Another Media Matters attack: “WSJ gives discredited researcher John Lott a platform to falsely blame gun regulation for the Mexican Drug War”

Oct 26, 2019 | Featured

Media Matters is upset again that a major news outlet has published John Lott’s work. In this case, the anti-conservative group is miffed that he had a piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Although Lott’s primary pro-gun research theory — that “more guns” equal “less crime” — has been repeatedly debunked over the years by academic researchers, the Journal is the latest major outlet to give him a platform to spread pro-gun nonsense.

Lott has responded to previous Media Matters’ criticisms before here, here, and here. A list of peer-reviewed academic studies that confirm Lott’s research is available here.

A response to the Media Matters post, “Who is gun advocate John Lott?” is available here.

He writes, “If you look across all countries or all developed countries, the ones with the highest gun-ownership rates tend to have the lowest homicide rates and the lowest murder rates from mass shootings.” But according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, “across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.” Research has also shown that high-income nations typically experience low rates of gun violence — with the exception of the U.S., which has both remarkably high gun availability and a high gun homicide rate for a high-income nation. 

Here is the CPRC research that Lott cites concerning gun ownership rates and murder rates. When you look at all countries or just at all developed countries, even using the badly flawed measure of gun ownership by the Small Arms Survey, it is clear that more guns are associated with fewer homicides. Every single time that guns are banned, there is an increase in murder/homicide rates.

(Lott’s claim about mass shootings is an aside to his main point, but his research on that topic has also been thoroughly debunked, as Lott obviously distorted his data set.)

John Lott published his data on mass public shootings in a peer-reviewed journal. The analysis of the data is available here.

What makes Lott’s argument about Mexico ridiculous on its face, however, is his failure to account for intervening events between 1971 and present. Perhaps the most obvious example is that the modern drug cartels, which are fueling violence in Mexico, didn’t exist in 1971, and instead have their genesis in the 1980s. Cartel activities led to the start of what is known as the Mexican Drug War, which began in 2006 and continues to this day.

There are lots of reasons that murder/homicide rates vary across different countries. That is why we focus on the changes in crime rates within a particular country, especially before and after a gun ban.

A secondary purpose of Lott’s opinion piece is to downplay the extent to which violence in Mexico is carried out with guns smuggled from the U.S. — a phenomenondriven by weak U.S. gun regulation. Lott takes issue with data about firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, pointing out that the percentage of firearms traced back to the U.S. depends on the sample size of firearms collected . . . Lott also claims that cartel violence often includes fully automatic weapons and notes that such weapons are highly restricted in the U.S. However, functionally similar semi-automatic assault weapons that can be easily purchased in the U.S. are routinelyconverted into fully automatic weapons south of the border.  (It’s also noteworthy that Lott’s reference to effective regulation of fully automatic weapons in the U.S. is a tacit admission that gun laws work if they are properly enforced.) . . .

You simply can’t easily or routinely convert a semi-automatic gun into a fully automatic weapon. That is true even for weapons that have a similar heritage and outward design, such as the AR-15 (see here and here).

How could US machine gun regulations have been as effective as Media Matters claims if semi-automatic weapons could be so easily converted into automatic models? The production of automatic weapons would be very difficult to regulate.

Lott quotes both Mexican and U.S. law enforcement who believe that machine guns aren’t coming from the U.S..

“Most cartels buy in bulk, and the weapons are coming from places like Nicaragua and other South American countries. Also Asia and some from the Middle East,” a Tijuana-based police authority who requested anonymity recently told Fox News.

“These kinds of guns—the auto versions of these guns—they are not coming from El Paso,” Ed Head, a firearms instructor in Arizona who spent 24 years as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, told Fox News. “They are coming from other sources. They are brought in from Guatemala. They are brought in from places like China. They are being diverted from the military. But you don’t get these guns from the U.S.”

Media Matters ignores these quotes from law enforcement. Their graph of the increase in Mexico’s gun homicides since 1997, and the smaller decline in non-gun homicides, seems irrelevant to Lott’s comparisons between 1972 and 2019. Media Matters ignores the reality that homicides have doubled since Mexico adopted its draconian gun control laws.

Unlike in Mexico, machine guns have rarely been used by criminals in the US. Even before the 1934 regulations or the additional regulatory changes in 1986, machine guns were seldom used in crime in the United States (see David Harsanyi’s First Freedom). Since 1934, there have only been two murders committed with fully automatic guns, so it is hard to believe that the machine gun regulations had much of an impact.

Lott also attempts to further downplay arms smuggling from the U.S. with two falsehoods. First, he points out, “Between 2005 and 2014, more than 13,000 grenades were seized by the Mexican government, and these simply can’t be bought in the U.S.” While grenades are unavailable for civilian purchase in the U.S., grenade parts are legal, and there are documented cases of grenade parts smuggled into Mexico for cartel use.

To make its case, Media Matters cites one instance in 2011 of a person who was accused of smuggling a component that is used for making grenades. Mexican drug gangs then used the part to manufacture grenades. Media Matters also cites another case from 2018, when someone was convicted of supplying weapon parts, though the source of his parts isn’t even mentioned.

There is no discussion of how prominent these two suppliers were or what percentage of their parts came from the U.S.. Nor are we told what those parts are and whether they could easily be made from other sources.

If it is so easy to construct grenades from parts that are available in the United States, such weapons would probably be more commonly used. But we just don’t see such weapons in the United States.