Freedomnomics

Article published Tuesday, January 11, 2011, at AOL News.

Gun Control Debate: Political Opportunists Swarm In

By John R. Lott, Jr.

The horrible attack that has left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded and six others dead has not brought out the best in many people. Ugly political opportunism looks to have led many into making statements they will soon regret. Within hours without knowing anything about the attacker's background or motives, many started blaming Sarah Palin and the tea party.

For instance, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that Giffords was a target because "she's a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a tea party activist." And on CNN, correspondent Jessica Yellin singled out Sarah Palin, saying her "political rhetoric [created] the environment that allowed this instance to happen."

Well, it looks like those who blamed Palin and the tea party for political gain are going to wish they had waited just a couple of days. Jared Loughner, hardly a tea party fan, has been described by a former classmate as "left wing, quite liberal" and a "pothead" who has had a fixation on Giffords since 2007, a year before Palin or the tea party made their entry onto the national political scene.

Then there are the gun control activists jumping at the chance to take advantage of the tragedy. Within a day of the attack, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said that the attack proved the need for more gun regulations. McCarthy and Lautenberg are expected to release bills proposing new regulations shortly.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, blamed the attack on Arizona's alleged complete lack of gun control laws.

"Arizona basically has no laws restricting guns, and everyone can get a gun," he told Fox News on Sunday.

It's an absurd claim, something that someone with the Brady Campaign should surely know, since the national background checks are named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, the same person that his organization is named after. Arizona has the same Brady Act background checks for purchasing guns as the rest of the country.

The McCarthy and Lautenberg bills reportedly would restore the ban on ammunition clips that can hold more than 10 bullets. That ban in the federal assault weapons ban expired on Sept. 14, 2004. With the ban's sunset, those favoring the ban predicted a massive violent crime wave.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democratic party's presidential nominee that year, warned it would make "the job of terrorists easier."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., foresaw that deadly crime would soar because of the "pent-up demand for 50-round magazines and larger." Gun control advocates such as Sarah Brady, James' wife, anticipated similar problems.

Six years have passed since the ban sunset, and none of those fears has been borne out. Indeed, every category of violent crime has fallen, with the murder rate falling by about 15 percent between 2004 and June 2010. The recently released third edition of "More Guns, Less Crime" found that the seven states that have their own assault weapons ban saw a smaller drop in murders than the 43 states without such laws.

There is no academic research by criminologists or economists that shows that either state or federal assault weapon bans have reduced any type of violent crime. Clips are very easy to cheaply make, and the only people inconvenienced by a ban would be law-abiding individuals.

Americans can forgive a lot of things, but using a horrible tragedy for partisan gain isn't one of them.

John R. Lott Jr. is a FOXNews.com contributor. He is an economist and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010), the third edition of which was published in May..

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Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper