Gun nut John Lott is, well, nuts

I’ve heard John Lott’s pro-gun arguments for several years now. For one such example on SDMB, see this thread.

Although I generally discounted Lott’s research to some extent simply because he was so outside the mainstream of social research, I always assumed he made some decent points. However, a story in this week’s Newsweek makes me think the guy is pretty much a nut job.

I’m assuming the link won’t last for too long, so I’ll do a little quoting.

For the sake of argument, I’ll grant him the school shooting argument. But gun locks are dangerous? And by implication, we would be safer if we just gave every kindergartner a loaded .38?

Check. :rolleyes:

Which is obviously why the contributors contribute: because they know they’ll be ignored.

Even his oft-touted credentials are overblown:

So is this guy worth paying attention to, or is he just a PhD fluffer for Charlton Heston?

Explicit Statistical Evidence of Massive Ballot Tampering in Palm Beach, FL.

It seems at least one other person feels similarly to Dr. Lott.

Note to the conclusion impaired: I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the above-linked article; I merely offer it to show that Dr. Lott isn’t entirely alone in his viewpoint, even if the above article’s author draws a different conclusion.

It is not meant to open (yet another) election thread!

Before you slam-dunk him permanently in your own mind, try reading “More Guns, Less Crime” for yourself. It’s not a large book, but it is rather involved. Some knowledge of statistical mathematics and methods helps, but isn’t mandatory. I had to read it fairly carefully.

I’ll comment on the other “studies” as I find info on them. My gut feeling is that somone is mis-quoting to smear him. But that could just be the beer.

JFTR, we debunked the analysis in ExTank’s link here back when this was more of a hot topic.

Hopefully that’ll keep this from turning into another election thread.

I return you to the John Lott discussion.

Just a couple of quick comments:

*Originally posted by minty green *

For the sake of argument, I’ll grant him the school shooting argument. But gun locks are dangerous? And by implication, we would be safer if we just gave every kindergartner a loaded .38?

As someone who works with the media, I seriously question the veracity and agenda of any journalist who would fashion a quote in such a manner (“Lott says gun locks are ‘dangerous’.”) Putting a single word in quotes (did Lott actually use the word in reference to gun locks?) removes it from any possible context and does not accurately encapsulate any argument for or against them. Shoddy writing, plain and simple. Free of content, but nicely inflammatory.

I also think it’s, well, let’s be polite and call it “exaggeration,” to suggest that advocating that teachers carry guns implies in any way that toddlers should carry them as well.


Is it really a good idea to utterly dismiss the results of someone’s research before they present it along with their data and methodology? I certainly don’t think so. The fact that many officeholders accept contributions from groups who are ideologically opposed to each other suggests that there may be something to the proposition. Most contributors give money simply to have access, rather than in exchange for a guaranteed vote (which would be, let’s face it, illegal).

Hypothetical situation: Joe Axmurderer breaks into your house, ranting and raving about wanting to chop you to pieces and feast on your remains (he’s also wearing a Mets baseball cap, so you know he’s nuts). You grab your handy-dandy Desert Eagle from your bedside drawer, point it at Joe, and pull the trigger… trigger won’t budge! OH NO! You forgot the safety lock! You fumble for the keys but… CHOP!.. too late! Joe racks up another victim!

I know.

Hardly your average case… but hey, it was fun to write.

Personally, I’d like an exact quote from Lott himself that made that quote. After all, one could state that Al Gore said he “invented” the “Internet”, or that “Gays” are “evil”.

Randomly-inserted quotation marks should raise an immediate alert in such cases.

(And yes, I read the Newsweek article… it seemed like one big Ad Hominem attack… “He made a bunch of other wacky studies, so this Gun Study must be completely off-base, too!”)

I’ll not argue the merits of Lott’s gun “studies” at this time, but here I offer Exhibit A for the “Lott’s a Loonie” argument. This is Lott’s analysis of the growth of US government since WWI. His conclusion as to the main cause is fairly amusing.

Have fun.

Minty Green,
I don’t know…but I kind of expected more from you.
As an admitted and happy gun nut, I can honestly say this article only serves to boost my faith in his study of the concealed carry laws. This kind of article is the type of fodder a good GDer begs for.

