NRA Gun Myths reevaluated. The Deconstruction of a Discredited Gundermentalist Rock Star
Ironically – let us begin with a Joke.
Man walking along a road in the countryside comes across a shepherd and a huge flock of sheep. Tells the shepherd, “I will bet you $100 against one of your sheep that I can tell you the exact number in this flock.” The shepherd thinks it over; it’s a big flock so he takes the bet. “973,” says the man. The shepherd is astonished, because that is exactly right. Says “OK, I’m a man of my word, take an animal.” Man picks one up and begins to walk away.
“Wait,” cries the shepherd, “Let me have a chance to get even. Double or nothing that I can guess your exact occupation.” Man says sure. “You are an economist for a government think tank,” says the shepherd. “Amazing!” responds the man, “You are exactly right! But tell me, how did you deduce that?”
“Well,” says the shepherd, “put down my dog and I will tell you.”
I thought I had pretty much covered the whole gamut of NRA nonsense in my book and subsequent blog posts. These articles piqued the interest of various media outlets—but then I got slightly blindsided by a Myth that I had failed to think about thoroughly. The radio interviewer Brian Crabtree asked me about the notion that certain people believed that “Gun-Free Zones” made every one less safe. I immediately stated that coming from New York (and with a European sensitivity), I had no real knowledge of what sounded like a patently absurd notion. I did not express myself quite like that on the radio. But I have not spent much time in parts of the world, outside of the Middle East, where normal people would even worry about the need for Gun-Free Zones, let alone the ludicrous notion that more guns are the solution to escalating gun issues—assuming one is not planning to be living in a war zone patrolled by paramilitary citizen bands of vigilante good guys. So I guess down in Stupidparty land folks roll up to the saloon, tying their steed to the post, are then asked to remove their guns while they down a few shots of Jim Beam, Mountain Howitzer, Coffin Varnish or whatever before heading off to the mall to buy a new screen protector for their iPhone 5s.
Brian Crabtree quoted John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center, saying that 92% of mass shootings occurred in Gun-Free Zones. John Lott also claims that armed vigilantes regularly stop mass shootings. Gun fanatics invariably resort to this source for their statistics, then proceed to misunderstand the charts.
Before I start this discussion, I will accept that there is no statistical evidence that suggests open carry has triggered an increase in violent crime, but I will explain the underlying phenomenon that would prevent such rise later.
So how much intellectual integrity does this one-man Gatling machine have? Do his statistics come from a poisoned tree? These are the facts I do not dispute (but yet are not important enough to fact check) that John Lott bases his whole career on:
1. A very casual look would indeed suggest that more guns = less violent crimes. But it turns out that this is very shitty Math. Least importantly, you do not start a graph at 1.5—that is disingenuous. You start at zero. So let’s look at a proper graph illustrating violent crime, showing that violent crime has halved since 1991.
2. Now, instead of the number of guns, it is far better to look at gun ownership by households. It turns out that the number of households with guns has remained static. So—unless you need to protect yourself with multiple guns— that whole theory about more guns reducing violent crimes is dead wrong.
3. Gun-violence reductions are largely racial—and these trends did not occur as a result of “Good Guys” with (multiple) guns cruising neighborhoods, enforcing the law. 4. There just happen to be numerous explanations for the reduction of violent crime. Let us look at New York City: In 1990 there were 2,245 Murders and Non-Negligent Manslaughters. Stupidparty logic would have addressed this issue by saying, “Well, clearly the Bronx is an unsafe neighborhood, so give everyone a gun so they can keep themselves safe. Give taxi drivers a gun; shop owners a gun; teachers, students guns, so that will dissuade would-be thieves.” Just give a gun to the good guys!
Clearly, such pearls of wisdom were ignored (well, the Stupidparty was not born until 2000). So what happened in New York City?
2013 had 334 such deaths. These violent crimes have fallen by 85% since 1990. New York City is now one of the safest cities in the country, in the world. No one could say that this improvement was due to increased gun ownership, or vigilantes, or oozy waving superheroes dressed in Batman garb.
The city’s dramatic drop in crime has been attributed by criminologists to the refocusing of policing tactics onto petty crime (based in the belief that graffiti, boom boxes, car-windshield washers all create an environment of lawlessness, conducive to crime); also to the end of the crack epidemic; and—controversially—the legalization of abortion approximately eighteen years previous, along with the decline of lead poisoning. There is growing body of research linking lead exposure in small children with a whole raft of complications later in life, including lower IQ, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities. The mandatory installation of partitions in taxis, street-level security cameras, greater diversity of the police force, gentrification of neighborhoods, and infrastructure investment all helped reduce violent crime. Also, today it is a lot more difficult to steal a car, because of tracking technology, and those pesky experts argue that car theft is a gateway into a life of crime. Now back to that little titbit about the legalization of abortion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_New_York_City
Concerning other cities, the Christian Science Monitor reports:
“We used to put pins on a map to figure out what the patterns were and where to concentrate our limited resources,” says Tod Burke, a former police officer in Maryland who now teaches criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia. “Now we have databases and computers. It’s really gotten a lot more sophisticated.”
