Writings by John R. Lott

Gun Licensing Leads to Increased Crime, Lost Lives

The Real Lesson of the School Shootings

Gun Control Advocates Purvey Deadly Myths

Other articles (on another page)

"Need for Guns?"

The Chicago Tribune editorial

The Paper

Class Survey


Relevant, Thoughtful Articles re Gun 'Control'

The following editorials I found worth mention most specifically due to their being written in a non-hysterical and intelligent manner at a time when, as Kipling once put it, 'all about you are losing their heads.' Dr. Lott has kindly given me permission to reprint his articles. Unfortunately, I am having a bit of trouble locating the other authors in order to ask permission to reprint their writings. Any assistance in doing so would be, of course, greatly appreciated.

Gun Licensing Leads to Increased Crime, Lost Lives

By John R. Lott Jr.

Who could possibly oppose licensing handgun owners? Requiring training for potential gun owners both in a classroom and at a firing range before they are allowed to buy a gun seems obvious. Licensing, especially when eventually coupled with registration, will supposedly also help identify criminals and prevent them from getting guns.

Yet, as usual with guns, the debate over licensing mentions just the possible benefits while ignoring the real costs to people's safety. If the California Senate passes licensing this week, it will not only cost Californians hundreds of millions of dollars annually, but, more important, it will increase violent crime.

In theory, if a gun is left at the scene of the crime, licensing and registration will allow a gun to be traced back to its owner. But, amazingly, despite police spending tens of thousands of man hours administering these laws in Hawaii (the one state with both rules), as well as in big urban areas with similar laws, such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., there is not even a single case where the laws have been instrumental in identifying someone who has committed a crime.

The reason is simple. First, criminals very rarely leave their guns at the scene of the crime. Would-be criminals also virtually never get licenses or register their weapons.

So what of the oft-stated claim that licensing will somehow allow even more comprehensive background checks and thus keep criminals from getting guns in the first place?

Unfortunately for gun control advocates, there is not a single academic study concluding that background checks reduce violent crime.

The Journal of the American Medical Assn. this month published an article showing that the Brady law produced no reduction in homicides or suicides. Other, more comprehensive research actually found that the waiting period in the Brady law slightly increased rape rates.

The Clinton administration keeps issuing press releases boasting that violent crime rates have fallen since 1994, when the Brady law was adopted. Yet violent crime started falling in 1991. The Brady law did not apply to 18 states, but after 1994 their violent crime fell as quickly as other states.

While still asserting that the law "must have some effect," U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno was reduced this month to saying, "It might just take longer to measure [it]."

The reason why the Brady law does not affect criminals is simple. It is the law-abiding citizens, not the criminals, who obey the laws. For example, the waiting-period provision in the law prevented law-abiding women who were stalked or threatened from quickly obtaining a gun for self-defense.

There are still other problems with the law that the state Legislature is considering. When added to the current state waiting period, the processing time for a license will delay access to a gun by a month. While even short waiting periods increase rape rates, waiting periods longer than 10 days make it difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns to protect themselves and increase all categories of violent crime.

The hundreds of dollars it will take to pay for the license and the up-to-eight-hour training course, as well as the many arcane reasons for losing a license, will reduce gun ownership by law-abiding people.

Since no other state has such restrictive rules for simply owning a gun, it is difficult to know how much gun ownership will decline, but similar rules for obtaining concealed handgun permits reduce the number of permits issued by 60%. The reduction in permits increased violent crime.

It is already illegal for criminals to go around carrying guns. Making it difficult for law-abiding citizens to even own guns in their own homes is not going to make them safer from the criminals.

Part of the proposed "training" appears better classified as indoctrination, making gun owners memorize grossly exaggerated fears of the risks of owning a gun.

It will also be the poor who bear the brunt of these costs and who will be priced out of gun ownership. They are also most vulnerable to crime and benefit the most from being able to protect themselves.

With all the new gun laws already scheduled to go into effect after the November elections, why don't legislators simply require California homeowners to put out a sign stating: "This home is a gun-free zone"? Legislators could lead by example and start with their own homes.

John R. Lott Jr. is a Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University Law School. The second edition of his book "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press) was released in July 2000.

