2 Lott’s Research Process & Topics

 

There is a Preface for each of the three editions of More Guns, Less Crime1998, 2000, and 2010. They are helpful for outlining the kind of research Dr. Lott did, the questions he examined, how he has expanded the data set for his studies over time, and how he responds overall to his critics. When we put all three Prefaces together, here are some of the key points we learn. (Unless noted otherwise, page numbers in this section refer to the Third Edition of More Guns, Less Crime.)

RESEARCH BASE. Dr. Lott used standard empirical research design and analysis tools to collect, select, and process his data. (We’ll do our best to “translate” these technical procedures into everyday language as they come up – mostly in the Chapter-by-Chapter Key Points page.) He especially notes that he used all relevant data he could find about gun laws and crime, instead of creating “artfully constructed” data sets.

Dr. Lott’s original research for the First Edition covered 16 years of data (from 1977 through 1992) and 18 states. The Second Edition expanded the data set by four years and added 10 more states. The Third Edition covers 29 years of data (from 1977 through 2005) and 39 states.

ISSUES RESEARCHED. According to the First Edition Preface:

Using the most comprehensive data set of crime yet assembled, this book examines the relationship between gun laws, arrest and conviction rates, the socioeconomic and demographic compositions of counties and states, and different rates of violence crime and property crime. The efficacy of the Brady Law, concealed-handgun laws, waiting periods, and background checks is evaluated for the first time using nationwide, county-level data. (Page xi.)

In the First Edition (1998), Dr. Lott also:

  • Considers arguments for and against gun control, and how the claims should be tested.
  • Examines empirically what factors influence crime rates.
  • Responds to the political and academic attacks leveled against the original version of his work which was co-authored with David Mustard and published as “Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns” in the January 1997 issue of the Journal of Legal Studies (Vol. 26, No. 1, pages 1-68).

In the Second Edition (2000), Dr. Lott extended his data set and:

  • Found that expanded research replicated the earlier results, and that helps verify his original research. In technical terms, researchers are looking for validity (Did our process actually measure what we designed it to measure?) and reliability (If we repeat the experiment, do we get highly similar results?). So, getting similar results with almost 25% more years’ worth of data and increasing the database with 50% more states covered is a milestone for reliability.
  • Studied new guns laws, ranging from safe-storage provisions to one-gun-a-month purchase rules.
  • Extended his study of the Brady Law and its impact to its first three years.
  • Added new city-level statistics, which made it possible to account more fully for policing policies.
  • Added new book sections on multiple-victim public shootings, safe-storage gun laws, police policies, and the concealed handgun debate.

In the Third Edition (2010), Dr. Lott extended his data set significantly again and continued his focus on right-to-carry laws for concealed weapons. He did additional research or updated previous research on gun storage laws, multiple victim public shootings, gun show regulations, and assault weapons. He also looked at other laws and legal rulings that emerged in this period:

  • Castle Doctrine, where it is not necessary for a would-be victim to retreat as far as possible from a probable assailant before using a gun defensively.
  • Federal assault weapons ban (1994-2004). “Rarely do we get a chance to look at the impact of gun laws when they are first passed and then when they are eliminated.” (Page viii.)
  • Washington D.C. handgun ban (June 2008). “The legal questions will also now focus on how much the government can regulate gun ownership and on the ability to carry guns. The courts will turn from the simple legal question of whether governments at any level can ban guns to more complicated questions of what specific regulations are to be allowed.” (Page viii.)

RESPONDING TO CRITICS. The Third Edition also includes additional information about the integrity of Dr. Lott’s research, and how he responds to political and academic criticism of his work. Perhaps the best summary comes from the publisher’s website, University of Chicago Press:

On its initial publication in 1998, John R. Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime drew both lavish praise and heated criticism. More than a decade later, it continues to play a key role in ongoing arguments over gun-control laws: despite all the attacks by gun-control advocates, no one has ever been able to refute Lott’s simple, startling conclusion that more guns mean less crime. Relying on the most rigorously comprehensive data analysis ever conducted on crime statistics and right-to-carry laws, the book directly challenges common perceptions about the relationship of guns, crime, and violence. (Emphasis added.)

Specifically, this is about overall trustworthiness of his methods, his results, and his responses to research that claims to refute his findings. For instance, his research has passed the scrutiny given to it by six anonymous “referees” [academic peers] who critiqued his work and provided comments. Dr. Lott also offers detailed responses on research studies that reportedly show different results from his. According to Amazon reviewer Gary Mauser, who gave the book five stars – the highest possible rating, “Lott reanalyses his critics’ data to show that, when their errors are corrected, their own data support Lott’s conclusions.”

Finally, it isn’t just that no one has apparently been able to take apart Dr. Lott’s findings, but no referred research study has yet found the opposite:

By now, dozens of academics have published studies on right-to-carry laws using national data. These studies have either confirmed the beneficial link between gun ownership and crime or at least not found any indication that ownership increases crime. Not too surprisingly, depending on the precise methods used and the exact data set, the results have varied. Some claim no effect from these laws, but not a single refereed study finds the opposite result, that right-to-carry laws have a bad effect on crime. (Page vii.)

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS. Why is this important? The positive Amazon review by Mr. Mauser hints at some of the reasons. In face, it’s an intriguing experience to use Amazon reviews to do a “human MRI” to capture the overall shape of Dr. Lott’s work and any major gaps. At the five-star end of the spectrum, we find descriptions of the research More Guns, Less Crime as: careful, credible, compelling, and convincing. At the one-star end, reviewers tend to question Dr. Lott’s research assumptions, criticize his techniques or too-technical writing style, and/or suggest alternative explanations for the sources of crime that he is overlooking, To suggest the shape of Dr. Lott’s body of work, here is a sampling of quotes from the field of both everyday people interested in gun-rights issues. (To find the full context for a particular quote, go the linked section of reviews and search for the person’s name.)

Maybe the most boring read but this is not the emotional based “whatifism” fiction made up by gun control advocates; these are the TRUTHS based on FACTS and statistics gathered from all credible sources. (5 stars, E. Liung)

… [A] common sense guide to all the most current research on the topic is certainly called for, and this well fills the bill. … If you are responsible weapon user, who wants to keep the laws from being more restrictive this will give you many, many charts and graphs and research statistics which supports the benefits of responsible, properly used gun use for hunting, and, more importantly, personal protection. (4 stars, Mike Dirksen)

The section where he answers the charges of his critics is worth the cost of the book. Bottom line: despite 20 years of trying his critics have not been able to get a single academic paper published in a peer reviewed journal that shows that more guns in the hands of otherwise law abiding people, leads to more crime. (3 stars, Alan Fanning)

There’s just one problem Lott doesn’t address and this is of paramount importance, and that’s why we have the horrendous rates of violence in the first place in America. He can write all he wants about how conceal and carry is most important in areas where a high black population exists, but that doesn’t address the issue of why we have such high rates of violence in those areas. Until he gets to the root of that question, Lott’s book, which appears to be deep with all its use of statistics, is all surface and no substance; all numbers and no heart. (2 stars, Michael Ofjord)

Mr. Lott does a great job of presenting tons of statistics. The problem is that the statistics are very selective and don’t give true causal relevance. Ultimately, Mr. Lott does not address the core issue which is mental health. Rational people don’t commit violent crimes. And un-rational people, by definition, don’t think rationally. (1 star, J. Martin Hand)

 

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