Scripps Howard News Service

August 07, 2003, Thursday


LENGTH: 780 words

HEADLINE: Simple-minded on gun control

SOURCE: Scripps Howard News Service


BODY: Conservatives, says a new study, are simple-minded, to which I say that's partly true, some of us sometimes are, but I would also argue that the characterization can apply to some liberal dispositions, such as the one on gun control shows.

It's not that there are no brainy liberals out there engaged in all sorts of complicated mental wanderings. But if you keep a close eye on this tribe, you can't ignore its constantly surfacing, unsophisticated supposition that good governmental intentions necessarily translate into good social results.

The gun-control issue is revealing in this respect, for we're always being told that one more well-meaning law on top of the thousands in existence will somehow be the one that does the trick. The logic seems to be that the proposed law, whatever it is, will in fact shrink the number of guns that find their way into suicidal, irresponsible or criminal hands, and that the number of gun deaths will thereby be reduced as well.

The truth, as John Lott has shown, is more nearly the opposite. Spread the guns around. Therein lies death reduction.

Lott, a tall, thin, intense-seeming man I visited with the other day, is an economist who has taught at prestige universities such as Yale and is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. To an extent few can have matched, he has amassed and analyzed data about gun use, and he has provided empirical evidence that the liberal formula is hokum.

His books - "More Guns, Less Crime" and "The Bias Against Guns" - use charts and statistics to make the case that gun -control laws are ineffectual and worse. They do not reduce crime or killings. They have the opposite effect. After tough new gun laws were enacted in England, violent crime took off as if headed for the moon. According to Lott, a better way to address crime is through laws making it legal and relatively easy for average citizens to carry concealed weapons.

Counterintuitive? It may seem that way, Lott tells us in the book on gun bias, because media so seldom report on the endless incidents in which citizens avert crime by brandishing a gun and scaring off the bad guy. He makes the obvious point that those who obey gun-control laws are not criminals but people who abide by the law. Disarm the populace, and the armed criminals have fewer disincentives to do their damage. Make it easier for citizens to have guns, and the would-be robber or mugger has something to worry about. The upshot: Laws allowing concealed-weapons reduce crime.

Some liberals don't like it when you pop their balloons, and the attack on Lott has been as relentless as it has been reckless and mean-spirited. It has been implied that he used fake data for one assertion, when in truth he made it immediately clear to colleagues that some data had been lost after a computer crash, spelled out how it could be replicated and has since replicated it himself.

There also has been a responsible response to him and other social scientists whose research supports his, namely research arriving at a different conclusion about the consequences of concealed-weapons laws. But this conclusion, which Lott says is based on a flawed reading of the data, is not quite so different as Lott's opponents might hope. Even these researchers agree you cannot deduce from the data that the concealed-weapons laws lead to significant increases in crime.

Based on the evidence, the liberals are mistaken in their gun-control enthusiasms, and the same is the case with any number of their ideas about pressing governmental buttons here and getting desired outcomes over there. Creating better living standards for the poor is not as easy as passing minimum wage laws that may actually lead to fewer work opportunities, for instance. Such laws are simple-minded.

Something else that appears simple-minded is the study that portrayed conservatives as simple-minded. It also called conservatives rigid, intolerant of just about everything but inequality, fear-ridden, angry, pessimistic and, well, you might not want your daughter marrying one of them.

I haven't laid my hands on the report yet, but I know from articles on it that the authors define conservatism in such a way as to allow them to lump President Ronald Reagan with Adolph Hitler, and that while the authors must see themselves as capable of rational observation, they think those with different outlooks are captives of non-rational psychological forces. Sounds ad hominem to me. Sounds simplistic.

I wonder how these guys stand on gun control.

(Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.)

LOAD-DATE: August 8, 2003

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The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

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