The Real Lesson Of the School Shootings

(an op-ed piece from the "Wall Street Journal")

By John R. Lott, Jr.
March 27, 1998

This week's horrific shootings in Arkansas have, predictably, spurred calls for more gun control. But it's worth noting that the shootings occurred in one of the few places in Arkansas where possessing a gun is illegal. Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi -- the three states that have had deadly shootings in public schools over the past half-year -- all allow law-abiding adults to carry concealed handgun for self-protection, except in public schools. Indeed, federal law generally prohibits guns within 1,000 feet of a school.

Gun prohibitionists concede that banning guns around schools has not quite worked as intended -- but their response has been to call for more regulations of guns. Yet what might appear to be the most obvious policy may actually cost lives. When gun-control laws are passed, it is law-abiding citizens, not would-be criminals, who adhere to them. Obviously the police cannot be everywhere, so these laws risk creating situations in which the good guys cannot defend themselves from the bad ones.

Consider a fact hardly mentioned during the massive news coverage of the October 1997 shooting spree at a high school in Pearl, Miss.: An assistant principal retrieved a gun from his car and physically immobilized the gunman for a full 4 1/2 minutes while waiting for the police to arrive. The gunman had already fatally shot two students (after earlier stabbing his mother to death). Who knows how many lives the assistant principal saved by his prompt response?

Allowing teachers and other law-abiding adults to carry concealed handguns in schools would not only make it easier to stop shootings in progress. It could also help deter shootings from ever occurring. Twenty-five or more years ago in Israel, terrorists would pull out machine guns in malls and fire away at civilians. However, with expanded concealed-handgun use by Israeli citizens, terrorists soon found the ordinary people around them pulling pistols on them. Suffice it to say, terrorists in Israel no longer engage in such public shootings -- they have switched to bombing, a tactic that doesn't allow the intended victims to respond.

The one recent shooting of schoolchildren in Israel further illustrates these points. On March 13, 1997, seven seventh- and eighth-grade Israeli girls were shot to death by a Jordanian soldier while they visited Jordan's so-called Island of Peace. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Israelis had "complied with Jordanian requests to leave their weapons behind when they entered the border enclave. Otherwise, they might have been able to stop the shooting, several parents said."

Together with my colleague William Landes, I have studied multiple-victim public shootings in the U.S. from 1977 to 1995. These were incidents in which at least two people were killed or injured in a public place; to focus on the type of shooting seen in Arkansas we excluded shootings that were the byproduct of another crime, such as robbery. The U.S. averaged 21 such shootings per year, with an average of 1.8 people killed and 2.7 wounded in each one.

We examined a whole range of different gun laws as well as other methods of deterrence, such as the death penalty. However, only one policy succeeded in reducing deaths and injuries from these shootings -- allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns.

The effect of "shall-issue" concealed handgun laws -- which give adults the right to carry concealed handguns if they do not have a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness -- has been dramatic. Thirty-one states now have such laws. When states passed them during the 19 years we studied, the number of multiple-victim public shootings declined by 84%. Deaths from these shootings plummeted on average by 90%, injuries by 82%. Higher arrest rates and increased use of the death penalty slightly reduced the incidence of these events, but the effects were never statistically significant.

With over 19,600 people murdered in 1996, those killed in multiple victim public shootings account for fewer than 0.2% of the total. Yet these are surely the murders that attract national as well as international attention, often for days after the attack. Victims recount their feelings of utter helplessness as a gunman methodically shoots his cowering prey.

Unfortunately, much of the public policy debate is driven by lopsided coverage of gun use. Tragic events like those in Arkansas receive massive news coverage, as they should, but discussions of the 2.5 million times each year that people use guns defensively -- including cases in which public shootings are stopped before they happen -- are ignored. Dramatic stories of mothers who prevented their children from being kidnapped by carjackers seldom even make the local news.

Attempts to outlaw guns from schools, no matter how well meaning, have backfired. Instead of making schools safe for children, we have made them safe for those intent on harming our children. Current school policies fire teachers who even accidentally bring otherwise legal concealed handguns to school. We might consider reversing this policy and begin rewarding teachers who take on the responsibility to help protect children.

Gun Control Advocates Purvey Deadly Myths

Gun control became a defining issue in several of last week's elections. Those candidates opposing new regulations were painted as uncaring thugs indifferent to people's deaths. Meanwhile, New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial last month filed suit against 15 gun makers, demanding that the reimburse the city and pay punitive damages for all the city's health care expenses and police salaries that arise from gun violence. Other cities seem certain to follow, and that is only part of the litigation threatening to engulf gun makers. To these plaintiffs, the solution to crime is simple and obvious: eliminate guns.

