RE: guns (Re: Cell phones of death!)

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From: Matt Jensen (
Date: Mon Dec 18 2000 - 15:04:56 PST

fyi, Lott's main study is available at:

He seems to look at FBI Uniform Crime Reports nationally, by county, in a
period before and after some states liberalized concealed weapons laws.

I do think county-by-county is a better approach for such studies than
state-by-state. States are strange and mostly-arbitrary amalgamations of
subpopulations. Take Nevada, where I would bet a large number of ranchers
have guns for self-protection, controlling wildlife, etc. But then you
have Las Vegas, which helps make Nevada the 10th state in violent
crime.[1] Data by counties would let you see the different populations.

So I went to looking for Uniform Crime Reports by county, and
they're not on the site. Only the summary reports are available there.
I looked for a webmaster address so I could request that data, but I
couldn't find a single email address on the whole site. I don't think
there's even a feedback form, just snail mail addresses. Disappointing.

-Matt Jensen

[1] U.S. Census data:
States ranked by violent crime:
States ranked by percentage of population living in metro areas:

On Mon, 18 Dec 2000, Zhang, Yangkun wrote:

> I don't own a gun. I have never fired a gun. I don't ever plan on acquiring
> a guy. Having said that, it would seem to me that banning guns would 1) only
> ensure that criminals have them--since they would no doubt not care about
> violating gun laws (after all, robbery, rape et al are all illegal to begin
> with and typically carry a tougher sentence than the illegal possession of a
> firearm), and 2) guns bans would decrease the marginal cost of committing a
> crime to the criminal. The economist in me tells me that when you outlaw
> something, only the criminal element will possess such an item--for good
> examples, refer to the prohibition and the currently failing war on drugs.
> That aside, here's a very good article on the issue:
> ----------------------------------------------------
> Cold Comfort
> Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of
> pointing them out.
> Interviewed by Jacob Sullum and Michael W. Lynch
> Until recently, when he bought a 9-mm Ruger after his own research impressed
> upon him the value of gun ownership, John Lott had no personal experience
> with firearms, aside from one day of riflery in summer camp when he was 12.
> That fact did not stop a reviewer of Lott's 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime
> (University of Chicago Press), from labeling him a "gun nut." Writing in The
> American Prospect, Edward Cohn also identified Lott as "a leading loon of
> the Chicago School of economics, known for its ultra-market ideology." But
> that was gentle--a backhanded compliment, even--compared to the attacks from
> anti-gun activists, who accused Lott of producing his landmark study at the
> behest of the gun industry.
> Lott, now a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, used to be the John
> M. Olin Law and Economics Fellow at the University of Chicago. That
> position, like similar ones at other major universities, was endowed by a
> foundation based on the personal fortune of the late John M. Olin, former
> chairman of the Olin Corporation. Among many other things, the Olin
> Corporation makes Winchester ammunition. These facts led Kristen Rand of the
> Violence Policy Center to conclude that "Lott's work was, in essence, funded
> by the firearms industry"--a charge that was echoed by other gun control
> ad-vocates, including Charles Schumer, then a Democratic representative from
> New York and now a senator.
> Never mind that assuming the Olin Foundation takes orders from "the firearms
> industry" is like assuming the Ford Foundation does the bidding of
> automakers. Never mind that Olin fellows are chosen by faculty committees,
> not by the foundation (with which Lott never had any contact). Proponents of
> gun control were desperate to discredit Lott, because his findings
> contradicted their dark predictions about what would happen if states
> allowed law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns.
> Analyzing 18 years of data for more than 3,000 counties, Lott found that
> violent crime drops significantly when states switch from discretionary
> permit policies, which give local officials the authority to determine who
> may carry a gun, to "shall issue" or "right-to-carry" laws, which require
> that permits be granted to everyone who meets certain objective criteria.
> That conclusion, first set forth in a 1997 paper that Lott co-authored with
> David Mustard, now an economist at the University of Georgia, heartened
> defenders of gun ownership and dismayed their opponents. Arguing that "shall
> issue" laws are beneficial, while other gun laws are ineffective at best,
> Lott quickly became one of the most widely cited--and reviled--scholars in
> the gun control debate.
