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More God, Less Crime or
More Guns, Less Crime?

by Michael Shermer, Jan 03 2012

More God, Less Crime (book cover)

During the last week of 2011, I spoke at and attended a wonderful salon in Santa Fe, New Mexico organized and hosted by Sandy Blakeslee, the brilliant science writer for the New York Times and the author of numerous engaging popular books on neuroscience. Two of the speakers at the salon addressed the topic of the decline of crime, one (Byron Johnson) attributing it to god and the other (John Lott) to guns. Of the two, Lott by far took the day with superior data and better arguments, although for a much wider and deeper analysis of the decline of violence in general I highly recommend Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, 2011), which I recently reviewed in these pages.

More Guns, Less Crime (book cover)

Byron Johnson is a professor at Baylor University and the founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion as well as director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior. Acknowledging that he took the title of his book, More God, Less Crime: Why Faith Matters and How It Could Matter More (Templeton Press, 2011) directly from Lott’s book, More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (University of Chicago Press, 2010), Johnson mostly recounted his experiences working with prisoners in an attempt to lower recidivism rates by increasing religiosity…of the Christian variety, of course. What few data slides he presented harmed his case more than helped it by being either impossible to read (dark, small type) or countering his claim (one slide showed no difference in post-conversion crime rates). Even his anecdotes seemed to gainsay his thesis, as in recounting the story of one man who even after converting to Christianity refused to confess his crime of rape and murder of a young girl until he met her mother on the day of his execution, at which point he broke down and apologized to her. Additional anecdotes and frank admissions by Johnson only worsened his case, such as that many prisoners only convert in order to impress parole boards, and that many of his fellow Christians (he called them “high octane” evangelicals) were only in the game to tally up conversion scores in an environment ripe for the picking. (I routinely receive letters from prisoners who bemoan the constant evangelizing, not only by Christians but by Muslims as well who also see prisons as conversion opportunities. As the Russian comedian Yavak Smirnoff used to joke about performing in the USSR, mixing “captured” for “captive” audiences: “they’re not going anywhere!”)

Johnson seems like a nice enough fellow, and with our current overcrowded prison system letting criminals out early, if he really can lower recidivism rates it’s hard not to acknowledge that this is a good thing for society (assuming he’s having any effect at all, which I presume he must be at least on a case-by-case basis, even if it isn’t statistically significant from other recidivism methods). Although I would much prefer that people not commit crimes for rational and secular moral reasons (respect for private property, sanctity of life, etc.), I am reminded of an encounter I had with a young Christian man in his early 20s during the Q & A after one of my public lectures. I had just asked the rhetorical question—which I often ask during my talk on the evolution of morality and how to be good without god—“What would you do if there were no God? Would you rape, steal, and murder?” Naturally people agree that they wouldn’t, but in this instance the man said he was pretty sure that if he decided that there were no god he would do just that. I told him that Jesus loves him and has a plan for his life and future. It got a laugh but everyone in the room realized that not everyone is a rational calculator and moral reasoner. Some people may very well need the shadow of enforcement that comes from believing in an invisible policeman in the sky who, like those pesky red light video cameras at busy intersections, insures that even when the cops aren’t around all sins and violations will be settled in due time, even without due process.

As far as I know Johnson, along with his fellow religious believers who embrace the hypothesis that religion is good for society, have failed to account for a simple and obvious (once you think about it) correlation and comparison: Gregory Paul’s 2005 study published in the Journal of Religion and Society—“Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”—that showed an inverse correlation between religiosity (measured by belief in God, biblical literalism, and frequency of prayer and service attendance) and societal health (measured by rates of homicide, suicide, childhood mortality, life expectancy, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, and teen pregnancy) in 18 developed democracies. “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” Paul found. “The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.” Indeed, the U.S. scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions, and teen pregnancies.

If religion is such a powerful prophylactic against sin, immorality, and crime, then why is the most religious democracy on the planet also the most sinful and crime-ridden? I’m not claiming that religion causes these problems (although Paul does make this claim), only that the claim that it prevents or attenuates them is falsified by the data.

John Lott, by contrast, is a social scientists’ social scientist. A data man to the core, I spent several hours with him the night before at a party pressing him for details of his argument that more guns means less crime. He was unwavering in his conviction—both to me privately and in his public talk (and in his book)—that not one social scientist or criminologist has been able to produce a single example of a city or county that has experienced a consistent decline in crimes after a ban on guns was enacted. In fact, in slide after slide and example after example Lott showed that the opposite correlation tends to be the case: gun bans increase crime.

Take Washington, D.C. Before the ban on handguns was implemented in August of 1976, DC ranked 20th in murder rates out of the top 50 cities in America. After the gun ban, DC shot up to either #1 or #2, where year after year it held steady as “the murder capital of the nation,” as it as dubbed by the media. As a control experiment of sorts, after the Supreme Court decision in the Heller case overturned the DC gun ban, murder rates dropped and have continued to fall ever since. According to Lott, whose data is based primarily on crime statistics provided by the FBI, once the gun ban was lifted, homicide rates plummeted 42.1%, sexual assault rates dropped 14.9%, robbery excluding guns dropped 34.3%, robbery with guns plunged 58%, assault with a dangerous weapon excluding guns sank 11%, assault with a dangerous weapon using guns tumbled 35.6%, and total violent crime nosedived 31%, along with total property crimes decreasing a total of 10.7%.

Chicago showed a similar effect, Lott demonstrated. Ever since the gun ban was implemented in 1982, no year has been as low in crimes as it was before the ban. Island nations (which serve as good tests, Lott says, because their borders are more tightly controlled from extraneous variables) demonstrate the same effect: Jamaica and Ireland homicide rates increased after gun bans were imposed. Ditto England and Wales: After a gun ban was imposed in January of 1997, homicide rates slowly climbed and peaked at an average of 28% higher after the ban. (By dramatic contrast, Lott said that in 1900 London in which people were free to do whatever they wanted with their guns, there were a grand total of 2 gun-related deaths and 5 armed robberies in a population of many millions, and this was 20 years before gun laws began going into effect in 1920.)

Why do more guns mean less crime? Lott offers a very practical explanation: it is extremely hard to keep criminals from getting and keeping guns. In other words, Gun bans are primarily obeyed by non-criminals. Criminals that already have guns do not turn them in, and potential criminals that want to get guns have no problem procuring them on the street illegally. Lott cited several studies by criminologists who interviewed criminals in jail and collected data on the amount of time they spend casing a home before burglarizing it. In the U.K., where gun bans are much more prevalent than in the U.S., the criminals reported that they spend very little time casing a joint and that they don’t really care if someone is home or not because they know the residents won’t be armed (whereas they, of course, are armed). Their U.S. counterparts, by contrast, reported spending more than double the time casing a home before robbing it, explaining that they were waiting for the residents to leave. Why? They said that they were worried they would be shot.

Why is crime so much higher here in the U.S. than in the U.K. and elsewhere? Lott explained that the remarkably high homicide rates are a geographical anomaly. The U.S. justice department reports that about 80% of violent crimes are drug gang related, and that about 75% of homicides take place in 3% of counties. And even within those counties the murders are taking place in a tiny portion in which drug gangs are operating. So when we compare murder rates between countries—say between the U.S. and Canada—it is really comparing the crime in one country to just a very tiny portion of American cities where gangs proliferate. What would happen if drugs were legalized? Speaking as an economist who understands the basic law of supply and demand, Lott opined that there is no doubt that crimes would decrease while drug-use would increase. So it’s a trade-off.

I do not know this area well enough to judge the validity of Lott’s thesis. His data and his plausible causal explanations for the correlations strike me as sound, although I know that proponents of gun control have taken him to task over various statistical issues. Still, I would like to see his fundamental challenge met: is there any city or county in the U.S. where crime and murders have consistently decreased after gun control laws were passed and enforced?

Anecdotally, of course, we are horrified at the innocent people gunned down who would be alive were there no guns anywhere in the country. Just days before Lott’s lecture, in fact, there was the story about the U.S. soldier returning home from Iraq who was shot dead on Christmas day in a dispute over a football team. Had there not been guns in that home the worst thing that probably would have happened is a bit of pushing and shoving and shouting, perhaps a roundhouse punch or two thrown, and a couple of bruised egos in the end. But the problem is that the genie is out of the bottle. Millions of guns are already out there, and short of a Stasi-like police state sweep through every home, business, garage, shack, storage unit, cabin, car, and container in every nook and cranny in every state in the union, gun bans will most likely be honored by the people who least need them and ignored by those who do—the criminals.

Recommended Reading

182 Responses to “More God, Less Crime or
More Guns, Less Crime?”

  1. Nathaniel Brottingham says:

    Recently a deranged man entered a shopping mall in a nearby city brandishing a gun. As he started shooting everyone was defenceless; a lot of people died or were seriously injured. If only one of the regular shoppers had carried a gun, the criminal couldn’t have gotten of more than a handful of shots. But if you argue with people that we should get a right to bear arms, people call you a murderer and start a shouting match who can be the most righteous the loudest. It doesn’t really matter what your arguments are, they cannot hear you and even if they could they wouldn’t listen anyway.

    • Steve Fulton says:

      “If only one of the regular shoppers had carried a gun, the criminal couldn’t have gotten of more than a handful of shots.”

      Like all the armed witnesses of the shootings of Rep. Cathy Giffords and others stopped the shooter? Oh, wait…

      • James says:

        Tax Leeches like Rep. Cathy Giffords have their own, personal-but-paid-for-by-us armed security detachments. . . where were they?

        I wouldn’t fire a shot in defense of a tax leech either. . .

      • Beelzebud says:

        Move to Somalia. No Tax Leeches there for you to have to imagine yourself not defending.

      • tmac57 says:

        How to justify violence:
        Lesson one:First you must dehumanize the victim by renaming them as something worth killing…EX: Leech.

    • HumanistDad says:

      Your story, Nathaniel, is common but it lacks a true argument.Do you have an example of a gunman firing at crowds of people and then people in the crowd fire back? I thought not.

      Here’s what I think might happen: Gunman opens fire. Most people run. A few get out their guns. Person A tries to shoot the gunman – Person B, disorientated, shoots at Person A. More confusion. Who was the original shooter? Who do police advance on?

      When crazy gunmen fire at crowds, the solution is to run away from the gunshots.

      By the way, as far as I know, all school-shootings came from people who brought a legally-owned gun from home. They didn’t steal it first.

      Sam Harris also pointed out in a recent essay that if a gunman enters your home, the optimal solution is to escape and call for help, not attempt to confront the gunman.

      Finally, my brother-in-law owns a gun and very late one night awoke to one or more people roaming his yard carrying a weapon. He armed himself, tracked the intruder and pointed his gun at him and called out a warning. The intruder? Police officer responding to a domestic shooting a couple doors away setting up a perimeter (and verifying which house had a shooter). He was damn lucky another officer was not in firing distance or his courageous stance could have ended his life.

      Guns don’t make people safer. Running really fast does.

      • mcb says:

        “When crazy gunmen fire at crowds, the solution is to run away from the gunshots.”

        Or wait for a pause in the action and attack the attacker, a method that resolves about as many cases as intervention by armed police.

        “By the way, as far as I know, all school-shootings came from people who brought a legally-owned gun from home. They didn’t steal it first.”

        Do more digging. Several recent school shootings involved theft of firearms, illegal firearms sales, illegal possession of firearms, or possession of illegal weapons.

        “Sam Harris also pointed out in a recent essay that if a gunman enters your home, the optimal solution is to escape and call for help, not attempt to confront the gunman.”

        He also recommended leaving one’s spouse or children in the house with an intruder’s knife to their throat. Even if he has any reason to think he’s right that won’t play in many households.

      • Wrong says:

        It may not play in many households, but those households are wrong.

        If you decide to confront a man with his knife to your wifes throat, with your gun, will you try to shoot him? Risk killing your wife with your shot or him falling back and cutting her throat?

        Will your try to reason with a man you out-gun and have cornered?

        Will you do the classic TV thing and put down your gun (HINT: This one gets both of you stabbed, or she gets stabbed and you get shot).

        In the end, it’s up to chance what happens, and calling for help, bringing maximum force to bear, is a better option. You might be capable of taking him on, but you and both your neighbours almost certainly are, and the police are definitely. At this point, if he acts rationally (And this is the only option we can reasonably account for), he has to give up, and hurting her is a worse decision than surrender. It has to be about making hurting her a less viable option than surrender or flight, rather than trying to fight him, a situation where he may decide the risk is worth it, and kill her and try to take you on.

        Our instinct to protect others isn’t a rational action, it’s an involuntary one. The logic goes that we can’t make things worse by interfering, but this isn’t the case when dealing with a desperate person rather than a hungry saber-tooth.

        I’m not sure of the statistic that citizens with guns resolve as many shootings as the police, though I did find corroborating statistics saying that they’re far more often used to defend than fired to commit a crime: http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0210e.asp I also recall in a Penn and Teller: Bullshit episode on the subject, they indicated that crime was generally decreased by concealed carry laws.

      • Conceal Carry says:

        shoot him before he gets the knife on your wife’s neck.

      • Miles says:

        You guys are really letting your imaginations run wild with this one. I like how you guys are trying to actually predict what would happen in a scenario if the victim was armed or not, and then use that prediction as some kind of justification as to whether or not guns should be banned. That is a really weird and unproductive way to go about things.

        Life is a bit more chaotic than I think your imaginations imply. The best we can do is be prepared if something like that should happen.

        One of the first things I did when learning how to shoot was to take a home defense and gun safety class from a retired police officer with more than 30 years experience in both police and military. It was a valuable experience and the biggest thing I learned from him was that almost everything you think you know goes right out the window when you are in danger and fear takes over. The best way to survive is to plan ahead so that your body can run on “auto-pilot” while your mind is frozen from fear.

        A gun is just a tool. It’s the training that will save your life.

      • Somite says:

        In fact, statistically guns are more likely to be involved in a home accident than used for defense.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715182

        Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home.
        Kellermann AL, Somes G, Rivara FP, Lee RK, Banton JG.
        Source
        Center for Injury Control, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.
        Abstract
        OBJECTIVE:
        Determine the relative frequency with which guns in the home are used to injure or kill in self-defense, compared with the number of times these weapons are involved in an unintentional injury, suicide attempt, or criminal assault or homicide.
        METHODS:
        We reviewed the police, medical examiner, emergency medical service, emergency department, and hospital records of all fatal and nonfatal shootings in three U.S. cities: Memphis, Tennessee; Seattle, Washington; and Galveston, Texas.
        RESULTS:
        During the study interval (12 months in Memphis, 18 months in Seattle, and Galveston) 626 shootings occurred in or around a residence. This total included 54 unintentional shootings, 118 attempted or completed suicides, and 438 assaults/homicides. Thirteen shootings were legally justifiable or an act of self-defense, including three that involved law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty. For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.
        CONCLUSIONS:
        Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.

      • tmac57 says:

        Something else to consider: According to a Dept. of Justice report,between 1987 and 1992,there was an average of 341,000 incidents of stolen firearms in the US per year (note that this was incidents,so more than one gun could have been stolen per incident).I would not be surprised if this makes the likelihood of having your gun stolen,greater than being able to use it to defend against a crime.And of course,those stolen guns can be used in later crimes as well.
        So if you are determined to have a gun,at least get a gun safe.

      • Max says:

        If the gun is locked in a safe, can you get it out in time to defend yourself?

      • tmac57 says:

        Max,the idea is to secure the weapons when you are not home,or to keep them out of children’s hands.You could keep a weapon available for protection when you are sure that you can control access to it.

      • Amoeba says:

        Conceal Carry says:
        January 4, 2012 at 9:14 am
        “shoot him before he gets the knife on your wife’s neck.”

        So you can foresee the future? How many innocent people have you killed, or are you still at school?

      • Max says:

        “By the way, as far as I know, all school-shootings came from people who brought a legally-owned gun from home. They didn’t steal it first.”

        Mohammed Taheri-Azar couldn’t get a gun, so he ran over people with his SUV.
        His letter to the police said,
        “I am writing this letter to inform you of my reasons for premeditating and attempting to murder citizens and residents of the United States of America on Friday, March 3, 2006 in the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina by running them over with my automobile and stabbing them with a knife if the opportunities are presented to me by Allah.
        I did intend to use a handgun to murder the citizens and residents of Chapel Hill, North Carolina but the process of receiving a permit for a handgun in this city is highly restricted and out of my reach at the present, most likely due to my foreign nationality.”
        http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mohammed_Reza_Taheri-azar#Letter_to_the_police

      • Conceal Carry says:

        so you include suicides in the category of “accidental shootings?” Not an accident. More people die from mistakes their doctor make than from guns. More die from drowning in backyard pools than from guns. What do we do??? Ban Doctors and swimming pools???

      • Felix says:

        The result of his SUV attack? No deaths, nine injured.
        You think the result would likely have been the same with a shotgun and/or a pistol?

      • Wrong says:

        I think the fear of people having firearms is a better deterrent to crime than actual firearms.

        I did see some stuff about how one school shooting in Israel was stopped when (I believe it was a teacher) shot the student. But this doesn’t mean that having guns is the best way to stop the problem.

        Legal sale of firearms proliferates firearms, both legal and illegal, and that contributes to guns that can be used for ill. At the same time, concealed carry laws have been shown to reduce crime rates, though rarely through active use of force, and more likely through the fear of a criminal in commiting a felony on an armed individual.

        Universally attempting to disarm everyone seems like the best option to me, since it prevents accidents, but of course, it’s possible to illegally obtain firearms and that leaves you with armed criminals. But as HumanistDad points out in reference to Sam Harris, the optimum solution to a gunfight is to run. In all seriousness, if you want to go toe to toe with the gunman with your own weapon, then you’re relying on chance, and hoping you’re better than he is. That’s not always going to be the case, and stray bullets kill, twice as many shooters, more potential mayhem.

        In the end, I guess it comes down to a preference. I don’t like guns, but I see the potential for the fear of them to increase safety.

      • Coopersville Chris says:

        Running over 1200 feet per second would be quite a feat.

    • Janet Camp says:

      Just because someone at the mall would have a gun doesn’t mean he could have stopped the killer. In the recent Arizona shooting (Giffords, et al), at least two people near the scene were armed but neither even pulled out a gun, let alone used it to stop the killer. It just isn’t like TV, were the highly trained marksman-cop/agent comes to the rescue, magically avoids the bad guys bullets, and saves the day by rescuing the beautiful woman.

      • Adam says:

        It just isn’t like TV, were the highly trained marksman-cop/agent comes to the rescue

        It’s also not like on TV where cops are highly trained. A casual look at police involved shootgns will show you that cops are anything but highly trained marksmen. Cops miss. A lot.

      • Janet Camp says:

        Perhaps, but it doesn’t change my point, which is that on TV, the cops, et al don’t miss when they are cast as the good guys.

      • Conceal Carry says:

        If no one but the criminal had a gun, then it would definitely be the case that no one would be able to shoot the criminal. If lots of people carried guns (a bodyguard or bystander) then the criminal would have been more likely to have been taken out sooner.

      • James Reynolds says:

        But it’s also more likely that more people will be killed or that the cops will be confused or you will enrage or provoke the guy (we’re not just talking about mad rampaging gunmen).

        The odds aren’t simple or easy to predict. I don’t think they can be used as an argument for general gun ownership

      • Miles says:

        The odds aren’t simple or easy to predict. I don’t think they can be used as an argument for general gun ownership

        Correct. I couldn’t agree more. Your observation also means that they can’t be used to take guns away.

  2. CJ says:

    The gun topic is a complicated issue.

    I’ve grown up around firearms and was taught to both respect and fear what they can do. I’ve hunted my entire life with rifles and shotguns. I recognize that firearms can be handled safely and have a legitimate role in home defense in our current culture.

    I also happen to run with a crowd of fellow newish parents (like myself) who have not had the same experiences. They have what I would consider irrational fears about having their children around unloaded and secured firearms. It comes across to me like they’ve seen too many news stories about gun accidents. Those stories occur, it is true, but they make the news solely because they are so unusual.

    A shotgun or a single-shot rifle is no less dangerous than a car in the hands of an idiot or drunk. That being said, I recognize that cars are much more useful to a much broader segment of society than hunting rifles and shotguns.

    I’m not sure how I feel about regulating firearms that serve no useful purpose beyond killing people, especially in large numbers. Assault rifles have no legitimate use in home defense, especially in dense urban areas. The last thing you want to happen is to have a bullet travel through three walls before it comes to a rest.

    I also have mixed feelings about handguns. I really don’t want someone to be allowed to carry one without rather extensive safety and accuracy training. While my friends with the abject fear of all things firearm might object, I can see a legitimate deterrent role for handguns in public settings. The current question American society is grappling with, is which public settings will be allowed and which won’t. It seems to me that if a store owner wants to say that they don’t want people in their store to carry handguns, that should be their decision.

    Finally, shotguns are the only reasonable weapon for home defense. They don’t remain as lethal over long distances. A pump is an iconic sound that works wonders in deterring a would-be intruder. You don’t have to be a good aim in a dark or frantic situation. They are easy to load quickly. Anything but a shotgun (and maybe a derringer) for home defense is probably a mistake.

    • Wrong says:

      That’s actually very clever. I never thought of it that way. A shotgun is certainly an easier weapon for a neophyte, and has the intimidation factor, suited to close quarters, without the penetration or concealed carry risk. And as a weapon, it’s easily outmatched by the equipment used by police. Two questions though. What’s the American regulation on semi-automatic shotguns, and what do you think of double barrel shotguns (They concern me like handguns with the potential to saw the barrel and conceal them)?

  3. Somite says:

    I find amusing that gun control opponents most often resort to books and personalities rather than to published peer reviewed work. In peer reviewed work the story is different. Gun ownership is an adverse indicator.

    http://ajl.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/02/01/1559827610396294

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953606004898

    I don’t think this one is peer-reviewed but it seems more accurate, or at least easier to falsify, than the work Shermer describes:

    http://www.vpc.org/press/0905gundeath.htm

    My impression is that the trick Lott uses is that he goes too far back in time to start the comparison and cherry picks the data for crime rather than overall gun deaths. The use of percentages is also telling because it tends to accentuate small differences.

    For me the issue is settled with country comparisons. The more gun control the less gun crime and accidents when you look at nation after nation.

  4. Paul Hatchman says:

    While not in the US, Australia’s homicide rate has steadily decreased since the introduction of strict gun control legislation in 1997. e.g see page 9 of the linked Australian Institute of Criminology Report. http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/F/F/B/%7BFFB9E49F-160F-43FC-B98D-6BC510DC2AFD%7Dmr01.pdf

    Though I personally doubt the same approach would work in the US. The gun culture is too entrenched.

    • Wrong says:

      Although, as a side note, whilst we have, for all intents and purposes, removed semi-automatic weapons, it’s still possible to own firearms and use them legitimately, including shotguns and bolt-action rifles, which seems to be all that’s required.

      • Wrong says:

        Oops, forgot to make my main point. In Tasmania, as a consequence of our anti-gun regulations, and our anti-gun culture, Paintball is illegal. Whyyyyy?

      • Greg H says:

        Probably out of respect to the victims of Martin Bryant at Port Arthur. Quite likely the citizens and legislators of Tasmania find the idea of faux massacre as an entertaining pastime somewhat vulgar.

  5. Insightful Ape says:

    While I cannot comment on the issue of control, I can tell with near total certainty that religiosity does not lead to lower crime rates. I recently saw a documentary on Rio de Janeie, an extremely pious city with a towering statue of Jesus towering over it, where about everyone professes to be a catholic or evangelical christian, and sky high rates of gang violence.

    • Jon Gee says:

      I wonder if the link isn’t so much that guns cause crime, but that ‘fairer’ societies (e.g. less poverty, less income inequality, high levels of education) tend to have lower crime.

      Maybe gun control per se is irrelevant. Maybe gun control is a by-product of ‘fairer’ and skeptical/critical thinking societies.

      Also, ‘fairer’ and better educated societies seem to have lower religiousness.

  6. Janet Camp says:

    This is interesting–as are the comments that follow. It seems that you should have investigated Lott’s methods and numbers more before giving him so much benefit-of-the-doubt perhaps?

    I am perfectly willing to change my mind on this topic if the evidence is really there, but I cannot tell if that is the case with Lott’s data from this post. I will take a look at the links offered by commenters and see what I can see.

  7. Chris Howard says:

    If I understand the sociological data correctly, regarding criminal behavior (violent or otherwise) the greatest determining factor is poverty (the non-safety net, “crushing” kind). Guns, and God may have an effect, but those two variables, as far as I know, aren’t as reliable a predictor as poverty.

    Guns & God, appear to be, responses to social ills which are the themselves, largely, the products of poverty.
    Grain of salt: Sociology was my minor, so I know just enough to get me in to trouble.

    • Max says:

      You also said you have a fourth grade math level?

      • Chris Howard says:

        Yep. Severe dyscalculia, so mathematics, specifically statistics is “Greek to me” which
        is why I don’t comment on things mathematical. I have a number of friends who are statisticians, and researchers, and they are pretty good at explaining the statistics to me.
        My grad work is in practical philosophy/ethics.

  8. Somite says:

    It seems like Lott has a less than stellar reputation among academics that look at data of this kind:

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2003/09/0910.php

    • Miles R. says:

      That looks to me like something that anyone should read before being persuaded by Shermer’s argument. “If you correct Lott’s coding errors, then even with Lott’s model there wasn’t less crime. Instead of conceding this, Lott has changed his model and then tried to rewrite history to make it look like he never changed it.”

      • Wrong says:

        I’d like to note before people (And they always do) jump on the “Oh Shermer” “Oh Libertarian” bandwagon, that Shermer didn’t choose Lott. He starts the article by discussing the comparison between Lott and Johnson at a conference.

      • Janet Camp says:

        But then he goes on to give Lott quite a bit of credence in a very unscientific way. I have lost a great deal of former respect for Shermer in his last two posts.

      • Miles says:

        I think you are reading what you want into the article.

        Try re-reading the following paragraph:

        I do not know this area well enough to judge the validity of Lott’s thesis. His data and his plausible causal explanations for the correlations strike me as sound, although I know that proponents of gun control have taken him to task over various statistical issues. Still, I would like to see his fundamental challenge met: is there any city or county in the U.S. where crime and murders have consistently decreased after gun control laws were passed and enforced?

    • Beelzebud says:

      DDT is safe, and global warming, if real, is just a minor inconvenience!

  9. quentin says:

    I am very skeptical about Lott’s claim.

    Does he give any example of a country where crime decreased after gun introduction ? Does he give any example of crime evolution after a ban in the long run (say after a few decades)? Looks like cherry picking.

    On a short period after a ban, or when the ban is localized (e.g. a city in US), you can still find guns everywhere, and Lott’s argument applies, but this is a very short-sighted view in my opinion.

    • Conceal Carry says:

      Read the book. The data and analysis is convincing. Read your urban newspapers and you’ll find almost daily accounts of people who use guns to stop criminals from robbing, raping, assaulting, etc. I carry a gun because I can’t carry a policeman.

  10. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    We can also look to other societies. In Switzerland, most adult males and many females, are military reservists and are required by law to keep a military firearm and ammunition in their homes. Some would attribute the low Swiss crime rate to that. But others would point out that in general the Swiss are an orderly and law-abiding population.
    Japan is a counter-example. There are probably fewer than a hundred, certainly fewer than a thousand, handguns in private hands, mostly registered to competitive shooters. The yakuza gangsters do have plenty of guns, but they mostly use them on each other. There has long been a sort of tacit understanding between the police and the yakuza that as long as the gangsters confine their shootings to each other and to the areas that are their de facto domains that the police will not come down too hard on them for it. Japan’s over-all crime rate is also pretty low.
    Israel is somewhere in between. Many people own firearms, often military ones and the vast majority of the population has military training. Homicide rates are low, but bank and armored courier robberies are a persistent problem.
    It should be obvious that crime rates are not usually affected by a single factor and that they are not going to be solved by picking out and manipulating a single factor.

  11. BillG says:

    Correlation doesn’t equate to causation. On the surface, both premises reek of a bias confirmation.

  12. Gavin says:

    The title of this piece looks like a false dichotomy (is it God or guns that make for less crime?) and the rest of the text largely reinforces that impression (apparently, it’s guns). Never mind that cities, districts, etc. tend to pass gun-control laws when violent crime is already on the rise for other reasons, and that such rises will naturally continue thereafter. The best explanation I’ve seen of the much-ballyhooed drop in violent crime in the USA since the early 90’s is the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalized_abortion_and_crime_effect
    That is, “More Abortions, Less Crime.”

    • Wrong says:

      It’s not a false dichotomy. It’s because they were at the same conference. Criticise it if someone else at the conference argued that Global Warming was decreasing crime.

      Guns are clearly more likely to have an effect on crime than religion, and he discusses that. Of course, he doesn’t discuss other factors, like poverty, wealth, society, etc, but those aren’t what were being discussed at the conference as far as I’m aware.

      • Gavin says:

        I get that; I’m just pointing out appearances. And I think the juxtaposition leads Shermer to give undue weight to Lott’s dubious – even falsified – statistics.

      • Janet Camp says:

        I agree, Gavin and I can’t see why Shermer even bothers with this topic at all. It’s a bit like reviewing a convention where Creationists debate Intelligent Design adherents.

      • Wrong says:

        Indeed Gavin. I don’t see why he bothered to review the thing, seeing as neither view is comprehensive, both are likely to offend. I think I’d prefer it if he posted a critique of the thinking of each author.

  13. Miles says:

    The gun debate always seems to play out in the same pattern. People against guns (usually on the left) feels that any citizen who wants the freedom to own and carry a gun needs to prove to them (they call it “data”) with complete certainty that it is “good for society”.

    The pro-gun crowd (usually on the right) feels that owning and carrying a gun is one of our fundamental rights, and everyone else needs to prove with complete certainty that it is good for society to take those guns away.

    Two things points almost always get lost in this debate:

    1) Neither side will ever be able to “prove” to the other that guns are “good” or “bad” for society. Neither side seems to recognize this, but prefers to try and make the case that all of the “correct” data supports their side, and all of the data support the other side is flawed.

    2) Whether or not guns were good or bad by some utilitarian measurement had little to do with why the right to bear arms was added to the Constitution in the first place. It was because the people at the time wanted to be able to defend themselves against a tyrannical government.

    If you are comfortable with the idea of handing over all the guns to a government and trusting them never to abuse such power is a good idea, then let’s not pretend that this disagreement is about “data”.

    • Max says:

      I saw an advertisement for a gun that somehow doesn’t maintain fingerprints. Think that’s a good idea?

    • Wrong says:

      Don’t use that constitutional bullshit. I’ve heard it time and time again, and I don’t buy it. In the time of the War of Independance, was a civilian revolution likely and possible in America? Yes. Is it now? NO. The government has Aircraft carriers, Tanks, APCs, Bombers, Humvees, heck, the average infantryman is better armed than a militia could be. Add to that, the fact that said government severely looks down on efforts to gain weapons dangerous enough to threaten it, and this stops being a reasonable excuse. The Constitution is not perfect, it’s good, but it could stand to be improved. I’m not comfortable with the government having guns either, but that’s a tu quoue, it doesn’t make you right.

      • Conceal Carry says:

        So you think the Constitution is “bullshit”??? Agree that it is not perfect, but it is the best template for operating a country that currently exists. Freedom to own and use guns is a good thing. Hope you don’t vote.

      • Wrong says:

        I don’t have a definite opinion on the freedom to own and use guns. You mistake me there.

        And by constitutional bullshit, I mean using an argument from antiquity, a common logical fallacy, to justify an important choice. I can see reasons for and against gun use and ownership. The ability to rebel against your government is not one of them. As much as I like the concept, you’d have to extend the rights to letting the citizenry control military hardware, drones, tanks, APCs, assault weapons, even potentially nukes. It’s clearly not a good idea to distribute WMDs to Joe Everyman for the purpose of maintaining his civil liberties.

        I get that an armed populace is supposedly good for maintaining liberty. But that logic fails to hold up when you consider the disparity between government and citizenry, or even police and citizenry. It does strike a nerve with me, because I do fundamentally agree with the principle that a government should fear it’s people, fear the concept of civil uprising. But I don’t see how that can be achieved with todays military weaponry.

        And hoping someone doesn’t vote, Conceal Carry, is just stupid. Just because someone has a rational dislike to a position, doesn’t mean you should not want to hear it. Personally, I agree to the greater extent with concealed carry as a concept. So, if I weren’t to vote, based on my point of view, then yours would be equally bad, and that gets us nowhere.

      • Miles says:

        Wrong,

        It seems you misunderstood my comment. I was not making an “argument from antiquity”. I was not trying to posit that just because the founders believed in “x”, that “x” must therefore be good.

