Article published Tuesday, July 22, 2015, at Fox News.

Older people need guns, too

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Have you ever thought of letting someone else manage your finances? If President Obama has his way, Social Security recipients who have trouble managing their finances will be banned from buying a gun.

If Social Security were to start classifying these people as “mentally defective,” some 4.2 million Social Security recipients could be affected – about 10 percent of all people 65 and older.

But it is a real reach to say those who can’t manage their finances are a physical danger to themselves or others. What is next? Saying that people who can’t drive well or fail a math test should lose their right to self-defense? What about other rights? If Obama finds people “mentally defective,” should they lose their right to vote? Will they lose the right to make other decisions?

Having a gun is by far the safest way for people to protect themselves from criminals. What is ignored is that older people, as well as women, who both tend to be weaker physically, benefit the most from owning a gun. When a young man attacks an elderly person, the strength difference is enormous. A gun is the only means an elderly person can realistically put up a defense.

Everyday one can find news stories of elderly people defending themselves with guns. On Sunday afternoon, a 70-year-old homeowner in Washington state rescued his roommate who was being attacked by an intruder. Two days before that a retired veteran used his permitted concealed handgun to stop an armed robbery and protect others at a gas station in Georgia.

Americans 65 and over make up over 14 percent of the US population, yet they seldom go out and kill people, accounting for only 3 percent of murders where the age of the murder is known and it is probably far less than that as unsolved murders disproportionately tend to involve young gang.

For at least several years, Obama has been doing the same thing to veterans. Those who require someone to administer their VA benefits have been reported to the federal background check system. The only way out is to forfeit these benefits before the information is given to the background check system.

When Obama and I were both at the University of Chicago Law School, he was a part-time lecturer, he once told me: “I don’t believe that people should be able to own guns.” I am not surprised at many of the rules he’s trying to implement, often in sneaky ways.

To get an idea how out of control the VA policy has become, consider that “the Congressional Research Service, as of June 1, 2012, [found] 99.3% of all names reported to the NICS list’s ‘mental defective’ category were provided by the Veterans Administration (VA) even though reporting requirements apply to all federal agencies.” This seems preposterous. There is no reason military veterans should be massively overrepresented among those who lose their rights to owning a gun?

Before throwing more names into the system it might be time to correct some of its massive errors. Virtually everyone who is stopped from buying a gun is a false-positive, someone who should have been able to buy a gun, but were stopped because they had a name similar to someone the government did want to stop. Throwing in more names only makes it more likely that people who should be able to buy a gun will be stopped.

This is the same problem experienced with the “No Fly” list. Remember the five times that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy was “initially denied” flights because his name was on the anti-terror “no fly” list? His name was just too similar to someone that we really did want to keep from flying. By Obama’s method of counting, that means the “no fly” list stopped five flights by terrorists.

All these denials mean delays for many law-abiding gun buyers. Although this is merely an inconvenience for most, initial denials cause dangerous delays for people who suddenly, legitimately need a gun for self-defense, such as a elderly person being threatened or whose neighborhood is facing a sudden rash of break-ins.

Ironically, Democrats such as President Obama would be quite upset if a literacy or intelligence test was required for people to vote. But the right to self-defense is also important.

Disarming America’s elderly and veterans is just a step in his plans to ban gun ownership. At some point though Obama might want to explain why every gun ban has only disarmed the law-abiding, not the criminals, and resulted in higher crime rates. Making it so the most vulnerable victims can’t protect themselves doesn’t make them safer.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Home (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

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