> Though it was the gun issue that brought Lott notoriety, it hasn't been the
> focus of his career. The 41-year-old economist, who earned his Ph.D. at
> UCLA, has published papers on a wide variety of topics, including
> professional licensing, criminal punishment, campaign finance, and public
> education. Last summer he published Are Predatory Commitments Credible?
> (University of Chicago Press), a skeptical look at theories of predatory
> pricing, and he is working on a book about the reputational penalties faced
> by criminals, a longstanding interest. In addition to his positions at Yale
> and the University of Chicago, Lott has served as chief economist at the
> U.S. Sentencing Commission and taught at UCLA and the University of
> Pennsylvania, among other schools. He lives in Swarth-more, Pennsylvania,
> with his wife and four children. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum and Washington
> Editor Michael Lynch talked to Lott at his Yale Law School office in
> mid-October.
> Reason: How did you become interested in guns?
> John R. Lott Jr.: About six years ago, I was teaching a class dealing with
> crime issues at the University of Pennsylvania, and it dawned on me that my
> students would be interested in some papers on gun control. It forced me to
> look at the literature systematically to decide what papers to assign to the
> class. I was shocked by how poorly done the existing research on guns and
> crime was.
> You had very small samples. By far the largest previous study on guns and
> crime had looked at just 170 cities within a single year, 1980. Most of the
> rest looked at, say, 24 counties or 24 cities within a single year. No one
> had tried to account for things like arrest rates or conviction rates or
> prison sentence lengths. And the studies were all very limited in the sense
> that they were purely cross-sectional, where you look at the crime rates
> across jurisdictions in one year, or [purely longitudinal], where you pick
> one city or one county and look at it over time.
> It was basically because of that class that I saw the benefit to going out
> and trying to do it right. So I put together what I think is by far the
> largest study that's ever been done on crime. The book has data on all
> 3,000-plus counties in the U.S. over an 18-year period. And simply having
> that large a data set allows you to account for hundreds of factors,
> thousands of factors, that you couldn't have accounted for in those smaller
> data sets.
> Reason: What has been the most gratifying response to the book? Do you know
> of any criminologists whose views have been changed by your research?
> Lott: Some well-known people like [University of Pennsylvania criminologist]
> John DiIulio and [UCLA political scientist] James Q. Wilson have said very
> nice things about the study. I think it's caused DiIulio to look at these
> issues differently, and there are other criminologists I know of who have
> been amazed by how strong the data are. I've done lots of empirical studies,
> and the regularities that you see here, in terms of the drops in violent
> crimes right after these laws go into effect, are very dramatic.
> The intensity of the issue on both sides is something I wouldn't have
> expected before I got into it. I've been involved in a lot of debates, and
> people tell me, "You should have anticipated this before you did the study."
> But I've written about 80 academic articles, and the interest in this has
> been so outside the range of experiences I've had before. With the vast
> majority of articles, you're happy if you can get 10 people to read it.
> Reason: The thrust of your argument in More Guns, Less Crime is easy enough
> to understand. But the details of the evidence you cite are hard to follow
> for anyone who is not trained in econometrics. Does it bother you that
> people who support the right to keep and bear arms are apt to accept your
> conclusions at face value, while those who are inclined to support gun
> control will tend to reject your findings, even though few people in either
> group are equipped to evaluate the evidence?
> Lott: My guess is that [my critics] assume that the vast majority of people
> who hear their claims are not going to even look at the book. So they say,
> "Lott didn't account for poverty." Or they say, "Lott didn't account for
> other types of gun laws." Those are things that are easy to evaluate: Either
> I did, or I didn't. But I think they feel that they can get away with making
> those claims, because it'll be only a tiny fraction of 1 percent who will go
> and buy the book or get it from the library. I've never been involved in a
> debate like this, because in your normal academic debate, where there are 10
> people involved and they've all read the paper, if somebody says, "Professor
> X didn't account for other gun laws," everybody else in the room would
> laugh, because they would know it was an absurd claim.