        I was stating that this part of the debate often gets left out of these discussions. I was saying that people get so focused arguing about whether econometrics can prove that guns are “good” or “bad” for society, they forget about the primary intent of the right to bear arms in the first place. I wasn’t saying that you should agree with it simply because it was in the Constitution. I was making the point that it shouldn’t get left out of the discussion.

        As far as your other point, that a civilian population simply cannot be equipped well enough to stand against a modern military, I think that you are half-right.

        Of course I agree that strategically, a civilian population armed with assault rifles has very little chance of being able to deal with fighter jets, tanks, artillery, nuclear weapons, etc. So I agree with you there.

        Where I disagree, is that being able to win such a war of attrition is necessary to constrain a government from becoming tyrannical. All you really need in my opinion is to make a population “dangerous enough” to deter a would-be tyrant. The last thing Hitler wanted to do was drop bombs across Germany and level all of the infrastructure and population that he needed to keep his military going. Completely destroying your “home base” isn’t really an option for a tyrant.

        I think this is a lot like the argument that allowing people to carry guns leads to an “arms race” between criminals and victims. The fear is that once the “victim” arms herself with a gun, the criminal is not deterred, and simply gets a bigger gun, requiring the victim to get a bigger gun, and so on. This may happen in some outlying and bizarre cases, but in general I don’t find this scenario to be very plausible. If I’m a criminal and I’m looking for someone to victimize, I’m not going to go after the girl with the 9mm pistol, regardless of whether I’m carrying knife or an automatic rifle. For a criminal, and armed civilian means trouble no matter what, and they don’t want trouble. They want easy prey.

        I think the same is true for an extremist political party with a lot of power and nefarious goals. They don’t want “trouble” from the general populous. They want “easy prey”, and a population defending themselves with assault rifles and grampa’s WWII armory of explosives is usually enough trouble to dissuade such hostility in my opinion.

      • Miles says:

        I seemed to have hit a nerve with you, Wrong. I disagree with your logic of course. Your logic suggests that civilians should only be allowed to arm themselves when the government has become a tyranny and not when relations between the populace and the government are peaceful.

        But think about that for a second. If the government does become a tyranny, do you think it will live up to its promise and allow the populace to arm themselves? An armed populace is a deterrent against a government getting out of control.

        We already live in a time when the United States police forces are becoming more and more militarized. SWAT teams driving APCs and armed with assault rifles are routinely being used every day to respond to non-violent situations. People “suspected” of having some small amount of marijuana in the house, people being accused of hacking into a website, etc. These people aren’t being met by a few police officers knocking on their door and showing them a search warrant. Their doors are being busted down, assault rifles pointed in their faces, they are thrown to the floor, their dogs are shot in the head, and their property destroyed while a SWAT team searches their house for a few “roaches”. And when nothing is found and the raid turned out to be a mistake? Not even an apology.

        I’m certainly not advocating that we start “shooting back” at SWAT teams who approach our homes. But what if this problem continues to get worse and the court system fails to do anything about it? I’d rather live in a society where the government fears its people, rather than the other way around.

        Wrong, you and I hardly ever seem to agree on anything and this issue certainly isn’t likely to break that trend. But let’s at least try and be honest here. There is no graph or statistic or some other bit of data that is ever going to convince you that civilians should be allowed to arm themselves however they see fit. So let’s stop pretending that this argument is about the “data” and start admitting that this argument is about a difference in ideology.

      • Deen says:

        I’d rather live in a society where the government fears its people, rather than the other way around.

        Wouldn’t that be better achieved by changing the system so politicians again fear losing the votes of the people, rather than fear losing their campaign funds? By the time a government needs to fear an armed revolt, things have gone out of hand way too far already.

      • Miles says:

        Deen, I am not suggesting that an appropriate response to the current climate of militarized police should be some kind of “armed revolt”. I advocate for peaceful solutions via the rule of law. Violence should only be used as a last resort and when necessary for survival.

        I also want to make it clear that I’m not expecting some kind of “solution” in this area either. There will always be law enforcement officials who abuse their power from time to time, just as there will be citizens who use their freedoms to hurt others from time to time. No law, legislation, or paradigm shift is going to “solve” these problems. The best we can hope for is to make them rare at a cost that we as a society deem worth it. And that is really what we should be arguing about: costs vs. benefits. I personally find arguments over “solutions” to be an utter waste of time. There will always be some amount of poverty, crime, pollution, inequality, or resource constraint in the world.

        As far as what we can do to address this growing concern, I don’t know. I think ending the war on drugs could make a big dent in lowering the misuse of police force. But that isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes I’m optimistic that the war on drugs could come to and end, sometimes I think it’s never going to happen.

      • Max says:

        If everyone is assumed to be armed and dangerous, the police has to be more aggressive, think about it.

      • Miles says:

        If everyone is assumed to be armed and dangerous, the police has to be more aggressive, think about it.

        That’s one possible response. Here’s another: If I’m a police officer and I suspect someone of smoking marijuana in their home, I’ll simply knock on the door instead of breaking it down and running inside with my firearm drawn.

        I don’t claim to know which scenario is more likely or which will have greater statistical significance. But certainly the scenario you describe isn’t the only possibility.

        I don’t deny that there are costs to freedom Max. I’m not turning a blind eye to those costs. Hell, simply having the freedom to buy a car means that I could get ripped off.

        But I think it often doesn’t occur to many on the left that civilians need protection from government just as much as from each other. There seems to be this underlying assumption that the people who work for government are inherently more moral and trustworthy than your average citizen, and should therefore be relied upon to do what is “best for society”, given the power to do so. It’s as if there is a belief that the process of government somehow makes government employees better people.

        I do not operate from this assumption. My assumption is that power corrupts and attracts people who want to use that power. The more power you give to a smaller group of people, the more dangerous that group becomes even if they assure the rest of us that their intentions are pure.

        Many of you interpret this view as an example of crazy libertarian nonsense. And that’s fine, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But call me crazy, when I look back at the history of human civilization, I’m just not convinced that giving more and more power to a central group of people causes them to be more beneficial to their fellow men and women.

      • Max says:

        I know that cops are very jittery about guns, which is why they’re apt to shoot someone reaching for his wallet.

      • Max says:

        Tanks and APCs didn’t save Pahlavi, Ceaușescu, Gaddafi, and other dictators. When a popular uprising gains momentum, it can get international support and compel military generals to defect.

    • Conceal Carry says:

      Amen brother. Let’s not forget the second amendment. Whether or not law abiding citizens should be able to own and defend themselves with guns should not be debated. There are plenty of existing laws that prohibit criminals from purchasing or owning guns. The first thing Hitler did was to implement gun controls over the people.

    • Another point of view says:

      Miles, you are right on and make the point that everyone on both sides ignore. It does not so much matter if you have a gun, but it is much more important that the powers do not know for sue\re who can defend themselves.

    • Deen says:

      The pro-gun crowd (usually on the right) feels that owning and carrying a gun is one of our fundamental rights

      Which is an argument that won’t impress most people from outside of the US. But then again, most of the right doesn’t care about anything beyond the US anyway.

      • Miles says:

        Which is an argument that won’t impress most people from outside of the US.

        I totally agree. Actually, I would say that an argument for fundamental rights doesn’t impress a great deal of people within the US either.

      • Max says:

        Yeah, it’s a kind of dogmatism. Can’t argue against fundamental rights or ask what good are they if they cause more harm than good.

  14. MadScientist says:

    Given that most inmates already have a (usually christian) religion when they are admitted to the system, I guess that the evangelicals’ objective is to convert people from the Not True Christian Religion to the One True Christian Religion. Occasionally they may even convert someone who has no religion at all – but those folks are a small minority in the prison populations.

  15. Nyar says:

    God, guns, and gays. More gays, less crime. That’s my theory.

    • MadScientist says:

      That hasn’t been tested yet – but at least it’s not yet demonstrated to be false.

  16. Nyar says:

    On a more serious note, I have a CHL and I carry everywhere that I am legally allowed to do so. But my CHL is not a Batman license. My priority is the safety of my family and myself, I am not a mall ninja or a cop and I won’t be playing cowboy to try to defend strangers, so arm yourself.

    • Janet Camp says:

      And those of us who do not carry weapons are not concerned for the safety of ourselves or our families? It is you and yours who scare me.

      • Miles says:

        Janet, do you feel that your right “not to be scared” trumps Nyar’s right to carry a weapon?

      • Somite says:

        Exactly like she has a right not to be exposed to second hand cigarette smoke.

      • Nyar says:

        I can’t speak for you Janet, you have to answer that question for yourself.

        You have no reason to be scared of me, I have already made it clear that I carry legally only for the purpose of protecting myself and my family. The only reason you would have to fear me is if you intend to threaten my safety, or my family’s safety, for some reason. If you don’t do that then you have absolutely nothing to fear from me.

      • Somite says:

        Not creepy at all…

      • Nyar says:

        Yeah, tell me about it. I said that I carry for defense from criminals then Janet says that scares her. Is she a criminal? I don’t know, but it was weird and creepy.

      • tmac57 says:

        This reminds me of a story that a coworker once told me.
        He was traveling by car on vacation with his wife and two young children,when some careless driver cut him off,and nearly ran them off the road.Incensed,he gave chase for miles at high speed,to do what?..he didn’t have planned.However,in the retelling of the story he had become quite agitated,and red in the face,and concluded his tale with “It’s a good thing that I had my handgun in the trunk of my car,instead of the front seat,otherwise…”

      • Nyar says:

        @tmac57

        That guy mention is the type of person that Janet should be scared of not me.

        Is he really willing to commit murder just because someone cut him off? Wow!

        I commute to work everyday with my handgun in easy reach and other drivers do rude and careless things all the time but I would never consider shooting at them.

      • tmac57 says:

        Nyar,I have no idea if that guy would have really shot at that driver,but those sorts of ‘road rage’ incidents seem to happen fairly regularly,kind of a temporary insanity I guess.Some people have never developed a reliable check on their priimitive impulses.The point is,that a person who sees someone else carrying a firearm,probably has no idea whatsoever what level of danger that armed individual poses.I even get a little creeped out when I am in close proximity to armed policemen,especially if they have a cranky demeanor.I guess it has a little to do with power imbalance,and the different perception that causes someone to see so much danger around them that they feel the need to be armed.In my day to day life,the only time I might feel in peril,is when I notice a civilian packing a handgun.

      • Nyar says:

        @tmac57

        I can understand what you are saying and I agree with you for the most part. I support concealed carry so that people who do not carry won’t be spooked by the sight of a handgun. And it is the law where I live, if someone intentionally fails to conceal their firearm they are breaking the law.

        I don’t know where you live, but chances are that those “civilians” you see carrying openly, are probably LEOs.

      • Miles says:

        I can understand what you are saying and I agree with you for the most part. I support concealed carry so that people who do not carry won’t be spooked by the sight of a handgun. And it is the law where I live, if someone intentionally fails to conceal their firearm they are breaking the law.
        I don’t know where you live, but chances are that those “civilians” you see carrying openly, are probably LEOs.

        This is a good point to bring up, Nyar.

        Many of you who simply don’t like guns or have much experience with them might not understand how difficult this can be for gun owners.

        Every gun owner that I’ve ever known, is highly aware of how uncomfortable others can be around guns. They do their best to respect that, and keep their guns locked away and out of site as much as possible.

        Concealed-Carry laws are quite helpful with this. They give gun-owners away to respect the values of others. But many states have restrictions on CC, oddly enough, because people are uncomfortable with the idea that someone standing next to them “might” be carrying a gun.

        Gun owners often get stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many states require them to open-carry when they are restaurants or any place that serves alcohol. The fear is that the presence of alcohol will make it more likely that someone who is carrying a concealed weapon will go on a shooting spree.

        But when they openly carry their weapon, according to the law, people around them often get very uncomfortable and end up calling the police. All while the gun owner is simply trying to respect everyone else and get along peacefully.

        There are several cases of this in the Virginia area where I live. Many of these people get arrested anyway, simply because the police don’t understand the law, so they end up getting charged with “disturbing the peace” or some other grey area charge that keeps the officers involved from ever getting in trouble.

        I personally don’t carry a gun out in public, so I’ve never experienced this myself. But I can imagine it being highly frustrating and even a little scary.

      • Ben says:

        “You have no reason to be scared of me, I have already made it clear that I carry legally only for the purpose of protecting myself and my family.”

        How good a shot are you? If you and your family are attacked in public and you retaliate using your firearm, can you guarantee that you would not accidentally shoot an innocent bystander?

      • Nyar says:

        First of all, I will never use a firearm to retaliate. The purpose of carrying a firearm is to stop a threat, not retaliation. Secondly, no I give no guarantees that I will not accidentally shoot an innocent bystander, but I will do everything I can to avoid doing so.

      • Max says:

        What does the law say about accidentally shooting a bystander while protecting yourself?

      • Nyar says:

        @Max

        If you accidentally shoot a bystander in an act of self defense you can be held criminally and civilly liable.

      • Ben says:

        Do you intend to intimidate the criminal with your gun? What if he also has a gun and decides he needs to use his against you? A gun is a great threat when the other guy doens’t have one.

        I’m sure you are a very responsible gun owner, but how many others who carry concealed weapons are? Until you can guarantee that all gun owners are going to be responsible ones, no one should be allowed to own them.

      • Nyar says:

        No! Only a fool tries to intimidate a criminal with a gun, or any other weapon for that matter. No, if I pull my gun it will be with the intent to use it, I will never bluff.

        If I ever have to use my firearm it is very likely that the threat will be armed also. There are three criteria for the use of legal deadly force. They are intent, ability, and immediacy; in order for all three to be satisfied, it is damn near certain that the criminal is armed and ready to use his weapon.

      • Max says:

        What if the criminal is unarmed, but he might try to grab your gun?

      • Nyar says:

        @Max

        It would still depend on those same three criteria, intent, ability, and immediacy. Who the gun belongs to doesn’t really matter.

      • Miles says:

        Until you can guarantee that all gun owners are going to be responsible ones, no one should be allowed to own them.

        I know you probably mean well Ben, but that’s a terrible idea. What does “responsible” mean, and who gets to decide what it means?

        If someone is “irresponsible” with a kitchen knife, should those be banned for everyone as well?

        I know that this argument probably doesn’t resonate with you or others like you, simply because you already don’t care for guns, so banning guns for everyone would be no skin off your back. But just because you personally don’t care for something isn’t a reason to ban it, even on the grounds that it is “dangerous”. Lots of things are dangerous. One of them is bound to be something that you do care for.

        Let’s have a society with maximum freedom for everyone instead of one where everybody gets to ban everything they don’t like.

      • Ben says:

        “Until you can guarantee that all gun owners are going to be responsible ones, no one should be allowed to own them.

        I know you probably mean well Ben, but that’s a terrible idea. What does “responsible” mean, and who gets to decide what it means?”

        The same people who decide that you are responsible enough to drive a car, practice medicine etc. Perhaps everyone who wishes to own a gun be forced to take a gun safety course and pass some sort of test.
        It just seems to me that it’s really not that hard to purchase a gun, and yes, while I do believe that no one has a need to own one, people should have yo jump through a few more hoops to get one.

        “Let’s have a society with maximum freedom for everyone instead of one where everybody gets to ban everything they don’t like.”

        Just out of curiosity, do you feel that cocaine and heroin should also be legalized? Prostitution?

      • Miles says:

        Just out of curiosity, do you feel that cocaine and heroin should also be legalized? Prostitution?

        Yes, I think all of those things should be legalized. Next question?

      • Conceal Carry says:

        a partial list of crimes on the Ga. Tech campus. Students can’t carry guns:

        A partial list of recent crimes on/near Ga. Tech:
        10/4/11 – A female student was grabbed from behind while walking on campus.
        10/29/11 – A student was robbed while walking near campus by a suspect who put him in a headlock and took his wallet.
        11/10/11 – A female student was raped by a male behind the Sigma Nu fraternity house.
        12/5/11 – A student was just north of campus when he was robbed at gunpoint, forced to the ground and kicked in the head.
        12/9/11 – A female student got into her car and a male was in the back seat. He hit her in the head and tried to choke her. She pepper-sprayed the man, who got out and left with some of the student’s property.
        12/10/11 – A student was walking on 6th Street when another person approached him from behind and tried to take his backpack. The student resisted and ran to his residence hall.
        1/3/12 – A male student and another person were robbed in the parking garage at the Tenside Apartments.
        I will have a gun when in this area.

      • tmac57 says:

        While I can understand how surveying this litany of crimes would encourage a person to carry a gun for protection,I am very unsure about how those same scenarios would have played out,with the victims being armed.Most assualts are done by catching the victims offguard,which tends to take the advantage of having a gun away,and will in all liklihood end up being stolen as well.
        But you could guess,that these might be some possibilities:
        1.The victim is able to pull their gun,and scare off the perp.
        2.The victim is caught offguard,and crime happens anyway.
        3.The victum tries to pull gun,struggle ensues,victum/perp is injured or killed.
        4. The victum is able to pull gun,and shoots/kills perp,but circumstances are so ambiguous that victim ends up on trial for assualt/manslaughter.
        There are probably half a dozen more potential outcomes,but that’s the point;it is rarely so cut and dried as “I have a gun,therefore,I am necessairily safer than if I don’t”. Maybe yes,maybe no.At least in the crimes that you listed,no one was killed.The rape victum might have fared better with a gun,but again,most of those type of attacks are done by surprising the person,and unless she already had the gun out for some reason,it probably would not have helped.

  17. Find Escorts says:

    In my insights more gun means more crime.. But if we have God in our hearts I truly believed that the crimes will be lessen here in our society…

  18. Guerilla surgeon says:

    The math behind the arguments for and agin has become esoteric. Who knows.

  19. Guerilla surgeon says:

    Oops sorry meant to say there was a good analysis of crime rises and falls in a Scientific American some years ago. It has multiple causes as far as I could see.

  20. Kenn says:

    Religion is a powerful behavior modifier, as is any belief system. That fact has no bearing, however, on its veracity.

    The naughty and nice list retained by St Nick at the North Poll is also a powerful behavior modifier. How would that justify belief in Santa Claus?

  21. We Are Amused says:

    The UK Homicide Data provided by Lott is dubious at best.

    The 1920 Firearms Act introduced a requirement for all gun ownership to be licensed (except shotguns).

    Ownership of fully automatic weapons was banned by the 1937 Firearms Act.

    Licensing of shotguns and other changes were made in the 1968 Firearms Act.

    The 1968 Act was amended and significantly strengthened by our Conservative government (under our most right wing Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher) in 1987 after the Hungerford Massacre.

    Pistols (the only guns left, apart from shotguns) were banned in the 1997 Firearms Act, after the massacre in Dunblane of fifteen children (all five and six-year-olds) and their teacher.

    The homicide figures are approximately: 5.0 per 100,000 population in the USA; 1.3 per 100,000 population in the UK.

    The 2011 murder rate in England and Wales has fallen from 644 to 619 over the last year to its lowest level for 12 years.

    The murder rate in England and Wales over the past 50 years rose steadily from around 300 a year in the early 1960s to more than 1,000 in 2002/03 when 172 deaths were attributed to the activities of Dr Harold Shipman. They have declined sharply since that peak.

    It’s also worth noting that since 9/11 our terrorist deaths (which are included in the statistics) have fallen away to zero (except, of course for the 7/7 attack in 2005 which left 52 dead). One similar terrorist attack would increase our rates by 7% or more, discovering another Harold Shipman would increase them by 20% or more.

  22. Markx says:

    A thought, re the US constitutional right to bear arms.

    Both Afghanistan and Iraq are countries where firearm ownership is common (and likely that it is an AK47). Almost every household may have one, and supposedly they feel honour bound to protect that household.

    That makes them difficult to police, both by their own governments, but perhaps more so, by an invading force (if that force has any scruples about civilian casualties).

    Disclaimer, I liked firearms as a kid, ubiquitous in our households, but it seemed sensible enough to sell them when a strict Australian firearms legislation came in, at about the same time my first child was born. (his mum didn’t approve of firearms+kids).

    • Max says:

      Carrying an AK-47 in an area where shots were fired is a sure way to end up on the wrong side of the rules of engagement.

      • Markx says:

        True enough. That is what happens. In one instance Aus soldiers in Afghanistan were seeking a certain person at night, and ended up entering the wrong compound. The occupant shot at them; they killed him and the five kids in the building with rifle fire and grenades. He was found unlikely to have been Taliban.

        But, soldiers there do try to be very sure of whom they are barging in on, perhaps more out of humanity than anything else. But an invader in Australian, for instance, would not have that issue to deal with.

  23. Loren Petrich says:

    As to the abortion-criminality connection, it likely piggybacks on a stronger one: the lead-criminality connection. So could legalizing abortion and outlawing lead paint and lead gasoline additives have been part of the same reform push in the 1960’s and early 1970’s?

    The lead-criminality connection:

    http://www.nchh.org/Portals/0/Contents/Nevin2007LeadandCrimeStudy.pdf

    Exposure to lead compounds in preschool years leads to greater criminality in one’s late teens and early twenties.

  24. Get More Data says:

    For a different data-driven perspective, recommend you look at the analysis done by the authors of Freakonomics/ Superfreakonomics, who did an analysis of the reasons behind drops in crime in the US in the last decade. The biggest cause (my vague summary without going back to the book) was the legalisation of abortion back in the 70s (?) which meant that less unwanted children were being born into undesirable situations. This makes a lot more sense to me compared with dubious claims about gun control compared with other countries taking opposite approach with positive results …

    • Miles says:

      Freakonomics is a popular book. It introduces the discipline of “econometrics” to folks unfamiliar with economics. Unfortunately, that is the only economics book that most of my friends have read, so they don’t have a very good general understanding of basic economics, or the inherent problems with econometrics.

      As someone doesn’t have a degree in economics but loves the field and reads a lot of economics books, I’m pretty skeptical of econometrics. It is quite mathematically rigorous, so nobody disputes whether or not the equations themselves can be proven to be correct or not.

