Would More Guns Make Us Safer?—The American Enterprise Institute, a neo-conservative think tank in Washington, DC, is not known by all as a purveyor of accurate information. It publishes studies funded by the oil industry disputing the existence of global warming, and cooked-up rationales for invading Iraq. From 2001 to 2006 it housed a scholar, John Lott, whose 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime is enjoying a great deal of prominence in the wake of the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. “Good intentions don’t stop killers,” Lott wrote recently inUSA Today. “People with guns do.” His book claims that states with lax gun laws have lower crime rates, an argument also made by Newt Gingrich and cited as gospel by the National Rifle Association.
Just a few years ago Lott had been thoroughly discredited by his peers in the scholarly world. That he’s now enjoying a burst of credibility is testament to the continuing debate on the issue and the continuing dominance of the gun lobby whenever the issue of gun control is discussed. Lott’s major contribution to the firearms debate was his assertion that, from 1977 to 1999, “when states passed right-to-carry laws, the rate of multiple-victim public shootings fell by 60 percent” and crime decreased overall. But when two economists, from Yale and Stanford, combed through Lott’s data and analyzed more-recent crime statistics, they shredded his argument. “No longer can any plausible case be made on statistical grounds that shall-issue [i.e., concealed carry] laws are likely to reduce crime for all or even some states,” they wrote in the Stanford Law Review. They concluded that arming the populace had just the opposite effect.
Another assertion by Lott, that “98 percent of the time people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack,” also drew scrutiny. Lott originally attributed the “98 percent figure” to “national surveys,” then to a criminologist at Florida State and finally, when pressed repeatedly by colleagues, to a “national survey I conducted.” When others asked to see his data, Lott responded that his computer had crashed and it was gone. The only person who claimed to have spoken with Lott for the survey was a former board member of the NRA. “I have serious doubts about whether he ever did the study,” said James Lindgren, a law professor at Northwestern University.
Even conservative firebrand Michelle Malkin has cited Lott’s “extensive willingness to deceive to protect and promote his work.” As More Guns, Less Crime became battered with holes, a former student of Lott’s from Penn’s Wharton School of Business named Mary Rosh came to his defense. “He was the best professor that I ever had,” she wrote on a message board. “YOU ARE AMAZINGLY DISHONEST,” she told one critic, in all caps. “HAVE YOU ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME?” There was only one problem. Mary Rosh didn’t exist. Her identity was eventually unearthed. It was Lott himself.
Incidentally, George W. Bush has long been a supporter of concealed carry laws. “It will make Texas a safer place,” the then-governor said in 1995 when he signed Texas’s first such law. We can’t help but wonder if the president really believes he would be safe, for example, giving a speech in an auditorium full of average people carrying guns. We’ll never know, because the Secret Service wisely would never let that happen.
“Viewpoint Discrimination” Redux—In 1998, 21-year old Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, savagely beaten with a pistol, lashed to a fence in rural Wyoming, and left to die. His offense? Being gay. His death, and other, less high-profile killings, led to a national movement to update the 1968 federal hate crimes act to include victims of violence based on gender, sexual orientation or disability. Earlier this year, the Matthew Shepard Act, also known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was reintroduced in the Congress by John Conyers (D-MI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the House and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) in the Senate.
The legislation would pass easily if it weren’t for the Religious Right, who dub it the “Pro-Homosexual/Drag Queen Bill.” “If passed and signed into law, it will be used to establish a legal framework to investigate, persecute and prosecute pastors, businessmen and others whose actions are based upon and reflect the truths found in the Bible,” says the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). “There is no epidemic of hate directed against homosexuals,” says Sheldon, arguing instead that it’s anti-gay Christians who will be victimized by the passage of a hate crimes law. Tell that to the family of Matthew Shepard.