> I don't think that most of the comments [the critics] are making are really
> that difficult to understand. One of the claims, for instance, is that I'm
> assuming that when these laws are passed there will be a one-time drop in
> violent crime rates, and it should be the same across all places that adopt
> these laws. That's absurd. I don't know how much time I spend in the book
> saying that the level of deterrence is related, according to the data, to
> the probability that people are going to be able to defend themselves, and
> the rate at which people get permits changes over time. When you pass these
> laws, not everybody who eventually is going to get a permit does it the
> first day. Fifteen years after these laws go into effect, you're still
> seeing an increasing percentage of the population getting these permits and
> a decreasing rate of violent crime because of the additional deterrence.
> I spend lots of time in the book talking about why you don't expect the drop
> in crime to be the same in all places....In more urban areas [of states with
> discretionary permit laws], public officials were especially reluctant to
> issue permits. So when you change to a nondiscretionary rule, the biggest
> increases in permits tended to be in these urban areas, and that is where
> you observe the biggest drops in violent crime.
> Reason: Your analysis shows that liberal carry permit policies are
> associated with lower crime rates even after controlling for a variety of
> factors that might also have an impact on crime. In the book you concede
> that some other variable that you did not consider could be responsible for
> this association. Yet at the end of the book, you write, "Will allowing
> law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns save lives? The answer is
> yes, it will." Do statements like that go too far?
> Lott: I don't think so. That's one of the last sentences in the book, and at
> that point the evidence is pretty overwhelming. There are different types of
> information, and they're all pointing in the same direction.
> After these laws are adopted, you see a drop in violent crime, and it
> continues over time as the percentage of the population with permits
> increases. If I look at neighboring counties on either side of a state
> border, when one state passes its right-to-carry law, I see a drop in
> violent crime in that county, but the other county, right across the state
> border, in a state without a right-to-carry law, sees an increase in its
> violent crime rate. You try to control for differences in the legal system,
> arrest and conviction rates, different types of laws, demographics, poverty,
> drug prices --all sorts of things. You look at something like that, and I
> think it's pretty hard to come up with some other explanation. I think
> you're seeing some criminals move [across the state line].
> You find the types of people who benefit the most from these laws. The
> biggest drops in crime are among women and the elderly, who are physically
> weaker, and in the high-crime, relatively poor areas where people are most
> vulnerable.
> There are five or six things that one could point to that confirm different
> parts of the theory. I haven't heard anybody come up with a story that
> explains all these different pieces of evidence....Since you have all these
> states changing their laws at different times, it becomes harder and harder
> to think of some left-out factor that just happened to be changing in all
> these different states at the same time the right-to-carry law got changed.
> Reason: A review of your book in The American Prospect claims that "his
> results are skewed by the inclusion of data from tiny counties with trivial
> rates of violent crime. In fact, when you consider only large counties and
> exclude Florida from the sample, his case completely falls apart." How do
> you respond?
> Lott: When you drop out counties with fewer than 100,000 people, if anything
> it actually increases the size of the effect. What [the reviewer is] saying
> is that if you not only drop out counties with fewer than 100,000
> people--which is 86 percent of the counties in the sample, so it's not just
> a few small counties that we're talking about--but also drop out Florida,
> then the changes in two of the violent crime categories, when you're just
> looking at the simple before-and-after averages, aren't statistically
> significant. But the results still imply a drop, and for robberies and
> aggravated assaults you still get a drop that's statistically significant.
> Now, I think it's somewhat misleading to look only at the simple
> before-and-after averages. Take the case where violent crime rates are
> rising right up to the point when the law goes into effect and falling
> afterward, and let's say it was a perfectly symmetrical inverted V. If I
> were to take the average crime rate before the law goes into effect and the
> average afterward, where the point of the V is when the law changed, they're
> going to be the same. Does that mean the law had no impact? When you drop
> Florida from the sample, [the results] look more like this inverted V than
> they do when Florida is in there. So I would argue that it strengthens the
> results, if what you care about is the change in direction.
> In any case, the bottom line to me is this: I wanted all the data that were
> available....I didn't pick and choose, and when somebody drops out 86
> percent of the counties along with Florida, you know they must have tried
> all sorts of combinations. This wasn't the first obvious combination that
> sprang to mind. And it's the only combination they report....If, after doing
> all these gymnastics, and recording only one type of specification, dealing
> with before-and-after averages that are biased against finding a benefit,
> they still find only benefits, and no cost, to me that strengthens the
> results.
