attacker. However, responding to a criminal with a gun is far more effective than passive behavior -- a woman is 2.4 times more likely to suffer injury if she responds passively to criminal attack than if she uses a gun in self-defense. Males are 1.5 times more likely to suffer injury by responding passively than by responding with a gun. Thus, women are especially advantaged by arming themselves.
Next Lott took on the claim that most gun murders are committed by friends or acquaintances. Lott said this claim wrongly implies that even normal people can turn to murder if there's a gun around. This notion is completely false. Instead, Lott explained, FBI statistics count as "acquaintances" those such as delivery persons who invade a home and cab drivers who are attacked. Most "acquaintances" included in these statistics are drug dealers and rival gang members who happen to know each other. That, Lott said, is why murder rates come mostly from poorer urban areas. Based on more detailed statistics available for Chicago, the number of murders among family members and neighbors is around 17% -- a significant number but much lower than the figures popularized by anti-gun groups.
Surprisingly, 80% of U.S. counties show no murders in any given year. Again this points to the fact that most gun crime -- and most crime in general -- is associated with inner cities, gangs, and the violent black-market in drugs.
Lott ventured a guess as to why anti-gun groups perpetuate the misleading claim that most gun murders are committed by "friends and acquaintances." He said the anti-gun groups wish to institute popular fear of gun owners. If it's true that guns somehow turn normal people into deranged psychopaths, then gun owners cannot be trusted. However, countered Lott, once one understands the actual nature of the FBI statistics and the real source of most crime, such fears are shown to be irrational.
Lott next refuted the notion that the gun ownership rate in America is somehow linked to a higher murder rate. He wondered aloud why only a few nations are generally compared with the United States, places such as Great Britain and Canada. Other countries are even more heavily armed (per capita) than the United States -- places like Israel and Switzerland -- yet these countries have lower rates of crime. Lott explained the inherent difficulties of cross-sectional statistical comparisons, given the huge number of social factors. He said that based on preliminary work he suspects there is a negative relationship between gun ownership and crime rates across countries once the significant variables are accounted for (that is, a higher rate of gun ownership is related to a lower rate of crime), but a conclusive study has not yet been compiled.
Another problem with comparisons to other countries is the reliance on survey information, Lott noted. In countries where gun ownership is illegal, it's highly unlikely that many will openly admit to owning a gun. Thus, the more restrictive are a countries laws, the fewer the people who will answer a survey truthfully. Surveys from countries with the most restrictive laws probably understate gun ownership rates dramatically. As an extreme case, Lott noted that the Soviet Union was said to have a civil gun ownership of 0%, which is strange given the emergence of firearms used in the various civil wars in that region following the breakup.
As another example of misleading statistics propagated by anti-gun groups and some politicians, Lott cited the claim that 13 children die from guns every day. Among problems with this claim is that it includes people up to 20 years old and it includes justifiable homicides. When one counts only children under the age of 15, the number drops to 1.9 deaths per day; when one counts children under 10 the figure is 0.4 per day. Nine of the 13 "children" counted by the statistics die in gang-related violence. In other words, mostly these are criminals with callous disregard for all laws, including gun laws. "Why they'd want to bring up this number in relation to trigger locks," Lott said, "isn't obvious to me."
Equally absurd is the claim that a gun is more likely to kill someone you know. This figure was obtained in the following manner: in cases of a homicide, surveyors asked family members of the victim if there was a gun in the home. The surveyors then assumed that, if there was a homicide, and if there was a gun in the home, then the homicide must have been committed with that gun. Clearly, that assumption is unwarranted. In most cases, the homicide was committed by a criminal who entered the home. Also, Lott noted, many purposely arm themselves because they are at risk. Even though a gun reduces that risk, the household may still be at a higher risk of criminal attack than the average household.
The real figure for homicides committed with guns in the home is about 14% of total gun homicides, Lott said. But guns in the home also stop crime, usually just by being brandished. When one takes into account the homicides (and other types of crime) prevented by guns in the home, there is a clear net advantage to having a gun in the home. For the majority of households with normal, responsible, peaceable adults, the net advantage is even greater.
Lott said that studies of places over time are generally more telling than studies which compare different places at any given time. With studies that look at changes over time, one can see how different factors -- such as gun laws -- affect one particular locality or region. Most of Lott's book is an analysis of those United States which passed liberal concealed carry laws, and what happened to crime rates in those states over time.