Your guy doesn’t use ONE SINGLE relevant fact to dismiss ANY of Lott’s studies. Rhetoric, clever phrasing and confusing the issues may make a credible hit piece when a regular Joe reads it, but around here they become painfully easy to see right through.
Let me help you.

Lott states in his book that when a State passes a “shall issue” law for CCW, that crime is negatively effected. Either a rising crime rate is halted, or the current one falls. The longer a State has such a law in place, the more dramatic it’s effect on crime is.
Ok. Now let’s head back to your article to scan for any relevant facts that would dispute this.

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Lott releases a statistical study, and this guy isn’t even going to TRY and understand the methods or conclusions. However, he just KNOWS they have to be false, so we get a whole article slamming Lott without actually saying anything of substance. Since this guy has made it clear that he isn’t going to try and debunk Lott’s study, you would think that he has found some other staticians to quote. Maybe they can debunk it for us?

aahhh… The best he can do is to find unnamed people who are not willing to contradict him at all, but rather will only confirm some of what Lott says.

Think about this for a second. If CCW laws do not raise crime rates, that gives us two other options. They either LOWER them, or somehow they always keep them exactly where they are.

I notice that you infer that he has lied about his credentials, but somehow this paragraph has slipped by you:

I wonder if this author is smart enough to be aware that he is obviously one of the enemies.

To keep this post from getting to long, I’m just going to compile a list of statements from this article that show his bias and unwillingness to approach this issue wth an open mind.
[li]But then you’ll see that he’s been shown the door at some of the nation’s finest schools.[sub]unsupprted assertion, where are the facts?[/sub][/li][li]doing research from a basement office that even the receptionist can’t find.[/li][li]That last paper was too much even for his wife, who begged him not to publish it.[/li][li]Lott’s not a lifelong gun fanatic[sub]implying he is now?[/sub][/li]…and I just love how they compare him to his critics. They lie, lie and lie again, all the while never bothering to address the facts, and yet Lott is just as vitriolic for shooting off an e-mail that the author doesn’t approve of.
This article is pure propaganda garbage.

Actually, that’s precisely the point of my question. I know that a lot of people have attacked his data and conclusions on guns, and I’m not terribly interested in rehashing either side of that debate. But the Newsweek story does make Lott look like a professional contrarian for right-wing causes. If that portrait is accurate, it does (to me, anyway) reflect badly on his positions.

pl, my gun lock comment didn’t go to the school shootings part of the quote. Here’s my train of thought. Gun locks keep children from using guns. If gun locks are dangerous, they should not be used. Therefore, we’re better off if children can use guns. Yeah, it’s an exaggeration, but so is Lott’s apparent stand on gun locks.

Yes, sometimes it is. If a researcher has blown his credibility on goofy stands in the past, I am far less likely to heed their results on future subjects. Not to mention that Lott’s apparent conclusion on campaign contributions flies in the face of everything I’ve ever heard, read, or seen with my very own eyes.

xenophon: Oh my god! Girls are spending all our money!

See, that link is the sort of looniness that I’m talking about. Lott looks to me like he’s just taking unrelated social phenomena and linking them in ways that feed conservative mindsets. Crime dropped in Florida? Well it must be because a tiny percentage of citizens have concealed carry permits!

Which brings me to Freedom’s just-posted comments:

Actually, there’s another possibility: that CCW laws have no effect whatsoever on crime rates (which is not the same as saying they “keep” crime rates the same). By leaving that out, you may appear to be making the same error it seems to me Lott is making–finding unrelated phenomena and ascribing a cause and effect relationshio to them.

I don’t know whether or not the guy’s full of crap. Like Newsweek, I am not a trained statistician. But if Lott’s positions as described in the story are accurate, he’s not going to get a free pass on my smell test much longer.

Xenophon41, thanks for the link.

What an amazing choice for a title. I wonder if he has anything on the negative implications of ending slavery.

And? He claims that women’s suffrage and growth in government are positively correlated, and that that fact is true dating to the beginning of women’s suffrage, rather than being a recent phenomenon. It doesn’t appear that he offers a value judgement as to whether that is good or bad, at least not one that I saw on a quick read. He certainly doesn’t offer that we should rescind the right of women to vote, or anything as nonsensical as that. So why does that make him a “loonie”? If something is true, then it’s true, regardless of the political ramifications.