> Reason: University of Florida criminologist Gary Kleck recently told The
> Salt Lake Tribune that "Lott has convincingly demonstrated there is no
> substantial detriment" from "shall issue" laws. But he questioned whether
> these laws could have as substantial a deterrent effect as you suggest.
> Kleck provided a blurb for your book, and his work is often cited by
> opponents of gun control. Why do you think he has trouble buying your
> conclusions?
> Lott: Gary has had a strong opinion for a long time that, on net, guns
> neither reduce or increase crime. He thinks it's essentially a wash. And I'm
> not sure I understand how he comes to that conclusion, particularly given
> the survey data that indicate that many more violent crimes are stopped with
> guns than are perpetrated with guns. But it is something that he has written
> and felt strongly about for a long time. Now Gary may think that there's
> something else that's being left out that maybe could explain these changes
> in crime rates. If he can tell me what that factor is, I'd be happy to try
> to test it.
> Reason: Do you still hear the argument that you're in the pay of the gun
> industry, or has that been discredited?
> Lott: I think the gun control people are going to continue to bring it up.
> I've been in debates this year with people from Handgun Control Inc. and
> other gun control groups in which they asserted flat-out that I've been paid
> by gun makers to do this study.
> Reason: When they raise this charge, how successful are you in making the
> point that people should be able to assess evidence and arguments on their
> merits and that your motives don't matter?
> Lott: Well, most people aren't going to look at the data. They're not going
> to have the data in front of them. The credibility of the data and the
> message depends on whether or not they believe that the person who's telling
> them about the data is credible. And I think the gun control groups feel
> that it's a win to the extent that they even divert three minutes of a show
> to talking about this issue. Even if it doesn't stick in people's minds,
> it's still three minutes that I couldn't talk about something else.
> Reason: In a working paper you wrote with University of Chicago law
> professor William Landes [available at
>], you conclude that "shall
> issue" laws are especially effective at preventing mass public shootings.
> Given that the people who commit these crimes seem to be pretty unbalanced,
> if not suicidal, how does the deterrent work?
> Lott: Most of these attacks do end in the death of the attackers themselves,
> frequently from suicide, but also because they're killed by others. But part
> of what's motivating them is the desire to harm other people, and to the
> extent that you can take that away from them, I think you reduce their
> incentive to engage in these attacks. Whether they do it just because they
> intrinsically value killing people or whether they do it because of the
> publicity, the fact that there might be a citizen there who can stop them
> well before the police are able to arrive takes away, in their warped minds,
> some of the gain from the crime, and stops a lot of them from doing it.
> Reason: You often say, based on surveys, that Americans use guns to fend off
> criminals more than 2 million times a year. But in the book, you note that
> people who report incidents of armed self-defense could be mistaken or
> lying. How big a problem is that, and how confident can we be that the true
> number is more than 2 million?
> Lott: Well, 2 million is the average of the various surveys. Different
> problems may plague different surveys, and the problems can go in both
> directions. You may have questions that weed out people who shouldn't be
> weeded out.
> Reason: Like "Do you own a gun?"
> Lott: Or it could be you ask them "Has a crime been committed against you?"
> before you ask them whether they've used a gun defensively.
> Reason: And they might not consider it a crime if it wasn't completed?
> Lott: Right. And so, we have errors that can exist on both sides....But
> that's the only type of evidence that we have on this....The most striking
> thing to me is the comparison between the results from these surveys and
> [survey data on] the number of violent crimes that are committed with guns
> each year. You see many more crimes that are averted by people who defend
> themselves with guns. I think that difference--even though both sets of
> numbers can be tainted for all the same reasons--is what's striking.
> Reason: You say that resistance with a gun is the safest option when
> confronted by a criminal. What's the basis for that conclusion?
> Lott: You hear claims from time to time that people should behave passively
> when they're confronted by a criminal. And if you push people on that,
> they'll refer to something called the National Crime Victimization Survey, a
> government project that surveys about 50,000 households each year. If you
> compare passive behavior to all forms of active resistance lumped together,
> passive behavior is indeed slightly safer than active resistance. But that's
> very misleading, because under the heading of active resistance you're
> lumping together things like using your fist, yelling and screaming, running
> away, using Mace, a baseball bat, a knife, or a gun. Some of those actions
> are indeed much more dangerous than passive behavior. But some are much
> safer.