America may be obsessed with guns, but much of what passes as fact simply isn't true. The news media focus on tragic outcomes, while ignoring tragic events that were avoided. Rarely do we hear about the more than two million times each year that people use guns defensively -- including cases in which public shootings are stopped before they happen. Dramatic stories of mothers using guns to prevent their children from being kidnapped by car-jackers seldom even make the local news.

Myths about guns can threaten people's safety, by frightening them and preventing them from using the most effective means to defend themselves. Here are five of the most prevalent myths:

  • When one is attacked, passive behavior is the safest approach.

The Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the probability of serious injury from an attack is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for women resisting with a gun. Men also benefit from using a gun, but the benefits are smaller: Offering no resistance is 1.4 times more likely to result in serious injury than resisting with a gun. Resistance with a gun is the safest course of action for victims to take.

  • Friends or relatives are the most likely killers.

This myth is usually based on two claims: that 53% of murder victims are killed by either relatives or acquaintances and that anyone could be a murderer. With the broad definition of "acquaintances" used in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, most victims are indeed classified as knowing their killer. But what's not made clear is that acquaintance murder primarily includes drug buyers killing pushers, cabdrivers killed by first-time customers, gang members killing other gang members, prostitutes killed by their clients, and so on. Only one U.S. city, Chicago, reports a precise breakdown on the nature of acquaintance killings, and the statistic gives a very different impression: between 1990 and 1995, just 17% of murder victims were either family members, friends, neighbors or roommates of their killers.

Murderers are also not average citizens. About 90% of adult murderers already have an adult criminal record. Murderers are overwhelmingly young males with low IQs who have long histories of difficulty getting along with others.

  • The U.S. has a high murder rate because Americans own so many guns.

There is no international evidence backing this up. The Swiss, New Zealanders and Finns all own guns as frequently as Americans, yet in 1995 Switzerland had a murder rate 40% lower than Germany's, and New Zealand had one lower than Australia's. Finland and Sweden have very different gun ownership rates, but very similar murder rates. Israel, with a higher gun ownership rate than the U.S., has a murder rate 40% below Canada's. When one studies all countries rather than just a select few, there is no relationship between gun ownership and murder. U.S. data indicates that those states that have had the largest increases in gun ownership have had the greatest drops in violent crime rates.

  • If law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry concealed handguns, people will end up shooting each other after traffic accidents as well as accidentally shooting police officers.

Millions of people currently hold concealed handgun permits, and some states have issued them for as long as 60 years. Yet only one permit holder has ever used a concealed handgun after a traffic accident, and that case was ruled as self-defense.

The type of person willing to go through the permitting process is extremely law-abiding. In Florida, almost 444,000 licenses were granted from 1987 to 1997, but only 84 people have lost their licenses for any violations involving firearms. Most violations that lead to permits being revoked involve accidentally carrying a gun into restricted areas, like airports or schools. In Virginia, not a single permit holder has committed a violent crime. Similar encouraging results have been reported in Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, the only other states where information is available.

  • The family gun is more likely to kill you or someone you know than to kill in self-defense.

The 1993 study yielding such numbers, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, never actually inquired as to whose gun was used in the killing. Instead, if a household owned a gun and if a person in that household or someone he knew was shot to death while in the home, the gun in the household was blamed. In fact, virtually all the killings in the study were committed with guns brought in by an intruder. No more than 4% of the gun deaths in the study can be attributed to the homeowner's gun.

Also ignored is that 98% of the time when people use a gun defensively, merely brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack. In less than 1% of the cases is a gun even fired directly at the attacker.

How many attacks have been deterred from ever occurring by the potential victims owning a gun? My own research finds that more concealed handguns, and increased gun ownership generally, unambiguously deters murder, robbery and aggravated assaults. This is also in line with the well-known fact that criminals prefer attacking victims that they consider weak.

These are only some of the myths about guns and crime that drive the public policy debate. We must not lose sight of the ultimate question: Does allowing citizens to own guns on net save lives? The evidence strongly indicates that it does.

Dr. Lott, a fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law, is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime," from the University of Chicago Press. Here is an article by him concerning the press reception of his book. You will need to use your back button to return here.