Gun industry backers love to cite John Lott’s 2005 book More Guns, Less Crime, as it’s good for gun sales. But Lott’s work has been debunked, and better studies confirm the obvious conclusion: more guns lead to more crime. (More)

Talking About Guns, Part II: More Guns, More Crime

This week Morning Feature invites progressives to join President Obama and Democrats in advocating for sensible gun safety regulations. Yesterday we looked at gun industry supporters’ common claims about “rights,” and why they’re often very selective or plainly wrong about Second Amendment law. Today we see data that disprove gun industry claims of “More guns, less crime.” Saturday we’ll conclude with words and phrases to emphasize, and to avoid, when discussing gun safety regulations with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

The Obvious Conclusion

It makes intuitive sense that a society awash in guns would have more gun crimes. And while intuitive sense is not always a reliable guide, in this case it’s true. Consider this map showing per-capita gun violence by state, from Joy Reid’s The Reid Report:

While gun industry supporters routinely cite higher crime rates in gun-restricted urban areas like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles as proof that gun regulations don’t work … you’re more likely to get shot in Vermont than in New York, in Indiana more than in Illinois, and in Arizona than in California. Cities have higher crime rates for the same reason cities have higher rates of artistic and economic innovation: more people interacting more often generates more opportunities … for good or ill.

More guns … kills

Florida state representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) was unapologetic about authoring the “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) law that led to the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last February, saying the law has “saved thousands of people’s lives.” Yet Rep. Baxley offered no evidence for that claim, and it’s unlikely he could.

In fact, a study by Texas A&M economists Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra found that states with SYG laws had increased homicide rates:

More significantly, results indicate that [SYG] laws increase total homicides by 7 to 9 percent. Put differently, the laws induce an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year across the 23 states in our sample that enacted [SYG] laws. This finding is robust to a wide set of difference-in-differences specifications, including region-by-year fixed effects, state-specific linear time trends, and controls for time-varying factors such as economic conditions and policing and incarceration rates. These findings provide evidence that lowering the expected cost of lethal force causes there to be more of it.

What’s more, Cheng and Hoekstra found such laws did not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault … the crimes that gun industry backers say concealed carry and SYG laws will prevent:

We find no evidence that [SYG] law deters crime. Furthermore, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out moderate-sized deterrence effects. Thus, while our view is that it is a priori reasonable to expect that strengthening self-defense law would deter crime, we find this is not the case.

Indeed a 2004 American Journal of Epidemiology study by Linda Dahlberg, Robin Ikeda, and Marcie-jo Kresnow found that “Simply having a gun in the home increased the risk of a firearm homicide or firearm suicide in the home.” As for claims about gun owners deterring crimes, a 2000 Harvard study published in Injury Prevention found:

Results – Even after excluding many reported firearm victimizations, far more survey respondents report having been threatened or intimidated with a gun than having used a gun to protect themselves. A majority of the reported self defense gun uses were rated as probably illegal by a majority of judges. This was so even under the assumption that the respondent had a permit to own and carry the gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly.

Conclusions – Guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense. Most self reported self defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society.

A Lott of trash

So what about John Lott and his supposed proof that more guns equals less crime? ScienceBlogs Tim Lambert looked at the data and concluded “It looks as if Lott might have been caught cooking his “more guns, less crime” data.”

Rutgers University professor Ted Goertzel related several statistical flaws in Lott’s work, in an article for the Skeptical Inquirer, including a study that used Dr. Lott’s equations and reached a different result, simply by excluding data from Florida. If a statistical model only works with specific data, crunched in a specific way – including identified calculation errors that the author denies having made – that’s pretty much the definition of “junk science.”

As law professors Ian Ayres and John Donohue concluded:

Indeed, the probabilistic underpinnings of statistical analysis suggest that running regressions for nine different crime categories to see if there is any measurable impact on crime will, by chance alone, frequently generate estimates that on their face are “statistically significant.” Therefore, it may well be the case that the scattered negative coefficients for various violent crime categories, which on their face suggest that crime decreases with passage of shall-issue laws, should be thought of as statistical artifacts.

Simply, Lott’s hypothesis belongs in the same bin as arguing that standing on one foot while flipping a coin will cause the coin to land heads-up, based on a single test.

Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime” belongs in … the trash bin.


Happy Friday!