Beyond technology, law enforcement personnel are much better educated and trained today than ever before, adds John Paitakes, professor of criminal justice at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. They’ve also benefited from leaders like William Bratton, who recast policing in Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles by applying the “broken window” theory posited by social scientist James Q. Wilson in 1982. The theory held that run-down and vandalized areas were more prone to serious crime than were areas kept in better order.
Mr. Bratton has proved that “by handling the smaller crimes and dealing with the quality of the local environment, you prevent some of the bigger crimes,” says Professor Burke.
Communities have also become smarter at addressing crime. Social programs and services for youths have successfully targeted those hours after school when most youth crime is committed—though recent budget cutbacks could endanger those advances. “There is evidence that . . . gang intervention programs involving the police and community leaders, after-school programs, [and] community outreach programs are having a positive effect,” says Frederic Reamer, professor of social work at Rhode Island College in Providence.
It is really odd that no researcher (except for our man John Lott) ever suggests that more guns is a factor in reducing violent crime. The idea is patently absurd. But how does John Lott get to pull the wool over people eyes? In my book Stupidparty Math v Myth I state that I try and use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). I determined to do this because I am quite aware of the fact that if you torture statistics enough, they will confess to anything. Herein lies John Lott’s trick:
Ted Goetzl, a retired professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, published a paper in The Skeptical Inquirer in 2002, cataloging the most egregious abuses of econometrics in criminology. Unsurprising, John R. Lott’s most significant work, More Guns, Less Crime, was at the top of the list.
Goetzl argues that Lott’s studies consistently rely on extremely complicated econometric models, often requiring the computational data-crunching power exceeding that of an ordinary desktop computer. Lott then assumes the rather convenient position of insisting that his critics use the same data and the same methods he used to rebuke his claims, even after both his data and methods are repudiated.
Back to that absurd statistic by John Lott about 92% of mass shootings being in gun free Zones – thus inferring more guns just must be the answer. According to Mother Jones there have been 62 Mass shootings between 1982-2012. 20 of these occurred in the workplace, 12 in schools, and 57% involved a current or former intimate partner. To suggest that any of these perpetrators where patrolling around checking their “Gun Free Zone” app on their smartphone is just idiotic. But you know what, idiots believe such utter nonsense.
A quick note on the in-vogue open/concealed carry movements. The New York Times reports:
A few states have passed universal background checks since the shooting of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut, but legislatures overall seem determined to approve the concealed carrying of weapons, supposedly to help guard against civil disorder.
The idea that this improves public safety is firmly rebutted by the latest figures from the Violence Policy Center, a gun safety research and advocacy organization, which found that at least 743 non-self-defense deaths since 2007 were attributable to individuals with permits to carry concealed weapons. These included 222 suicides. Twenty-nine of the incidents were mass shootings of three or more victims that resulted in 139 deaths. The death toll for law enforcement officers was 17.
The assault on gun safety has exasperated law enforcement officials like Milwaukee police chief, Edward Flynn. “We’re the only place I know where it’s a misdemeanor to carry a gun illegally, but a felony for a second rap for carrying pot,” he said, pointing out the disparity favoring gun owners. “Would you tell me how that makes sense?”
Therefore, there are numerous factors that explain the reduction of violent crime—but more guns is clearly not one of them. So how has John Lott gotten away with this obvious sleight of hand? Lott’s work is one of the finest examples of correlation not proving causation—but that standard of Math is beyond the level of Myth-loving Stupidparty.
His work caught the imagination of the gullible because since there is no one single reason for the reduction of these crimes (a mathematician cannot bring forth a simplistic opposing study proving John Lott is wrong) —all they can say is that he has not proved his case.
But we have debunked Lott’s fundamental premise—and shall now zero in for the kill, i.e., people with guns help prevent crime. Stupidparty land abounds with silly, myopic slogans: guns don’t shoot people, people do. give guns to the good guys. Really? Only good guys have guns?—so why did the police have to up the ante and become armed? By definition they are worried about bad guys with guns. So how does one spot the difference? Easy if you are Stupidparty: the bad guys with guns would be black, have an accent, walk funny—so no problem there. Other than that, it is ignorant nonsense.
But John Lott and his crowd cite various incidents when Batman has supposedly come to the rescue and saved the day. These stories very rarely hold up under the spotlight. As Mother Jones reports:
“Appalachian School of Law shooting in Grundy, Virginia: Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage at the law school in 2002 to armed ‘students’ who intervened. They conveniently ignore that those students also happened to be current and former law enforcement officers, and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammunition by the time they got to him.” For this story and others follow the link.