The most common argument against liberal concealed carry laws, Lott said, is that gun carriers may fall into fits of rage and misuse a gun -- but that argument just doesn't hold up, given the history of carry laws. 31 states now have "shall-issue" concealed carry laws, which means that anyone without a criminal record can carry a gun concealed (often after training and licensing). Colorado is one of 12 states with "may-issue" laws, meaning that permits are granted at the discretion of local law officials. Seven states ban concealed carry altogether.
Over the years, tens of millions of Americans have lawfully carried concealed handguns. There is precisely one recorded case of a licensed carrier using a gun in a traffic situation -- and that was ruled legitimate self-defense. No licensed concealed carrier has ever shot a police officer, though several have come to the aid of an officer. In Florida, only a few concealed carry licenses have been revoked, and then usually for technical reasons such as the inadvertent carry of a gun into a restricted area. The record of concealed carry laws is astoundingly good.
So there is no harm from liberal concealed carry laws, and there is a dramatic impact on crime reduction. Concealed carry laws have reduced crime in states with such laws, and they've reduced crime more the longer they have been in effect, Lott found. The longer concealed carry laws are in effect, the more people carry guns. In his studies, Lott took into account every conceivable significant factor, such as general trend lines in crime before the passage of concealed carry laws, increases in law enforcement, and so on.
Concealed carry laws had the greatest impact in reducing crimes against women and crimes in urban areas. For example, Denver would likely experience a greater benefit from liberalized concealed carry laws than would Grand Junction, where crime is already lower. That makes sense, since, as mentioned, most crime is committed in poor urban areas, and disarmed women are on average less able to defend themselves against larger male attackers.
Lott attributed the decrease in crime associated with the passage of liberal concealed carry laws to three main factors. Some criminals simply stop committing crimes. Others switch to crimes which don't involve personal contact with the victim. For instance, a criminal might steal a stereo from a car rather than attack a person directly. Finally, some criminals move to areas which are safer for them to commit crimes. Thus, Lott found that, when one county issued concealed carry permits, neighboring counties saw a slight increase in crime. The increase in crime in other areas was only about 20% of what crime dropped in the areas with the liberal carry laws, however.
Lott has found that mandatory storage laws and mandatory trigger locks actually increase crime by reducing the usefulness of guns for self-defense. In particular, such laws increase rape and aggravated assault against women. Lott noted that most "accidents" involving the shooting death of a child actually take place at the hands of an adult who is an alcoholic or drug addict or who has a criminal record. Yet these are the types of people least likely to obey laws mandating storage. Thus, storage laws have failed to reduce gun accidents across states with such laws in effect, but they have increased crime.
State Senator Ron Teck carries a copy of Lott's book before the banquet begins.
Mandatory storage laws might also decrease the deterrent effect of guns, because criminals will know guns in the home are not readily accessible for use in self-defense.
Lott urged policy makers to keep accidental gun deaths in context. A child is much more likely to drown in a five-gallon bucket than to die from a gunshot wound. Yet a child may also be saved from a criminal attack by parents who use a gun in self-defense. (On the other hand, there is no recorded case of a homeowner using a five-gallon bucket to thwart a criminal's attack.)
Accidental gun deaths account for less than 1% of total accidental deaths, and all accidental deaths have been steadily falling (per capita). In some states with mandatory gun storage laws, deaths with guns actually increased, whereas in some states without such laws there were especially great decreases in gun deaths. In other words, there's no evidence to suggest mandatory storage laws help, and good reason to think they hurt.
Lott said an appropriate question for disarmament advocates is what course of action they suggest should one suffer a criminal attack. If people aren't allowed to use a gun for self-defense, what should they do?
Lott asks, what is the net effect of civil arms and of restrictive gun laws? For instance, waiting periods have not resulted in any decrease in murder or robbery. Yet waiting periods have resulted in even more assaults and rapes against women. Just because a potential victim has to wait to buy a gun for self-defense, doesn't mean the criminal is going to wait.
Lott expressed concern that recently proposed laws will disarm the law-abiding more than they will deter criminals, thus increasing crime on net. In other words, the fact that more guns means less crime, also implies that fewer guns in the hands of citizens will result in more crime.
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