More Guns Less Crime―Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, Third Edition, 2010. John R. Lott Jr. 442 pages. Review by the Rev. Dr. Dallas Clarnette, 2013.
On May 13, 2011, a US Senate panel voted along party lines to approve a Democratic bill requiring universal background checks for firearm sales. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 for the bill, which would close a loophole that allows unchecked sales at gun shows and on the internet. Commentators immediately said that passage through the full Congress would be problematic.
To Australians used to background checks any resistance to such a measure seems bizarre. This is only because America’s culture is a gun culture. Australia’s is not.
Of course former Prime Minister Howard’s policy that deprived law-abiding gun owners of weapons did nothing to deprive criminals of their guns. On-going criminal use of guns, homicides, and drive-by shootings underline that fact. Perhaps the time has come for Australia to revisit the Howard policy. If unarmed citizens are at the mercy of gun-toting thugs, this issue must be addressed. There is good, solid, long- term research that justifies such a review of Australia’s gun laws. Lott’s work provides that.
We all know that Americans fiercely defend their Constitution-established right to own guns. Today, thirty-nine states have right-to-carry laws; ten years ago only eighteen states did. A mail survey of 22,000 police chiefs and sheriffs in 2005 found that 92% believed that law-abiding citizens should be able to have guns for self-defense. According to Lott Jr., his 14 years research shows that about 124 million people live in households owning a total of 270 million guns. Contrary to Australian views about guns as dangerous, he has found that the “National crime rates have been falling … as gun ownership has been rising.” (20) Further, the “fastest growing group of gun owners is Republican women, thirty to forty-four years of age who live in rural area.”
Lest anyone think Lott is a redneck, he is in fact a senior research scholar at the Yale Law School. And the Wall Street Journal, says his fourteen years of research, “is an exhaustive analysis of the effect of gun possession on crime rates.” He has researched “the relationship between gun laws, arrest and conviction rates, the socioeconomic and demographic compositions of counties and states and the different rates of violent crime and property crime.” He also deals with pro and anti gun control claims and how they should be evaluated.
Lott’s 442-page investigation should prompt Australians to revise their views of Australia’s current gun policy. Given the way in which women especially, are liable to be abducted, raped and killed, those who chose to be armed (if allowed to be) would be less likely to die at the hands of murderous rapists. Lott’s research has found that “One additional woman carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for women by about 3-4 times more than one additional man carrying a concealed handgun reduces the murder rate for men.” Page 21.
This solidly researched work, now in its third revised edition, presents a compelling case for his thesis that more guns (in private hands) mean less crime. Business Week says that Lott’s pro-gun argument has to be examined on its merits. Its chief merit is lots of data. In addition to 442 pages of documented research, there are about 100 different tables and fifty-nine pages of references. Truly, a researcher’s delight!
Here then is body of evidence about attitudes towards guns among Americans be they black or white, unionists, and indeed almost every conceivable social bloc. He also correlates gun ownership with homicide rates and the degree to which guns in private hands actually lead to tragedies. Lott says that during any year private citizens accidentally kill only about 30 people “who mistakenly believe the victim to be an intruder. By comparison, police accidentally kill as many as 330 innocent victims annually.” (Page 2) Lott concludes, “the carrying of concealed handguns appears to be the most cost-effective method for reducing crime”. The reason is clear – criminals think twice before break and enter attempts. The homeowner may be armed.
Lott also explodes some of the fears people have about guns, which the media tends to exaggerate. For example, people fear that more guns will mean more children accidentally killed by guns. But 2006 statistics show that of 642 accidental firearm deaths only 31 involved children up to nine years of age. But 1697 died in vehicle incidents, 651 died from drowning, and 348 died from fire and burns. Any death is tragic, but guns only accounted for a small percentage of child deaths. Still many want guns to be made safer and propose mandating gunlocks. But if the evidence of privately owned guns shows a decrease in crime then a locked and unloaded gun is no protection. Gunlocks have been favoured in the same way that childproof bottle caps have been promoted. Yet says Lott, the American Economic Review, May 1984 indicates that childproof caps have actually resulted in “3500 additional poisonings of children under age 5 annually from [aspirin related drugs] as consumers have been lulled” into a false sense of security. Lott’s research seeks real answers to hard questions. Too often debates over the issue reveal more heat than light. Events such as the massacre of thirty-two people at Virginia Tech in 2007 favour stronger gun laws, yet when the 7000 strong New Life Church service in Colorado was attacked, a concealed-carry permit holder merely brandishing his weapon averted death. Lott’s extensive research into gun ownership, crime data, handgun laws and crime rates, victims and the benefits of protection, arrest rates, and the politics involved, point to one conclusion: more guns do mean less crime.
Predictably, Lott’s work has been vigorously attacked, but in 40 pages he defends his thesis by demonstrating the dubious logic and selective bias of his detractors. According to Milton Friedman, “John Lott documents how far “politically correct’ vested interests are willing to go to denigrate anyone who dares disagree with them. Lott has done us all a service by his thorough, thoughtful, scholarly approach to a highly controversial issue.”
Australians probably prefer a gun-free culture. Yet the police are neither numerous or present enough to keep our streets safe. Has the time come, therefore for Australia to permit law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons, as is safely done in USA?
The Rev. Dr. Dallas Clarnette, D. Min.