Thursday, May 23, 2013

Comprehensive Review of John Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" by Academic

First, some background about me: I am a Ph.D.-holder and tenured professor whose immersion in the insular politics of academia had led me to harbor many negative perceptions about firearms. Though I was never staunchly "anti-gun," I was not a gun owner, did not understand the appeal of firearms, and generally believed that gun control legislation was only common sense. That changed four years ago when I (finally) decided to look into the data on guns, crime, and public safety for myself. I am a trained researcher, but I conducted my research for personal not professional reasons. My wife was pregnant and I wanted hard facts--not talking point from the political parties--so I could make an informed decision about what to teach my children about firearms, and whether it would be prudent or dangerous to have one in our house.

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.

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