      The problem is how well do the equations take all variables and data of a complex society in to account. Mathematical formulas tend to be very poor models of complex systems like a national economy. They try their best to make up for those gaps by running “regressions”, an attempt to statistically compensate for unknown variables. But regressions have the exact same problem.

      Sometimes I think econometrics hide insightful knowledge more than they illuminate.

      As for Levitt and Dubner’s work, one of the problems with their conclusion is the general increase in the amount of people ending up in prison over time. You would expect this number to be falling if it were true that abortions meant fewer children are growing up in poor situations and having a significant effect on crime as a result. But we send more people to prison than any other nation on planet Earth. We imprison more of our population than China.

      Now at first, this could easily be explained by the war on drugs. After all, most of the people we imprison are there for drug-related charges, not violent crime. So in that sense, it would seem that this could easily be explained away as something that has little to do with “crime”. But the vast majority of prison inmates are black males that come from poor families. They exactly match the profile of the very people that Levitt and Dubner believe are shrinking in number due to abortions.

      So, we seem to have less crime, but *more* of the people that Levitt and Dubner believe are responsible for that crime. That doesn’t wash with me. Also, the “abortion” theory doesn’t work for me in another sense. The largest bracket of women having abortions are not women below the poverty line. They are women in the middle class:

      http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html

      Women with family incomes less than $15,000 obtain 28.7% of all abortions; Women with family incomes between $15,000 and $29,999 obtain 19.5%; Women with family incomes between $30,000 and $59,999 obtain 38.0%; Women with family incomes over $60,000 obtain 13.8%.

      So according to this theory, you would have to believe that this 28.7%, not the highest bracket, of women are having the significant impact on lower crime that we see today.

      I’m not saying that Levitt/Dubner can’t be correct about their theory. I’m just saying that there is enough counter-evidence to make me skeptical about it.

    • Guerilla surgeon says:

      Scientific American article basically killed the abortion argument. Can’t remember which issue but it should be searchable, as it was a while ago. Guy looked at all the single cause theories and dismissed ‘em.

  25. Kenneth Polit says:

    This post and the subsequent debate in the comments are both very interesting, but more research is warranted before any conclusions can be reached. As far as guns go, I have been around them for most of my life and own a few. I have also been extensively trained in their use and safety. I agree with CJ that a shotgun would be the best in defense of one’s home. At the risk of sounding like a Buddhist, there has got to be a “middle way” to the problem of gun control. I own guns and I think that if a person wishes to own one, they should have to pass a comprehensive background check and have a certain degree of training in gun safety. The way that it is done now is grossly inadequate. The guy that shot Ms. Giffords shouldn’t have been able to get a gun, as he is obviously mentally ill. Ditto for the Virginia Tech shooter. How it should be done I’m not sure, but we’re smart people, surely we can find a reasonable rational way to satisfy both gun enthusiasts and those who would never go near a gun.

    • Somite says:

      Exactly. The problem is gun fundamentalists that cry oppression at the mention of any regulation. We have a perfect model for use by everyone of a dangerous item. Cars. Guns at minimum should be as regulated as cars.

      Gun fundies go so far as to protest against technologies that might prevent illegal use of guns like built-in combinations. It is fanaticism at its worst combined with a revolutionary guerrilla fantasy.

      • Conceal Carry says:

        I agree. Guns should be limited to the same number as cars in America. What is that… about 300,000,000???

      • tmac57 says:

        Your wish is granted! Currently,there are about 250,000,000 registered vehicles in the US,and just about 300,000,000 guns.Sign up now for the annual Drive-N-Shoot !

      • tmac57 says:

        There are some really extreme opinions out there. I was listening to an NRA member in a debate about gun control,that when pushed for his idea of just where the line should be drawn for private weapons ownership,said that there should be none…not even for nuclear weapons…wow!!!

  26. Rhinanthus says:

    “So when we compare murder rates between countries—say between the U.S. and Canada—it is really comparing the crime in one country to just a very tiny portion of American cities where gangs proliferate. What would happen if drugs were legalized?”

    – You do know that drugs are illegal in Canada (and the other western countries) as well, right? And that most gun crimes in Canada (and other western countries) are also concentrated in those cities where gangs proliferate? And that the murder rate in Canada in similar to that in Europe?
    Why not be really brave and extend your regression analysis linking religiousity and crime to include gun ownership between countries to see if, controlling for religiousity, more guns produce lower crime rates? You would see the exact opposite.

  27. Seorsa says:

    I think that the author got sucked in by an evangelical, just a gun evangelist instead of a god evangelist. I think others above have provided adequate refutation of a scientific nature. I am a little curious as to why the skeptic blog, publications etc so regularly publishes information that even a scant review of the academic/ scientific information would refute? One comment or mentioned that this article started with a false dichotomy. I recall a recent book review of “why We Get Fat” being entirely composed of ad Hominum attacks. Is this part of a marketing strategy?

    Sorry, back to crime. I live in a city that once unseated DC for the highest violent crime rate. I laugh when friends ask if I am worried about my daughter living in Brooklyn NY, when we have the 7th highest violent crime rate in the US (we are back in the top ten). I point out that for much of my daughters life she lived in the most violent city in the US. Brooklyn may average 2 murders a day (I am not sure) but we have just over 1 per week in Stockton CA.

    I do have an anecdote though: my neighbors and I have always left our rear windows oPen at night. Pretty bold when you consider our crime rate. My neighbor had just got home from camping in bear country and had left his shotgun by his bed ( normally locked in a 150 year OPD WFB safe). He heard two people talking outside his window and grabbed his shotgun. As he tracked them through the yard he stopped at a window. When the guy tried to come in he confronted him with the shotgun. The guy stopped, but his partner was breaking into the garage. As he yelled he had a gun they were battering his door in. The did not care about the “chilling” sound of the shotgun racking. When the police pulled up the ran through the yard into my yard. They were stopped at my window, debating whether to go into my house, knowing te police were next door, when my dog started with his “big dog bark” a ferocious guard dog like sound. They crashed through my fence ran off. My 13 pound Lhasa Apso was more effective than a shotgun. If you don’t know what a Lhasa is look them up, they are adorable.

  28. Gary Whittenberger says:

    Another fascinating piece by Michael. I agree that the God advocate came off worse than the gun advocate.

    I’d like to take issue with just one statement in the piece: “Some people may very well need the shadow of enforcement that comes from believing in an invisible policeman in the sky…”

    This is like saying that some people need to be lied to so that they will behave properly. Lying has unintended bad consequences. Surely we can develop ways of training and educating people and also ways of structuring the environment which work better than lying to get people to behave properly. This is the challenge for Humanism.

  29. Bruce Beck says:

    I had a good friend murdered a few years ago. He was a college librarian working behind the desk in the school library. A co-worker walked in, took his ear protection out of his bag and donned it, and then took out his automatic handgun and emptied the clip into my friend at point blank range. He had a license from the State of Texas to carry the weapon concealed.

    More guns just means more deaths — not less crime. Any correlation between increase in guns and decrease in crime is a coincidence. Crime has probably reduced because the demographics — the number 15-35 year old males has decreased in the population with the aging of the ‘baby boomers’.

  30. John Lott says:

    My talk in Santa Fe focused primarily on what happens to murder rates when guns have been banned. We could have done other types of gun laws, but my discussion focused solely on bans because it is a much cleaner discussion. So what happened when guns have been banned?

    For those interested the links are provided in these discussions:

    Crime rates when handgun bans have been eliminated in Chicago and DC:
    http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/09/30/media-silence-is-deafening-about-important-gun-news/
    http://johnrlott.blogspot.com/2011/08/so-what-happened-to-chicagos-murder-and.html

    Murder rate data for the UK, Ireland, and Jamaica:
    http://johnrlott.blogspot.com/2011/01/some-examples-of-impact-of-gun-bans-on.html

    Crime rates when bans have been instituted in Chicago and DC:
    http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/dccrime.htm
    You can see how DC’s murder rate has changed over time here. Note that the handgun ban and gun lock rules went into effect in February 1977.

    A comparison for DC and Chicago to other similarly sized cities, nearby counties or state, and the US as a whole are available here : http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003S9W5HQ/ref=nosim/?tag=johnrlotttrip-20
    (I haven’t put up the figures elsewhere, but a hint is that murder rates rose dramatically).

    • Max says:

      I see that violent crime in Chicago and DC peaked in 1992 and dropped off since then. What happened since 1992? Did the L.A. riots have anything to do with it?

      • John Lott says:

        Dear Max:

        Thanks. Violent crime started falling nationally in 1991. About 50 to 60 percent of the drop is due to arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, the death penalty. The rest is due to a combination of different things included changing demographics. Other possibilities include changing police tactics. Up to five percent or so is due to increased gun ownership and concealed carry laws. See Chapter 4 here for a complete discussion: http://www.amazon.com/Freedomnomics-Market-Works-Half-Baked-Theories/dp/B001NXDRKS/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0 Some of it can be viewed for free using the “Look Inside” function.

      • John Brookes says:

        Hmmm. Of course Freakonomics says that the reduced murder rate is due to abortion being legalised ~20 years earlier.

        But I’ve seen another study that correlates murder rates with income inequality, and they point out that the early 90’s saw income inequality decline in the US.

    • CrookedTimber says:

      Mr. Lott
      I would be interested in a reply to this pretty damning critique.
      http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2003/09/0910.php. Why would a co-author of yours admit ” I emailed Lott’s co-authors, Plassmann and Whitley asking them (and CC’d Lott as a courtesy). No reply from Whitley. Plassmann was kind enough to reply. He conceded that no significant results remain after correcting the coding errors and did not know why Lott had removed the clustering correction.”

      • John Lott says:

        Dear CrookedTimber:
        I remember you well, though I never received such emails that you claim were cc’d to me and of course the claim that Plassmann said that no statistically significant results remained is contradicted by Plassmann’s own statement available here:

        http://johnrlott.tripod.com/link3.html

        You should be careful what sources you cite on the internet. Here are a few things to consider when citing scienceblogs.com
        http://doubletap.cs.umd.edu/WikipediaStudy/lambert.htm
        A full set of useful links about this source are available in the middle of this page:
        http://doubletap.cs.umd.edu/WikipediaStudy/

      • CrookedTimber says:

        Mr Lott
        It isn’t me you remember as I have never written you before – I was quoting from Tim Lambert’s post. Sorry for the confusion. I am more interested in your defense of what seems to be very dodgy statistics as clearly demonstrated in this paper: http://islandia.law.yale.edu/ayers/Ayres_Donohue_comment.pdf
        But I suppose you will evade the critique again by lecturing me that the Stanford Law Review isn’t credible but somehow your own website is.

      • John Lott says:

        Dear Mr. CrookedTimber:
        No confusion. I remember you, at least if you are the same person who has used this handle and links to the website that you are linking to, not just the other person who you mention.
        I tried to be responsive. You asked me about statements by Plassmann and I responded. You cited a website, and I provided a link to a computer science professor who has collected information on person whose post you link to.
        The third edition of my book More Guns, Less Crime has a long discussion on the law review paper that you mention. It may not matter to anyone, but you seem to be pushing for peer reviewed publications so I will let you know that University of Chicago books on refereed. Law reviews aren’t. In any case, assuming that you aren’t willing to pay the $3.42 for the ebook version of my book at Amazon, there is another paper at the Stanford Law Review (http://johnrlott.tripod.com/Plassmann_Whitley.pdf) that criticizes the logic in the paper in the same review that you point to. Pages 1328, 1354, and 1361 provide some useful discussions.