Er . . . I think it derailed.

Gun locks also keep adults from using guns.

Unfortunately, the writers entire characterization of Lott’s argument, whatever it is, was, “Lott says gun locks are ‘dangerous’.” Um, more data, please.

Bzzzzt! You just fell solidly into the domain of proving that Socrates is a cat, I’m afraid. Try this:

Gun locks prevent adults from effectively using guns.
Being unable to effectively use a gun decreases the ability of adults to protect themselves and others.
Therefore, we’re better off if adults can use guns effectively.

Which, of course, we don’t know, as the Newseek writer didn’t feel it was important enough to tell us about.

Lott studies every county in America for 20 years.

The crime rate goes down or stops rising in every single one after a CCW law is passed.
No correlation here folks…move along…nothing to see…move along…

Private law abiding individuals carrying pistols could never possibly have a negative effect on crime.

…move along…

I agree. Reading the article is like listening to someone use misquotes and innuendo to “prove” that Nixon ordered the Watergate breakin, or that Clinton cheated on his wife. Distasteful and mean, yet also totally mystifying. The author’s proposition (Lott = professional right-wing contrarian, as minty green suggests) can be supported without dishonest rhetorical tactics.

I can’t speak for all of Lott’s critics, but that’s not my beef with his findings. I think it’s clear that armed individuals can certainly have a negative effect on crime. I think it’s equally clear that armed individuals can effect a net increase in crime.

The problem with Lott is that he invariably sees coincidence as correlation when it suits his thesis, yet ignores strong correlations when they don’t. As someone who strongly supports individuals’ rights to reasonably arm themselves for personal protection, I feel no compulsion to distort facts in order to support my views. And I don’t want John Lott on my side of any argument.

Hey Xeno…

Thanks for agreeing:)
Will you be providing the reasoned debunking of Lott’s study?


[sub]you almost slipped this post by me[/sub]

I think we ALL agree on that. The problem is, those individuals who raise the crime level by carrying firearms, are doing so regardless of the law. Those of us who would lower the crime rate are only released to carry when a “Shall issue” law is passed.

No matter what the law is…the number of criminals with guns stays static.
The number of law abiding individuals with guns depends on the CCW laws. The more law abiding people with guns, the more they counteract the criminals. The less law abiding people with guns, the more free reign the criminals have.

Well, as luck would have it, I have a copy of More Guns, Less Crime near at hand; if Lott said that “gun locks are dangerous”, it’s not in the book. The closest he comes to saying anything of that nature is on pp. 9-10, where he says:

The quote about the extra poisonings is cited as from W. Kip Viscusi, “The Lulling Effect: The Impact of Child-Resistant Packaging on Aspirin and Analgesic Ingestions”, American Economic Review, May 1984, pp. 324-27.

It seems, then, that Lott has two problems with gun locks: that they will make a gun useless against an intruder, and that people may unreasonably rely upon the gun lock in lieu of other safe-storage methods. I have no problem with that position.

Good lord, pl, even the NRA says guns ought to be kept locked away, out of the reach of children, right? Yeah, I know they don’t dig the trigger locks. But locked up gun cabinets keep adults from immediate access to their guns just as effectively as do trigger locks. So I suppose Lott thinks locked gun cabinets are dangerous too?

But I digress from the point of this thread, which is figuring out whether or not Lott’s a loonie. xenophon’s link is a good start.

I don’t think anyone would argue that women’s suffrage has had anything but a profound impact on the way the country has been governed. But that does seem to go over the top in asserting that big government is a direct result of women having the right to vote. In fact, there are many, many reasons for the current size of government. The Great Depression and the Cold War, for instance, quickly spring to mind. And if you want to focus on voting rights, why not point to the millions of southern blacks and immigrants nationwide who’ve been added to the voter rolls since the 60’s? Seems to me those are two blocks of heavily Democratic voters who’ve made a hell of a difference in the country’s direction, too.

So it looks to me like Lott is, to borrow from xenophon, conflating coincidence with causation. Or at least vastly overrating the level of causation.

