At The Hill Newspaper: Locking guns won’t do anything to save lives

May 24, 2018 | Featured

UPDATED: At the end of this piece, we have included responses to an attack on Dr. Lott’s article.

ORIGINAL POST: Dr. John Lott has a new piece at The Hill newspaper on the current debate over whether people should lock up the guns in their homes.  The op-ed starts this way:

After Friday’s attack at Santa Fe High School, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick forcefully told people of their “responsibility” to lock up their guns. We all want to do something, but everyone locking up their guns will cost more lives than it saves.

Santa Fe High School had received an award for school safety but it was helpless to stop this latest nightmare. We need to rethink school safety.  Despite this year’s attacks, deaths from school shootings have actually declined over the last few decades. Still, that doesn’t take away at all from the seriousness of the problem we face.

Lt. Gov. Patrick was just giving people advice. By contrast, gun control advocates always want to use laws to force their solutions on others. Since the Santa Fe killer apparently took his father’s guns, a number of gun control advocates have proposed to hold parents like him criminally liable; any gun owner would face criminal charges for leaving his gun unlocked or failing to keep it under his immediate possession.

Other shootings have involved guns stolen from parents. In 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza stole his mother’s gun and subsequently killed her.She kept the gun in a safe, so a new law wouldn’t have mattered there. Since 2000, there have been two additional mass public shootings in the U.S. where a juvenile killed at least four people.

Gun control advocates claim that gunlocks will also reduce children’s accidental gun deaths. Unfortunately, the problem is more complicated. Mandating that people lock up their guns can have unintended consequences.

According to my research, published in the Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, and elsewhere, requiring individuals to lock up their guns in certain states made it more difficult for those people to successfully defend their families. Such laws emboldened criminals to attack more people in their homes; there were 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes occurring each year in the states with these laws. Burglaries also rose dramatically.

That is not particularly surprising given that crime rises when we impede people from protecting themselves. Indeed, every place in the world that has banned guns has seen an increase in murder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, accidental gunshots nationwide claimed the lives of an average of 59 children annually over the ten years from 2006 to 2015. This is a tragic number, but so too is the much larger number of cases where people aren’t able to protect themselves and their families from criminals.

Even if locking up guns could have prevented all three of the mass shootings since 2000 that were committed by juveniles, that these killers couldn’t have obtained weapons in other ways, there would have been 24 fewer deaths and 16 fewer people who were wounded. One could even add in all of the accidental gun deaths and assume that those would have been prevented, too. But, even then, we are talking about just a fraction of those who die in one year from the mandated safe storage of guns. . . .

The rest of the piece is available here.

The Hill newspaper ran an op-ed criticizing Dr. Lott’s piece. Here is a point-by-point response to some of the errors in the Devin Hughes, Beth Roth, and Jen Pauliukonis’ piece in The Hill. The responses are in bold italics.

Lott’s article is riddled with fabrications and falsehoods. For example, he opines that “every place in the world that has banned guns has seen an increase in murder.” Yet Japan is the developed nation that has come closest to completely banning firearms, and it has seen its homicide rate fall more than 75 percent since it adopted its ban in 1958. While correlation is not causation, Lott’s correlative claim is unmistakably false. Further, a 2013 study found that among developed nations, more guns per capita was associated with significantly higher rates of firearm deaths.

Japanese gun control regulations had seen virtually no change for several hundred years.  It is wrong to think that the 1958 law changed anything relevant to this discussion.  For example, the Library of Congress has this summary.

In 1946, the Japanese government issued the Imperial Ordinance Concerning the Prohibition of the Possession of Guns and Other Arms, which banned the possession of firearms and swords by private citizens in principle, though the possession of hunting guns and artistic swords was allowed under license.[12] . . .

The 1950 Order was replaced by the Law Controlling the Possession of Firearms and Swords in 1958.[18]  There were some changes made to the regulations in the 1950 Order, but the general prohibition of possession of guns by civilians was not changed. . . .

As to the claim that developed countries with more guns have higher rates of firearm deaths, this claim depends on biases in how gun ownership is measured or what countries that you define as developed.  The evidence shows that higher gun ownership is associated with fewer homicides or firearm homicides.   Also, purely cross-country comparisons are quite misleading. And contrary to the reference to Japan, every single time that all guns or all handguns have been banned, homicide rates have gone up.

Lott opines that “relatively few accidental gunshots take place in law-abiding, normal homes; most accidental gunshots resulting in the deaths of minors are fired by adult males in their mid-to-late 20s who have criminal histories.” This is an outright fabrication.

“Of the fifty-six accidental gun deaths involving children under ten in 1998 and the thirty-one in 1999, only eight and six respectively were shot by another child or themselves. The same statistic for 1997 was only five.” — “The Bias Against Guns.”

More detailed evidence on these points is also available there.

Lott’s outdated, solitary study claiming that CAP laws increase crime relies extensively on dubious econometric practices. More reliable research reveals that not only does firearm prevalence endanger children, but that strong CAP laws also help mitigate this risk and save lives. These laws help reduce both unintentional shootings and youth firearm suicides.

Despite the criticism that Lott’s research on whether gunlock laws increase crime, none of these studies linked to here look at that relationship.   In addition, the papers that are cited are purely cross-sectional data (the Slate article cites this, and the “strong CAP Laws” study is here).

Other studies not referenced here either don’t control for changes in other types of accidental deaths or factors such as pre-existing average differences across jurisdictions.

Finally, Dr. Lott’s piece didn’t just reference one “outdated solitary study.”  He cited two and here is another later refereed publication here (pp. 198-201).

Although Lott correctly notes that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show an average of 59 children are unintentionally shot and killed each year, he fails to disclose that researchers have conclusively revealed that this number is a significant underestimate. The CDC readily admits that its estimate is low, so using this number can only be a tactic to minimize these deaths. A 2013 New York Times investigation found that fewer than half of unintentional shootings of children were recorded as such (often being mislabeled as homicides).

Relying on initial news reports to identify cases is a very poor approach. Often the initial news reports are the only news articles made in these cases.  As Dr. Lott wrote to Michael Luo, the author of the 2013 New York Times report cited here, made many questionable judgment calls. For example, including cases such as a four-year-old supposedly loading a magazine and pulling back the slide before firing it, just shows that the journalists don’t know very much about guns. Few children under ten or even twelve have the strength to pull back the slide on a semi-automatic handgun. Coroners also have access to information not publicly available.

the best available empirical data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive reveal there are fewer than 2,100 verified DGUs annually.

For problems with the Gun Violence Archive and their reliance on news coverage and other errors see here and here.

The piece by Devin Hughes, Beth Roth, and Jen Pauliukonis is available here.




On How To Be Tom Shillue: Discussing More Guns, Less Crime

On How To Be Tom Shillue: Discussing More Guns, Less Crime Dr. John Lott talked to Tom Shillue about a wide range of topics including the collapse in law enforcement, mass public shootings in the United States, the dangers of gun-free zones, how often civilians...