Letter in Scientific American and rebuttal by original author

10 Nov , 2017  

Scientific American recently ran a 6,000 word article claiming that more guns means more crime.  Dr. John Lott wrote a letter responding to some of the many errors and the author wrote a response to his letter.  Here is Lott’s letter as well as some very quick and incomplete notes that respond to the author’s responses.

The Objection

John R. Lott, Jr., PhD, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center in Swarthmore, Pa., writes:

Melinda Wenner Moyer’s article “Journey to Gunland” (October 2017) is very biased and ignores virtually all of the literature on right-to-carry laws and gun ownership since 1998. About two thirds of the peer-reviewed, published literature shows concealed carry laws help reduce crime. I even provided Moyer with those published papers, but she doesn’t provide a single reference to or quote from them. Moyer appears completely unaware any of my research after 1998, making no mention of the 2nd and 3rd editions of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2000, 2010).

Moyer cites the National Research Council (NRC), but fails to accurately describe its findings. The council was more supportive of right-to-carry laws than it was of any other gun law. As is typical of NRC reports, the 2005 “Firearms and Violence” by the council refrained from endorsing any of the over 100 different gun regulations it studied.

However, there was one unexpected dissent by preeminent criminologist James Q. Wilson. Dissents in NRC reports are extremely rare. In the 10 years prior to the NRC report there were only two dissents out of 236 reports. Wilson, who had always supported gun control, had been on four previous panels but never had written a dissent. Finally, however, he pointed out the NRC’s own regressions consistently show right-to-carry laws reduce murder rates.

Moyer quotes physician Garen Wintemute: “Few studies…suggest that liberalizing access to concealed firearms has, on balance, beneficial effects.” But Moyer ignores 24 peer-reviewed publications just showing that crime in the U.S. drops after people are allowed to carry concealed handguns.

She references a recent unpublished paper by John Donohue, Abhay Aneja and Kyle Weber, but, unlike other studies, they don’t measure the number of permits issued, account for any other gun-control laws or deal with well-known statistical errors (such as truncation problems from a lot of zero values in the crime rates). The study also relies almost exclusively on trends in Hawaii to predict violent crime rates in Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah.

Take one example of Moyer’s sloppiness or bias in her article. Moyer has a long discussion of Arthur Kellermann’s work on the risks of guns in the home, and notes that Kellermann studied “444 people who had been killed between 1987 and 1992 at home.” But Moyer fails to note that, in fact, in only eight of these 444 homicide cases was the murder weapon a gun that had been kept in the home (The New England Journal of Medicine, February 3, 1994, p. 368). If Moyer had even read the 1998 edition of More Guns, Less Crime, she would have learned this.


Melinda Wenner Moyer responds:

John R. Lott, Jr., is wrong in his claims. He asserts “two thirds of the peer-reviewed, published literature shows that concealed carry laws help reduce crime.” This figure comes from a 2012 paper Lott himself wrote for the Maryland Law Review. In it he asserts that 18 peer-reviewed studies show right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime but only 11 suggest a different result.

But his two-thirds claim is false. Many of these 18 supposed pro-carry studies are off-topic. One is a paper by Lott on gun storage laws that has nothing to do with concealed carry. A second paper investigates how abortion relates to crime, a third concerns laws that prevent minors from owning guns—again, irrelevant to concealed carry. Lott also includes the second edition of his own book as one of these 18 peer-reviewed studies.

Moyer uses an older list from Dr. Lott’s 2012 paper in the University of Maryland Law Review, not the more complete list on our website that we provided to her.

Just because a paper is generally on safe storage laws or abortion doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also account for other factors.  Those papers also include a variable for right-to-carry laws.  Even though I provided her with links to actual copies of the papers, it appears that Moyer did nothing more than read the titles of the papers.

Dr. Lott’s paper on safe storage laws (see Table 3 on page 679) also discusses right-to-carry laws, waiting periods, and one-gun-a-month rules (and their adoption by neighboring states).  The paper is filled with results concerning right-to-carry laws.

The abortion paper does also deal with right-to-carry laws, see the bottom of Table 2 on page 14.

The next paper mentioned on preventing minors from owning gun also examines overall crime rates.  It finds (page 707, fn. 29), “A rough summary is that the shall-issue laws have little discernable impact except for reducing rape.”

In total, one third of his pro–concealed-carry citations refer to his own work. Not only does Lott inflate the number of studies that support his thesis, but he also completely omits many peer-reviewed studies that belong on the other side.

