Several years ago, an energetic journalist, Mike Spies, wrote a long and detailed article about financial mismanagement at the NRA which almost cut America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ down at the knees. The organization survived but the research by Spies may have cost the gun-rights group to lose more than $50 million in annual dues.

              Spies has recently published another detailed piece of research, this time aiming at John Lott, a self-employed economist whose pro-gun work has, according to Spies, “provided the empirical justification for looser firearms laws.” In particular, Lott has testified before legislative committees which have crafted ‘stand your ground’ and concealed-carry laws, he has also submitted documentation in courtroom cases, including a recent California case where the judge cited Lott’s work as the basis for overturning the state’s assault-rifle ban.

              Lott’s fundamental work is a book, More Guns, Less Crime, published by the prestigious University of Chicago Press. The book was initially published in 1998, has gone through multiple editions, and is regularly cited by just about every pro-gun politician and advocate promoting the easing of regulatory constraints of guns.

              Although the book is chock-full of data, as well as endless statistical analysis, Lott’s argument is rather simple insofar as he finds a positive correlation between the issuance of concealed-carry licenses in various states and a consequent drop in violent crime (murder and assaults) in those same states. He also finds an increase in covert crime (burglary) in most of those same states.

              Putting the data together, Lott argues that when criminals believe their intended crime victims may be armed, they switch to crimes in which there is no human element to concern them. Which means that what we get is a society which as it becomes more armed, is also a safer society in which to live.

              Lott’s argument is one of a number of attempts to explain the rather remarkable 50% drop in violent crime which occurred in the United States beginning in the early 1990’s, coincident with the increase in concealed-carry licenses where 16 states automatically issued concealed-carry licenses in 1992, a number which increased to 30 states by 1998.

              In the interests as they say of full disclosure, I must state that Lott and I are good friends and I support his research because he is the one scholar doing work on gun violence who has actually gone out and created an original data collection by tracking the issuance of concealed-carry licenses in every state. His critics in the gun-control scholarly community invariably rely on secondary data sources and I am one of these old-fashioned scholars who believes that an important role of research is to identify and promote primary resources on which to base research.

              I also happen to disagree with Lott’s argument about criminals switching from personal to non-personal criminality because they fear that their victims may be armed, for the simple reason that his argument assumes that we are talking about the same criminals who switch their criminal modus operandi because they believe that the ‘good guys’ are now walking around with guns.  The fact that Lott finds a coincidental shift in criminality and licensing doesn’t necessarily mean that we have any kind of cause and effect.

              By the same token, however, I am even less impressed by the work of Lott’s critics who take him to task either by creating statistical models which produce different results simply by changing the statistical parameters whether such changes bear any relationship to reality at all (Donahue) or the regression analysis which finds that the United States has such a high level of violent criminality because Americans own so many guns (Hemenway). Since violent crimes are overwhelmingly committed with the use of illegal guns, what difference does it make if we have hundreds of millions of legal guns floating around?

              The issue which neither Mike Spies nor anyone else in the gun-control research/journalist community has yet to explore is why we continue to debate and (on rare occasion) pass laws which only further regulate the behavior of lawful gun owners who relatively rarely show up as the individuals annually committing 100,000 criminal assaults with guns?

              And this number of gun crimes is probably way below what the real number happens to be, for the simple reason that lots of gun assaults occur with nobody getting injured or killed. And I am still waiting for the first gun-control researcher to even acknowledge that we have absolutely no idea how many guns are carried around every day for no lawful purpose at all.