      • Tim Lambert says:

        Lott writes “the claim that Plassmann said that no statistically significant results remained is contradicted by Plassmann’s own statement available here”

        This is untrue. Here is what Plassmann wrote in his Sep 3 2003 email to me:

        “As far as I know, nobody (neither John Lott nor Ayres and Donohue) denies that an analysis of the 1977-2000 county-level crime data with a linear model shows both that clustering yields insignificant estimates and that an analysis without clustering (the model that Ayres and Donohue use for all of their own county level regressions) yields significant estimates.”

        Lott links to a statement by Plassmann (discussed here:
        http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2003/10/1015.php

        that does not contradict this statement at all.

        It’s been over eight years now, you would think he could have come up with an explanation why, when he corrected the coding errors, he also removed clustering.

      • Miles says:

        Tim,

        I recognized your name. Are you following Lott around on the internet and replying to every comment he makes to discredit him? This behavior really makes it seem like you are going after Lott with an agenda.

        You say that Plassmann did not “contradict” those statements that there were no statistically significant results. And then you supposedly provide a link to the same reference that Lott points to. Only….you didn’t. Lott’s link above takes me to what appears to be a letter written by Plassmann, your link takes me to your blog, which quotes portions of that letter and is then followed by your own comments on why Plassmann is wrong.

        It seems to me that you are being intentionally misleading here. You make it seem like Lott is simply lying about what Plassmann said, which is not true at all. You seem to be saying that because you disagree with Plassmann (as evidenced by your blog), that Lott is misrepresenting Plassmann. Those are not the same thing.

        If you disagree with Lott and Plassmann on the merits of their work, fine. Publish your papers and try to persuade us why it is wrong. I don’t begrudge you in your endeavor to do that and I wish you the best. But it seems to me that you are trying to do much more than that. You are not only trying to make an argument that the work of Lott/Plassmann is wrong, but it you are trying to discredit Lott as a researcher and have all of his research outright dismissed on the grounds that it is fraudulent.

        So far, the way in which you have attempted to do so seems fairly underhanded and dishonest to me. You may be right, I don’t know. But you certainly aren’t going about it in a way that helps your own credibility in my opinion.

      • Tim Lambert says:

        Miles, I linked to my discussion of Plassmann’s letter and stated that it was a discussion. The exact words in my comment were “discussed here”. You respond by falsely claiming that I “supposedly provide a link to the same reference that Lott points to”. You then use your misrepresentation of my words to accuse me of dishonesty. You owe me an apology.

        Yes, Lott is not telling the truth when he claims that Plassmann’s letter contradicts what Plassmann wrote to me in his email. If you think he is, please quote the part of the letter that contradicts his email to me.

      • Miles says:

        Miles, I linked to my discussion of Plassmann’s letter and stated that it was a discussion. The exact words in my comment were “discussed here”. You respond by falsely claiming that I “supposedly provide a link to the same reference that Lott points to”. You then use your misrepresentation of my words to accuse me of dishonesty. You owe me an apology.

        Tim,

        Let me clarify my statements, as it seems that two different points are getting muddled up here and lumped together.

        The first issue was the way in which you referenced Plassmann’s work. You made the statement:

        Lott links to a statement by Plassmann (discussed here:
        http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2003/10/1015.php
        that does not contradict this statement at all.

        This is not the statement that I felt was “intentionally misleading”. I did say that you “supposedly” referenced the same paper though, because I did find this statement confusing. Lott referenced a paper by Plassmann. You referenced your own critique of Plassmann’s paper. Those are two different things. Yes, you qualify your link with “discussed here”, but the rest of that statement seems to equate the two things. This was confusing at best, because when you make the argument that Plassmann’s paper did not say what Lott claimed and then provide a URL, I expect to be taken to that paper so I can evaluate the truth of that claim for myself. Instead, I was taken to a blog post where you criticize Plassmann’s paper, which is completely different. It would have been less misleading for you to say:

        “I do not agree that Plassmann’s letter supports Lott’s claim, and here are my reasons: (URL)”

        Would you be willing to accept that revision of your statement? Or do you feel that I am being unfair?

        Here is point #2, and where, in my opinion, you did appear to be intentionally misleading. First, note the significance of the phrase “misleading” instead of lying. I’m implying that you are technically correct about the facts, but presenting those facts in such a way to imply a conclusion that is unwarranted. So let’s review these facts, which I agree with, and conclusion that you reach which I find to be “intentionally misleading”. If I have taken you out of context or misrepresented your statements, then I will be happy to give you the apology that you ask for.

        Here is the quote from Plassmann, which you point out, as evidence that Lott is intentionally ignoring statistical errors in his work:

        “As far as I know, nobody (neither John Lott nor Ayres and Donohue) denies that an analysis of the 1977-2000 county-level crime data with a linear model shows both that clustering yields insignificant estimates and that an analysis without clustering (the model that Ayres and Donohue use for all of their own county level regressions) yields significant estimates.”

        This statement is an admission that one of their data-points is not statistically significant when clustering adjustments are made to the data. Note, that this is different from saying “This data was incorrect, therefore the conclusion of our work is also incorrect.” Yet this is how you seem to be portraying this statment (and I’ll get to more details on that in a bit).

        Now let’s take a look at Lott’s statement which you portray as a lie:

        “the claim that Plassmann said that no statistically significant results remained is contradicted by Plassmann’s own statement available here”

        Take note of the middle of that sentence: “no statistically significant results remained”. This is different from saying that there was no potential problems with any of the data-points. He is saying that other significant data points still remain, despite flaws in one of them. Yet, you seem to portray this statement as being equivalent to “There was no error in our work”. Those are two completely different claims.

        So now lets take a look at the actual statement in Plassmann’s letter, which you also critique on your blog:

        In their response to our paper, Ayres and Donohue have pointed out that our extended data set contains errors. Correction of these errors leads to estimates that differ from those that we published in our paper in Tables 3–8. As far as I can tell, the public discussion of the three papers in the Stanford Law Review has focused exclusively on this fact, and has used it as a reason to dismiss our entire paper as irrelevant.

        Again, Plassmann isn’t saying that no errors existed, he’s saying that because some of the data has errors does not mean that the “entire paper is irrelevant”.

        You then criticize Plassmann by saying:

        Plassmann does not mention that correcting the errors causes the results in tables 3–8 to mostly go away.

        But Plassmann isn’t denying data problems in tables 3-8. He is saying that those errors don’t invalidate the entire paper. You probably disagree with that view, and that’s fine. You may even be right. But there is no conspiracy here. Plassmann is admitting there being some errors in the paper, but concluding that they aren’t big enough errors to invalidate the entire thing. You are claiming they do invalidate the entire thing, and then you go on to claim that Plassmann does not contradict this, which he does, and accuse Lott of being dishonest when he says the Plassmann’s work contradicts that statement that “statistically significant results remained”.

        Again, you aren’t getting any of the facts about who said what wrong. But you are tying them together in a way that unnecessarily paints Lott and Plassmann as being dishonest. I would re-phrase your statement in the following way to be more accurate:

        “Lott and Plassmann do not believe that the absence of clustering adjustments in some of their data-points invalidate the entire paper. I disagree. I think Lott and Plassmann underestimate the significance of these errors, and here is my analysis of why: (URL)”

        Would you find that statement to be fair Tim? I feel that this way of stating your position re-focuses the discussion on the merits of the actual paper itself instead of leading to all of these “he said, she said” distractions that muddle-up our ability to evaluate Lott’s work in a productive fashion.

        I have more to say about your claims against Lott being fraudulent, which I may get to later today. But as far as this issue is concerned, hopefully we can agree to clarify our positions and move on.

      • Tim Lambert says:

        Miles, it seems to me that you have not even bothered to read the post that Crooked Timber linked to. Lott claimed that the paper by Lott, Plassmann and Whitley showed that more guns caused less crime. Specifically,

        Plassmann and Whitley, who examine three additional years worth of data and find “annual reductions in murder rates between 1.5 and 2.3 percent for each additional year that a right-to-carry law is in effect.”

        That’s a reference to Table 3a in the paper. It’s not one of their data points — it’s the result that Lott chose as the overall effect of carry laws. Now table 3a in the original version of the paper used clustering and found statistically significant reductions in murder, rape and robbery. Trouble is, Lott had made some errors in coding the data. If you correct these, the reductions are much smaller and none of them are statistically significant.

        But Lott responded by claiming that even after correcting the errors the results were still significant. How did he do this? Well if you drop clustering after correcting the errors, you can make the results significant again, so that’s what he did.

        And that, Miles, is dishonest, though I expect you’ll falsely accuse me of dishonesty for daring to point it out.

        This also exemplifies Lott’s entire approach to econometrics — he just tries lots and lots and lots of different models and just reports the ones that give the results he likes. It is disappointing that Michael Shermer is so lacking in scepticism that he was taken in.

    • CrookedTimber says:

      Mr Lott
      Thanks for the links and the responses. This could really be cleared up if you could explain whether clustering analysis is essential and how you decide when to use it. As it stands it really appears that you simply fish for significant results. In my modeling experience a model is not sufficiently robust to make strong conclusions if it gives such wildly different outputs from minor changes in inputs or assumptions.

      Also as you point out in your reply above to Max
      “Violent crime started falling nationally in 1991. About 50 to 60 percent of the drop is due to arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, the death penalty. The rest is due to a combination of different things included changing demographics. Other possibilities include changing police tactics” and ” five percent or so is due to increased gun ownership and concealed carry laws.” So I imagine including the error bars that 5% is anywhere from nil to 5% or so…so why write books titled More Guns Less Crime??? Why not More Arrests Less Crime or simply Crime – It’s Complicated? I bet those titles aren’t as easy to flog to NRA types huh.

  31. Kent McManigal says:

    “Had there not been guns in that home the worst thing that probably would have happened…” That’s a mighty large assumption. Murder wasn’t invented by guns. People get killed by fists, rocks, knives, chairs… Maybe the problem was that there was one gun too few in the house. Or, maybe the man who was shot was really the attacker and got what he deserved.

    • BillG says:

      It’s a bogus argument, the trite “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Cars, motorcycles, airplanes, knives, chairs or whatever, have practical applications with risks vs benefits.

      Handguns have only a narrow purpose: kill or maim a human being. Protection? The paranoid stooges who are against gun control have this country in a personal arms race. A “chicken in every pot” has been replaced with handgun in every home, thus risking those underage chances of accidental death or injury with zero benefit.

      • Miles says:

        It’s only “bogus” in your mind because you want it to be. You simply don’t like guns, probably because you fear them, and you don’t want anyone else to have them. So, you rationalize it by ignoring some facts and only looking at the ones that are necessary to make the logical leaps that you intend.

