Ready, Set, Go: Hughes And DeFilippis Versus John Lott And Guess Who Wins?

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Once again we are being treated to the latest confrontation in the ongoing saga known as Armed With Reason versus The Crime Prevention Research Center – the former a research effort led by two economists out of Oklahoma, Devin Hughes and Evan DeFilippis; the latter a fundraising and self-promotional effort conducted by and for John Lott. These combatants have been going at each other for the last several years, with Hughes and DeFilippis trying to maintain some degree of objectivity in what they say and John Lott doing what he does best, namely, reminding everyone that if he said it then it must be true because he said it.


John Lott

John Lott

Lott’s most recent rebuke of Hughes and DeFilippis was published on his personal blog earlier this year in what appears to be a lengthy and detailed comment running perhaps 4,000 or more words.  One of the things that makes Lott a formidable adversary is precisely the fact that he is verbose to the point of near-insanity; he overwhelms the reader with data and/or text, he pulls in other references from here, there and God knows where. For a guy who has mastered the art of one-linership which he uses with abandon in his endless appearances on the Fox, shock-jock AM radio circuit, he goes to the other extreme when he puts his thoughts into print.

Not only do Hughes and DeFilippis refuse to be intimidated by Lott’s over-abundant style, they have actually read every word that Lott has written defending his thesis that more guns equals less crime, and this article debunks much of what Lott says in straightforward, clear terms.  In particular, they cover two issues which I always felt have been handled by Lott in ways that have little, if anything to do with the truth.

The first issue has to do with the validity of the data used by Lott to support his claim that when personal-defense gun ownership goes up as judged by the issuance of CCW licenses, the rate of violent crime goes down.  Leaving aside the question of whether there’s any relationship between the number of CCW licenses issued and the number of people actually carrying self-defense guns (an issue that neither Lott nor his critics have ever bothered to raise), the county-wide crime data allegedly used by Lott is so thin in many cases and so unrepresentative of overall crime trends as to be basically useless for arguing anything related to guns or crime at all. In fact, Lott has mentioned that county-level data at least allows him to see differences in crime rates between cities as opposed to rural zones.  But he has never admitted that urban-rural differences in criminal patterns probably bias his work to a degree that makes it shaky at best, untenable at worst.  To their credit, Hughes and DeFilippis drive this point home.

My other pet peeve with Lott, actually related to the previous, is the fact that most communities with substantial numbers of CCW-licensed residents also happen to be places with very little crime.  And this was not the result of an increase in CCW; it was always true for most places that have been granting more CCW licenses over the last ten years.  Hughes and DeFilippis call Lott out on this issue properly and persuasively; the push by Lott and others to create an armed citizenry to protect us from crime has been most successful in areas where all those armed citizens find themselves with nothing to do.

I’m giving Hughes and DeFilippis a ‘high-five’ for their response to John Lott.  But I’m also going to issue them a challenge, namely, to figure out how to undo some of the damage that John Lott has caused.  Like it or not, a majority of Americans now believe that keeping a gun around makes one safe.  And these folks need to hear and learn how little truth there is in such claims.  They certainly won’t hear it from John Lott.


Here’s A New Chapter In The Great DGU War.


The latest salvo in the DGU War has been shot off, and this barrage may go a long way to permanently cripple the argument that guns are used several million times each year (ergo, Defensive Gun Use)to prevent crimes.  DGU has been the rallying-cry of the ‘armed citizen’ and concealed-carry movements since the gun industry decided that personal protection would replace hunting as a way to sell guns.  And any time a politician wants to pander to a right-wing base (and there’s going to be lots of such pandering over the next 16 months), he can always prove his love of the 2nd Amendment by  insisting that gun ownership protects property and saves lives.

conference program pic                The idea that guns are used each year to prevent millions of crimes was invented by a criminologist, Gary Kleck, who published a survey in 1995 of 225 respondents that was immediately promoted by the pro-gun community and still remains the so-called proof that a gun in hand every day keeps the criminal away.  I say ‘invented’ not because of the significant analytical lapses that have been pointed out again and again, but for the very simple reason that he did not ask the respondents to describe in any way, shape or form the actual crime for which their access to a gun kept from taking place.  What Kleck only learned is that some 220 people thought they were going to be the victims of a crime, not that any crime could or did take place.

Now you would think that testing the ability of people who randomly answered their telephone to create a make-believe scenario about something that may or may not have happened would be dismissed out of hand as just so much intellectual junk.  But I don’t remember the last time pro-gun folks argued for an extension of concealed-carry onto college campuses or other public venues without citing Kleck or other proponents of DGU.

A long-time critic of Kleck has just published a new DGU study that uses as its inclusion criteria an admission by the survey respondent that an attempted or completed crime actually occurred.  And the survey data, drawn from the National Crime Victimization Survey, goes to great lengths to validate that what the respondent says about the criminal incident can more or less assumed to be true.  And this survey, based on interviews covering 14,000 criminal events, is that defensive gun use before or during the commission of a real crime is a pretty rare event.  Not only did a DGU occur in less than 1% of the total crimes (127 events) but the result when the victim used any kind of defensive action was basically the same as when the victim defended himself or herself with a gun.

You can get details of the study in today’s article in The Trace, written by the Armed With Reason duo, DeFilippis and Hughes, who tangled with Kleck earlier this year. They make a persuasive case for the strength of the analysis in this new piece, but I suspect that the pro-gun noise machine will reject their arguments, as well as defend Kleck’s DGU nonsense on the following grounds.  First, they will argue that since Kleck asked respondents about whether they used a gun to stop a crime before it occurred, comparing such behavior to situations when a gun was used after the crime began to take place is to make a comparison that simply isn’t fair.

The second and to me much more important reason why pro-gun and DGU proponents will dismiss this new work is that, when all is said and done, these folks have no interest in any discussion about guns that is rooted in evidence-based facts.  I don’t know what Kleck was thinking when he devised (and still defends) a survey which made no attempt whatsoever to validate what people said, but his work comes in handy when it comes to selling guns.

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