> For a woman, for example, by far the most dangerous course of action to take
> when she's confronted by a criminal is to use her fists. The reason is
> pretty simple: You're almost always talking about a male criminal doing the
> attacking, so in the case of a female victim there's a large strength
> differential. And for a woman to use her fists is very likely to result in a
> physical response from the attacker and a high probability of serious injury
> or death to the woman. For women, by far the safest course of action is to
> have a gun. A woman who behaves passively is 2.5 times as likely to end up
> being seriously injured as a woman who has a gun.
> Reason: Why does the mainstream press seem to downplay the value of armed
> self-defense?
> Lott: One question is, Why don't they report people using guns defensively?
> If I have two stories, one where there's a dead body on the ground vs.
> another where, say, a woman has brandished a gun and a would-be rapist or
> murderer has run away, with no shots fired and no dead body on the ground,
> it's pretty obvious to me which one of those is going to be considered more
> newsworthy. It doesn't require any conspiracy. Now if we care about policy,
> if we care about what types of actions are going to save the most lives, or
> prevent the most crimes, we want to look at both of those cases: not only
> the newsworthy bad events but the bad events that never become newsworthy
> because they don't occur.
> But I don't think that explains everything. One example is gun deaths
> involving children. My guess is that if you go out and ask people, how many
> gun deaths involve children under age 5, or under age 10, in the United
> States, they're going to say thousands. When you tell them that in 1996
> there were 17 gun deaths for children under age 5 in the United States and
> 44 for children under age 10, they're just astounded. There's a reason why
> they believe these deaths occur much more frequently: If you have a gun
> death in the home involving a child under age 5, you're going to get
> national news coverage. Five times more children drown in bathtubs; more
> than twice as many drown in five-gallon water buckets around the home. But
> those deaths do not get national news coverage.
> This type of news coverage has consequences, because it affects people's
> perceptions of the benefits and costs of having guns around. Concentrating
> on gun deaths in the home, exaggerating the risks of that, creates a false
> impression. People are going to die because of that false impression.
> They're not going to have guns in the home, even though that's by far the
> safest course of action for them to take when they're confronted by a
> criminal. You may prevent some of the accidental deaths, but you're going to
> create other types of deaths because people won't be able to defend
> themselves.
> I think the debate would be so different now if, even once in a while, some
> of the life-saving uses of guns got some attention in the news. A couple of
> the public school shootings were stopped by citizens armed with guns well
> before the police were able to arrive. Or take the case of the day trader
> shooting in Atlanta, which got huge attention. Within 10 days after that,
> there were three separate attacks in the Atlanta area that were stopped by
> citizens with guns, in two cases permitted concealed handguns. They got no
> attention outside of the local media market.
> Reason: You've said that if Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who filed one of
> the first city-sponsored gun lawsuits, really believes guns are so bad, he
> ought to take them away from his bodyguards. Explain that comment.
> Lott: Daley has been arguing that there's no benefit from owning guns. Yet
> he has a whole set of full-time bodyguards following him every place he
> goes. He won't even think about visiting some of the more dangerous areas in
> Chicago without his bodyguards. But there are poor people who have to live
> in those areas, who live there at great risk, and he's not willing to let
> them own guns in order to protect themselves....I view it as very
> hypocritical, that Daley can understand the defensive benefits of guns when
> it comes to himself, but he's not willing to afford that same level of
> protection to the poorest, most vulnerable people in his city.
> Reason: You've pointed out that somebody who gets turned down for a gun
> purchase after a background check may simply get the gun by other means.
> That's a legitimate point, but don't you also have to consider the
> possibility that people are deterred from even trying to get a gun because
> they know there's going to be a background check and they know they won't
> pass it?
> Lott: They may just try to get it the illegal way to begin with. Personally,
> I don't believe the claims that the Clinton administration makes about the
> number of people who are stopped from buying a gun. My guess is that to the
> extent that people are stopped, the vast majority of them are people who may
> have something on their record from 30 years ago, and they don't realize
> that it prevents them from buying a gun. These are people who may pose no
> risk to anybody. In fact, that's one of the reasons why I think there's such
> a low prosecution rate of those people.
> Reason: The feds say they don't have the resources to prosecute.