Mother Jones goes on to say: “In the wake of the massacres this year at a Colorado movie theater, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 62 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. And in other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public places, including bars, parks, and schools.”
Surely, we hear it argued, people on killing sprees choose gun-free zones to play out their problems. But these schools are specifically targeted; then the majority end in murder suicides—so clearly the perpetrators are not motivated by their own personal safety. Law enforcement experts fear that concerned citizens opening fire in a cinema or elsewhere are liable to do more damage, make the situation worse.
Now that we have debunked the appalling conclusions that John Lott and his fans come to, we should look at his intellectual integrity on another level.
Media Matters reports:
On his October 26 appearance on CNN’s New Day Saturday, Lott made untrue charges on background checks that are characteristic of his work. He often advocates for weaker gun laws by manipulating statistics about firearms and by touting his discredited research that purports to prove looser rules concerning the carrying of guns in public reduces crime.
Lott, a contributor to FoxNews.com, will testify before an October 29 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law while representing his new organization, Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC). Lott has previously mischaracterized “Stand Your Ground” in order to defend the law that played an important role in the acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges that he unlawfully killed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. CPR’s secretary is National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, who caused controversy by calling Martin a “dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe,” and used the Martin case to make disparaging remarks about the African-American community and endorse racial profiling.
As Salon reports:
Here’s what critics say about him.
Lott held prestigious positions at Yale and the University of Chicago, where he published his groundbreaking book, More Guns, Less Crime. In the early 2000s, his work fell into controversy for employing what some academic critics termed “junk science” and for various apparently fatal methodological flaws. Later, he was unable to prove the existence of a study central to his thesis. He was also caught using a fake “sock puppet” to defend his work and attack his critics online. “In most circles, this goes down as fraud,” Donald Kennedy, the then-editor of the prestigious journal Science, wrote in an editorial. Even Michelle Malkin said Lott had shown an “extensive willingness to deceive to protect and promote his work.”
There were other controversies as well, such as the case of the mysterious missing table and the claim that 50 percent of black Republican votes in Florida were rejected. Eventually, even the conservative American Enterprise Institute apparently was not a good fit for him, as he left that gig in 2006, which he had taken after leaving academia. He now has no academic affiliation and is a general conservative commentator.
“In response to the dispute surrounding the missing survey, Lott created and used ‘Mary Rosh’ as a sock puppet to defend his own works on Usenet and elsewhere. After investigative work by blogger Julian Sanchez, Lott admitted to use of the Mary Rosh persona. Sanchez also pointed out that Lott, posing as Rosh, not only praised his own academic writing, but also called himself ‘the best professor I ever had.’”
It is obviously tragic that John Lott has managed to motivate so many. But this appears to be his career, so he is intellectually cornered by his own success: he has been accused of being funded by the NRA and at least one gun manufacturer—but has retained plausible deniability, so perhaps such funds have been indirect. But still he gets contributions from key NRA enthusiasts like $50,000 from John Gresham’s Gun Talk radio program—one of the NRA’s top independent recruiters. Perhaps once bitten twice shy, he is now loudly proclaiming that he will not accept funds from the NRA, etc., But like the way the fake-Christian Indiana pizza parlor won the lottery by tapping into bigots, the Crime Prevention Research Center will find a rich seam of Stupidparty Gundermenatist to tap into. There will be no stopping John Lott. He will do just fine being the servant of the Gundermenatist base. His Math a perfect fit for those lacking critical-thinking skills.
But I just wish that Lott would spend a moment reflecting on the damage he’s doing to society and consider his logical end game. If more guns make you safer, then everyone must have a gun at all times. Take a moment to consider what this means for just one type of establishment—schools. Following John Lott’s advice, schools will have more security and armed teachers. But a suicidal kid on a mission will easily dodge such security, so now all schools entrants will have to pass through metal detectors—but still suicidal maniacs will be able to shoot up classrooms, by sneaking in firearms through windows, or shooting from the outside or shooting the person manning the gun-detection machine. So walls will have to be built around the schools. But a kid with a ladder and dream will surmount such walls. So now we will need barbed wire and spotlights around the perimeter.
Therefore, the school will morph into a prison. I hardly need mention that it will still not be safe, because now you just have tons of people with guns—and not all of them will be good guys. How come the USA is the only non-failed nation state that is being lead down this road, the road of armed groups of concerned citizens drifting around, acting out their Dirty Harry, High Plains, the very Good against the bad and the Ugly fantasies. This is the road to Somalia that Bing Crosby would never sing about, or it is the road to the spaghetti Wild West, replacing the excitable horseback posses with militia-erected check points, manned by Stupidparty disciples in between football games. It is just patently absurd, sick—but all the while, John Lott will be collecting his blood money. Like Rand Paul —who on finding the rules of the recognized board inconvenient, set up his own ophthalmology board in order to certify himself, John Lott had to create his own research center in order to maintain his credentials as a researcher—because no one else would have him.