Article published Monday, September 27, 2010, at The National Review.

Guns and the Drop in the Violent Crime Rate

By John R. Lott, Jr.

President Obama undoubtedly didnít intend it, but he deserves some credit for the recent report that all violent crime rates dropped in 2009, murder rates by 7.4 percent, robbery rates by 9 percent: His election caused gun sales to skyrocket, and crime rates to plummet.

Gun sales started notably rising in October 2008, and sale really took off immediately after Obama won the presidential race: 450,000 more people bought guns in November 2008 than bought them in November 2007. Thatís over a 40 percent increase in sales. By comparison, the change from November 2006 to November 2007 was only about 35,000. Over the last decade, the average year-to-year increase in monthly sales was only 21,000.

The higher sales continued well beyond November 2008: about 3.15 million more people bought guns in the 14 months after the election than in the preceding 14 months. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, doesnít tell us how many guns each person bought, just the number of people who bought them. Most likely, though, gun sales rose by more than the number of people who purchased them.

At the same time gun sales were soaring, there was an unusually large drop in murder rates. The 7.4 percent drop in the murder rate was the largest drop in murder rates since the 1999. For those who donít remember, 1999 ó when Bill Clinton was president and Columbine occurred ó was another time when gun sales soared. With Clinton domestic-policy advisers such as Elena Kagan pushing hard for more gun control, Americans were worried that more gun bans were coming; in response, gun sales soared.

Higher arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, and the more frequent use of the death penalty all reduce crime, and so does letting victims defend themselves with guns. More certain or greater penalties make it more risky for criminals to commit crime. Victims who can defend themselves can also make committing crime more dangerous and deter criminals.

Americans living in the District of Columbia and Chicago have seen this phenomenon firsthand. After bans went into effect in both cities, murder rates rose dramatically. The Districtís murder rates then plunged by 23 percent in 2009 after the Supreme Court threw out D.C.ís gunlock laws and handgun ban. After that 2008 decision, 70,000 D.C. residents were able to use their long guns for self-defense. As my research in the just-released third edition of More Guns, Less Crime shows, murder rates donít fall and tend to climb when guns are banned.

If President Obama really understood that it reduces crime to let law-abiding citizens defend themselves, it is unlikely that gun sales would have had to increase. If the Supreme Court strikes down the Chicago gun ban this month, Americans may get to see yet again that more guns means less crime.

John R. Lott Jr. is a 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.".

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