> Lott: I don't think that's it at all. I think you have prosecutorial
> discretion. I think that you have a case where somebody who's 50 years old
> may have done something as an 18-year-old that was wrong. The prosecutor
> looks at it and says, "This guy has been an upstanding member of the
> community for 30 years, and he had this one run-in as a teenager. We don't
> really think that he intended to violate the law. We're not going to send
> the guy to jail for doing this."
> Reason: The National Rifle Association criticizes the Justice Department for
> not prosecuting enough of these cases.
> Lott: I think that's a mistake. They're also talking about prosecuting cases
> where guns were brought onto school property. My guess is that a prosecutor
> would bend over backwards to bring a case against a juvenile who had brought
> a gun onto school property. He doesn't want to not bring the case and then
> have something bad happen later on. That would be disastrous for his career.
> But let's say a kid's gone hunting in the morning before school. He has the
> gun in the trunk of his car, parks it in the school parking lot, and goes
> into school. Somebody finds out that he has a gun there. The prosecutor
> looks at the case and says, "This is a good kid, never done anything wrong.
> He probably just didn't realize he shouldn't have done this. Do I really
> want to send this kid to jail for three years for this type of violation?"
> It's wrong to think that these prosecutors are making the types of mistakes
> that are being assumed.
> Reason: You've criticized the NRA for doing a poor job of making its case.
> What should it be doing differently?
> Lott: My biggest complaint with the NRA is that they're too defensive. It
> seems to me that some of the [mass shootings] that have occurred are a
> result of gun laws that are already on the books. Rather than talking about
> what new law should be put in place, we should ask to what extent have
> well-intentioned laws in the past caused us to get to point where we are
> right now.
> It's only been since the end of 1995 that we've banned guns within 1,000
> feet of schools by federal law. Right after the Columbine attack, a friend
> of mine dropped off his kids at a public school in Seattle, and he e-mailed
> me afterward, because there was a big sign in front of the school that said,
> "This is a gun-free zone." The question I had was, if I put a sign like that
> in front of my home, would I think that people who are intent on attacking
> my home would be less likely, or more likely, to harm my children and my
> wife? You may be trying to create a safe area for your family, but what
> you've ended up accidentally doing is creating a safe zone for [criminals],
> because they have less to worry about.
> The thing that I'd like to see the NRA try to do is to say, when attacks
> occur, since we can't have the police every place all the time, why not let
> these people defend themselves? The people who get permits for concealed
> handguns tend to be extremely law-abiding. They've never done one of these
> attacks in the 70 years that we've had these types of permits. When these
> people lose their permits, and it's only a tiny fraction of 1 percent who
> do, it's usually for reasons that have nothing to do with posing a threat to
> other people. Laws [like the Gun-Free School Zones Act] are obeyed by
> honest, law-abiding citizens, not by people who are intent on carrying out
> attacks. And to the extent that you disarm the law-abiding citizens in
> certain areas, you increase the probability of these attacks, which
> perversely leads to calls for more regulations.
> Another example is gun locks. If I were with the NRA, I would emphasize the
> cost of constantly talking about this issue. You're actually endangering
> people's lives, for two reasons. One, you're exaggerating in their minds the
> risks of having guns in the home. And two, I would say it's not in
> everybody's interest to have a lock on their gun. If you live in a safe area
> and maybe have young kids, that might be fine. But if you live in a city,
> even if you have kids, I don't think it's really the wisest thing to have
> the gun locked up, because you're not going to be able to quickly access it
> to defend your family. And when you compare probabilities, accidental gun
> deaths in the home are trivial compared to the rate at which other types of
> deaths occur from crimes where innocent victims are attacked and a gun would
> benefit them.
> Reason: Some advocates of gun rights base their claims mainly on the Second
> Amendment, while others offer a more utilitarian argument. Which approach is
> more effective?
> Lott: I understand the constitutional arguments, but I think for the vast
> majority of people the bottom line is whether the presence of guns, on net,
> saves lives or costs lives. They may be able to understand in the abstract
> that having guns owned by civilians is some type of restraint on government,
> but I don't think most of them view that as a problem that they're facing
> any time soon. For them the bottom line is, What will save lives? And so I
> think that's where you have to argue.

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