Here are my objections to your reasoning:[ul][li]That no law can limit the availability of guns or counterinfluence the use of guns by criminals. You’ll need to support that assertion. I was under the impression that even the NRA feels that certain programs to restrict gun use can be successful. (Do a web search on “Project Exile.”)[]That the degree to which one is a “law abiding” person is a constant. What you don’t take into account is that [list][]one only needs to have no criminal record to be considered “law abiding”[]“law abiding” does not mean “even tempered” or “responsible”[]even law abiding people have been known to commit assault when acting irresponsibly on their emotions[]the possession of a firearm greatly increases the likelihood that an assault will include the use of that firearm[/ul][]That less possession of guns by the general populace leads to less restriction on criminals. Another assertion I’d like to see some support for.[/list][/li]
My own, unsupported “gut” feeling is that any increase in the number of firearms within a population will necessarily result in an increase in the use of firearms within that population. Defensive uses will increase, but so will criminal uses. This feeling of mine***** is why I insist on extraordinary evidence to support the extraordinary claim (IMHO) that “more guns = less crime”.

*****Note that this is NOT an argument against concealed carry permits or for draconian gun control measures.

Amazing how wide spread the safety cap theory is, do a search on Viscusi who authored it and you will see it cited hundreds of times on conservative sites without much explanation.

Look a bit closer and the results appear somewhat less startling and more controversial. It seems the rate of death has been falling slowly since the 50s. Viscusi decided that the falling death rate was correlated with economic factors. While the rate continued to fall after the introduction of child proof caps it didn’t fall as much as the economic correlation suggests it should have.

Some people use this study to make fun of economists.

For heaven’s sake, minty, I don’t want to have to explain this like I’m talking to a child, because you’re manifestly not one, but sheesh.

  1. The Newsweek article does not tell us what Lott says concerning gun locks. Period. So any conclusions you draw on that topic from the Newsweek article are bound to be inaccurate. (Max Torque, on the other hand, actually, you know, quotes Lott, something a responsible writer would do.)

  2. The question of whether guns should be kept out of the reach of children is independent of the question of whether gun locks prevent guns from being used effectively by adults. One can believe the latter without arguing for increased access to guns by children, for Pete’s sake.

  3. Your argument had two unrelated premises, and a faulty conclusion drawn from them. Look at it again:

Gun locks keep children from using guns.
If gun locks are dangerous, they should not be used.
Therefore, we’re better off if children can use guns.

Not only does the conclusion not follow from the premises, the premises aren’t even related. A first-year logic student could tell you that. Try this:

Gun locks keep children from using guns.
If gun locks are dangerous, to the extent that the inhibit gun owners from using guns defensively and effectively, they should not be used.
Therefore, we need to rely on methods other than gun locks to inhibit access to guns by children.

Even that slipshod logic works better than your argument. Even better:

Access to guns by children should be restricted.
Gun locks restrict access to guns by children.
Gun locks also restrict access to guns by gun owners.
Restricting access to guns may prevent effective defensive gun use.
Preventing effective defensive use by gun owners can result in more loss of innocent lives to criminals.
Therefore, methods other than gun locks should be used to restrict access to guns by children.

I have no taste for getting into the gun control debate.

However, it does certainly seem from a simple perspective that there’s a lot of the following going on:

A. This particular action was taken.

B. An analysis of statistics from the time that action was taken shows this.

C. Therefore, A must have had something to do with B.
Really? Isn’t it just as possible that the effect described in B was actually the result of a whole set of complex interactions between D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K…etc., and that A had little or nothing to do with it?
I had a great example of this years ago during my days as a radio talk show host (no, I don’t want to talk about it!).

My guests were practitioners of TM (Transcendental Meditation). After extolling the benefits this practice had bestowed upon them personally, one of them went on to make an extraordinary statement. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the gist of it:
A. More and more people in New York City are practicing Transcendental Meditation.

B. The crime rate in New York City dropped one percent last year.

C. See?
This was told to me with absolutely a straight face. These guys really and truly believed there was a causal relationship between A and B.

Reminds me of the old joke about the beatnik hanging out on the corner snapping his fingers to keep the elephants away.

“Elephants? There haven’t been elephants around here for centuries!”

“Hey, I’m doin’ a great job, aren’t I?”