Yes, a number of the pro-carry papers are by Dr. Lott, but he was counting all peer-reviewed papers that examined US data.  And the three papers we’ve mentioned are all peer-reviewed.  Many of Lott’s papers were co-authored with others.

Lott is also wrong in his contention that I ignore 24 peer-reviewed publications “showing that crime in the U.S. drops after people are allowed to carry concealed handguns.” Included among these 24, which are listed on his Web site, are the irrelevant papers mentioned above, as well as other studies that do not show links between concealed carry policies and low crime. One of them, for example, is a paper on the relationship between crime and subscriptions to Handguns magazine.

None of the papers linked to on the CPRC are irrelevant.  All the papers linked to deal with right-to-carry laws.

As an example, there was indeed a link to a paper with Plassmann that discusses Handguns magazine, and that paper also deals with permitted concealed handgun laws.  Whether she didn’t read the paper or is pretending the paper did something different than it did, the paper does account for concealed handgun laws.

Lott’s inaccuracies certainly do not reflect the true weight of the evidence. My investigation involved far more than the impact of concealed-carry laws and ultimately concluded that more guns—period—are associated with more crime and violence.

Moyer doesn’t accurately describe the literature, and in any case she ignores all of the pro-carry papers by authors other than myself.  Nor does Moyer defend the Donohue, Aneja and Weber paper that she emphasized in her article, and that I critiqued.

Lott mistakenly states that I did not mention that one National Research Council committee member dissented from the committee’s conclusion that “it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.” I did, in fact, state in my piece that the vote was not unanimous. And 14 of the 15 members did agree with the committee conclusion, a fact Lott ignores. Clearly an overwhelming consensus had been reached among the researchers.

Dr. Lott’s letter to the magazine read: “As is typical of NRC reports, the 2005 ‘Firearms and Violence’ report by the council concluded that there was no conclusive evidence for any of the over 100 different gun regulations that it studied.”  Scientific American changed the wording to “refrained from endorsing.”  But the key point is that the NRC reports come to the same non-conclusion about virtually everything that they study, including all the gun control laws.  The only real endorsement was the extremely rare dissent made by one council member in support of Dr. Lott’s work.  Thus his research had more support than any of the over 100 gun control regulations they studied.

Finally, Lott criticizes me for omitting a detail about the Kellerman study that he considers important—but it is not. The study found the odds of being murdered nearly tripled among those who kept guns at home. Lott says it is important that most of these homicides did not involve the resident’s gun. That is a straw man. The study was designed to assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon. Murder victims are murder victims, regardless of weapon or means.

One would think that if increased gun ownership in the home was responsible for increased homicides of that home’s residents, you would want to mention that in only eight of the 444 homicide cases that were studied was the murder weapon a gun that had been kept in the home.  You are left with two options: either the homicides in the home are being committed by people from outside the home or by people in the home are using a non-gun weapon.

Does Moyer really want to argue that having a gun in the home increases the odds of a non-gun homicide?   What is the exact mechanism that she thinks exists here?  Kellermann’s paper concluded that “guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”  So why does a gun mean that a family member or intimate acquaintance is more likely to kill someone in the home with a non-gun weapon?

In any case, others accurately summarize Kellermann’s findings this way: “Keeping a gun in the home carries a murder risk 2.7 times greater than not keeping one, according to a study by Arthur Kellermann. . . . The study found that people are 21 times more likely to be killed by someone they know than a stranger breaking into the house.

The notion that Kellermann’s paper was seriously designed to “assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon” is wrong.  My book, “More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, all three editions), explains what the problems are.


3 Responses

  1. FredZ says:

    The detail she left out of the Kellerman study isn’t relevant? If the murder weapon used is not the gun owned in the home, how can the gun be blamed for the murder? Also, did it ever occur to her that the alleged tripling is due to the nature of the neighborhood where the victims lived and/or their actions or overall lifestyle rather than some magical power of a gun in the house?

  2. Tom Campbell says:

    My recollection of the only real result from the Kellerman non-study, a pretty sophomoric attempt at an undergraduate class theme paper, was that if someone in the house is somehow involved with or interacts with druggies, they are more likely to get shot.

  3. Tionico says:

    She is like the guy, blindfolded, enclosed in a small room wiht no windows, and a handful of darts. EVERY TIME he throws one o f those darts, it hits a wall.

    She also plays the fool by refusing to address points raised, and repeating her own points (rather, blunt sticks) she’s used before and have been called into questioin.

    It will be interesting to see what her editors do in response to your request. Will they cover for her, thus becoming knowingly complicit, or will they “have a chat” and straighten her out a bit.

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