        But here are some other facts, which make your logic seem awkward at best.

        Practical Applications: To ban guns on the premise that they can be used to harm others and that they are of limited practical use, would imply that the following should also be banned:

        -Fireworks
        -Archery
        -Hunting Knives
        -Baseball Bats
        -Golf Clubs
        -Cricket Bats
        -Hockey Sticks
        -Swords
        -Nail Guns

        …just to name a few. All of those things can be used as a deadly weapon and also happen to have very narrow and limited practical uses. Many of them also have less dangerous alternatives (nail guns).

        So, your first argument is out. You seem to be looking for properties that are unique to guns, which are not properties of other things, that you could then describe as “dangerous properties” of an item so that you could justify the banning of guns on the grounds that it has those dangerous properties/characteristics. Good luck with that.

        And here is your other argument which looks awkward once you consider some of the facts that you leave out:

        Protection? The paranoid stooges who are against gun control have this country in a personal arms race. A “chicken in every pot” has been replaced with handgun in every home, thus risking those underage chances of accidental death or injury with zero benefit.

        Here are some facts to consider:

        -Guns are one of the most effective means for women to protect themselves from men who are bigger and stronger than they are. Take guns away from women, and what do they have to equalize a dangerous situation? Pepper spray? That’s just going to make a male attacker angrier.

        -Guns are effective “deterrents” against violent crime. Even if a criminal has a “bigger” gun than the potential victim, the fact that the victim is armed greatly increases the risk to the criminal. It is still an effective deterrent, and the criminal still tends to look elsewhere instead of taking a chance on an armed victim. The fact that the criminal could potentially have a “bigger gun” doesn’t matter.

        -Despite guns continuing to be legal in much of the US, crime has been steadily falling everywhere. This is the most awkward fact for you to have to deal with. If you were right that allowing guns to stay legal leads to an “arms race” and civilians simply get better at killing each other, then violent crime should be climbing, not falling.

        If you take all these facts out of the equation BillG, then sure, your logic seems just fine.

      • Ben says:

        I think the point is that handguns have a single purpose, to injure or maim another.

        Baseball bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs etc. have an intended use. This intended use is for recreation, not to hurt someone with.

        Sure, you can take practically anything and turn it into a weapon if you’re determined enough. Yet a bat, an effective weapon if you want it to be, is actually meant to be used during a baseball game. A gun has a singular purpose – to kill.

      • Max says:

        Aside from self-defense, you can take a gun to a shooting range. Of course, you could do target practice with a far less deadly BB gun, but it’s like substituting softball for baseball.

        I think the main purpose of rifles is just recreation, as in shooting ranges, hunting, or just collecting. That’s why they’re sold at sporting goods stores.

      • Miles says:

        Max is right. Guns, like any object, have whatever “purpose” it’s owner uses it for. Hurting other people is one thing that people use it for, yes. But there are several others.

        One of my friends is a gun enthusiast. He collects guns, restores old guns, and likes to shoot them. It’s very similar to someone who likes model trains. He gets a lot of personal enjoyment out of tinkering with and shooting his guns. He owns hand guns, assault rifles, WWII-era rifles, laser sights, strobes, optics, and all kinds of gizmos because he enjoys it.

        As far as the “main purpose” thing, it just doesn’t reflect how I think *most* people use their guns.

        Assault rifles for example are not designed for home defense, or for hunting, or anything like that. Assault rifles are designed for warfare. Yet several of my friends own assault rifles and not one of them has any interest in warfare. They would never even attempt to use those assault rifles as home defense weapons, simply because they are not practical for that purpose. They would never attempt carry those assault rifles in public for obvious reasons. So why own them at all? For the same reason people play video games: they enjoy them.

        They enjoy tinkering with those rifles and taking them to the range because they are fun to shoot.

        The only time I’ve ever seen someone stocking up on assault rifles because they intend to use them on human beings is on TV.

  32. Bill St. Clair says:

    My memory of the history of John Lott’s book (initially published in 1998; the 2010 version is the third edition), is that his original goal was to prove the opposite, that more guns cause more crime. When the numbers proved otherwise, he, being an honest investigator, printed that.

    Of course it doesn’t matter one whit to me whether more guns cause less crime. My shotgun in my hands when I’m facing a criminal who just broke into my home in the middle of the night may well save my life and the lives of my family. So I’m going to have that gun no matter what the so-called “law” says about it.

  33. d brown says:

    Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home are in homes that are in the drug trade or have druggies visiting. I think, and have seen it happen. But just once. Who do you think is likely to have ready to use guns laying around kids.

    • MadScientist says:

      Lots of ordinary folks who have no links to drugs – in fact they’re the majority of victims of accidental firearms use at home. You’re living in Bizarro World if only druggies and drug gangs have fatal firearm accidents at home.

  34. Dr. Strangelove says:

    The cities that banned guns probably had rising crime rates. The crime rates may not decrease but look at the rate of increase. Did it slow down? Without the gun ban, could rate increase further?

    Gun ban is useless if it cannot be enforced. The argument that only good people obey gun ban is a problem of enforcement. The policy is good, enforcement is bad. If law enforcers cannot prevent criminals from having guns, crime rate will not decrease with gun ban.

    Legalizing drugs? Maybe not a good idea. Marijuana is legal in Netherlands and it has high crime rate. Liquors are also mind-altering drugs but they are legal in all countries.

  35. Paul B says:

    Being armed, you have options. Being disarmed, you don’t, or you have fewer. It’s just that simple. If you don’t believe so, don’t carry a gun. But I won’t be disarmed for any reason.

  36. d brown says:

    I am a George Orwell fan. I ran across this quote years ago. At the time he was in the Home Guard and Americans had been giving their own guns to England. But the things Orwell said always made the powers jumpy.
    “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat
    or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy.
    It is our job to see that it stays there.” He was not just talking about Nazis I think.

    • We Are Amused says:

      And yet there is no “rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat” and there is no gun lobby in the UK. There is no groundswell of people wanting to own guns, and our violent crime figures are a fraction of the level of those in the USA.

      In Switzerland there IS a “rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat” and their crime rates are even lower than ours.

      • Miles says:

        We Are Amused,

        While I am generally sympathetic to your argument (I am on the pro-guns side), comparing different countries to each other like this is fraught with too many problems to be of much use in my opinion.

        There are lot’s of differences between Switzerland, the UK, and the US. Any of which could help to explain differences in crime rates. For one, Switzerland is a much smaller country that has a highly homogeneous population. Homogeneous cultures tend to have higher amounts of trust and less crime than other cultures in general. It’s a genetic thing in my opinion. “Everyone else looks like me and sounds like me, therefore I trust them more and like them more.”

  37. RenegadeSaint says:

    “Still, I would like to see his fundamental challenge met: is there any city or county in the U.S. where crime and murders have consistently decreased after gun control laws were passed and enforced?”

    Why should we? It’s a stupid measure. It makes much more sense to measure crime rates across national borders. Compare US crime rates (particularly violent crime) to other first world countries. What do you find? The US has an unusually high violent crime rate. Why is that?
    The fact is some countries have lots of guns and lots of crime, some countries have lots of guns and little crime, some countries have few guns and lots of crime and some countries have few guns and little crime. It’s obviously not as simple as Shemer and Lott would like it to be.

    • Max says:

      Why is it a stupid measure? It’s the same as showing a decline in measles after the measles vaccine was introduced.

      “The US has an unusually high violent crime rate. Why is that?”

      Is it unusually high for violent crimes that don’t involve guns?

      • Renegade Saint says:

        Because anyone can walk across state and county lines carrying their guns with them. Particularly with city/county laws this severely limits the effectiveness of any gun laws.

        National borders are significantly harder to cross. However porous they may be, they are several orders of magnitude more secure than the borders between US states/counties/cities. And in spite of the libertarian argument that there’s simply no way to keep bad guys from having guns so we might as well all be armed many countries have be very successful at reducing the number of guns in their country-and I believe one case (Australia) where doing so coincided with falling violent crime rates. For these reasons it makes MUCH more sense to compare the US as a whole to other similar countries (mostly OECD ones).

        BTW, I’m not “anti-gun” in general. I’d like to significantly shrink the professional military and instead rely on an armed citizenry for defense (like the Swiss model, where only 5%~ of their military are professional soldiers). I just think this particular argument for guns is complete bullshit.

      • Max says:

        So you’re saying that gun control is only effective on a national scale but not on a local scale.

        The problem with comparing different countries is that they have too many differences other than gun laws; religion for one. There’s no country exactly like the U.S. only with different gun laws.

      • RenegadeSaint says:

        Well duh, but that’s ALWAYS the problem when doing social science research of this kind. If you go around looking for exact comparisons to make you’ll never accomplish anything. Kansas is AT LEAST as different from San Francisco as the US is as a whole is from, say, Germany. You have to compare the US to the *most similar* (not identical) countries. That would largely be other OECD countries (ie, Western and Northern Europe, Canada, Australia, NZ, Japan, etc.).

      • Miles says:

        Well duh, but that’s ALWAYS the problem when doing social science research of this kind. If you go around looking for exact comparisons to make you’ll never accomplish anything.

        And by the same token, if you go around thinking that making poor comparisons with incomplete data should still be sufficient to make truth-claims on the grounds that “it’s better than nothing”, then you’ll end up with a lot of nonsense in your noggin’ that you think is scientific.

        Hayek called this process “scientism”.

      • RenegadeSaint says:

        I agree Miles, that’s why haven’t made any “truth-claims” other than the ones that are common knowledge.
        My point was to criticize Lott’s ‘truth-claim’ as asking the wrong question in the wrong places (and based on what some people have posted he didn’t do a very good job of that either).

  38. Autumn says:

    Full disclosure: I’m a leftist, and I used to be convinced that the “well regulated militia” clause in the 2nd amendment made the arguments of the (usually rightist) gun ownership proponents thin. I was actually convinced otherwise, at least as far as the aforementioned clause is concerned, by reading Scalia’s opinion in the DC case. I still think that Scalia is a douchebag and a tool of the mega-rich, but on this he made a fine case that the “militia” clause was not exclusionary. So I do think that there is a right to bear arms for US citizens. I also think that strict regulation is a good thing. I live in a tiny town, (9000 people,) and most of the folks I know have guns. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard some variation of “Yeah, I sold my Remington to Bob ’cause he can’t buy one on account of his arrest record. . .”
    This is the sort of thing that the NRA and other groups should be shouting at the government to do something about, but they seem too interested in proliferation.
    And to address another thing, I know a lot of people who have concealed-carry permits. Why? Why the hell should I be aware of it? Because a whole lot of people use their concealed-carry permits in a passive-agressive show of force. I know that there are plenty who do not, but the idea that those with permits are responsible and humble is only as true as the individual carrying.

  39. Max says:

    Apparently, in 2007, the U.S. had 88.8 guns per 100 residents, almost twice more than Switzerland, and 2.6 times more than Iraq.
    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_gun_own_gun_per_100_res_2007-guns-per-100-residents-2007

    Unfortunately, the website doesn’t show correlations for this stat the way it does for some other stats.

  40. Somite says:

    In “Escape From New York” everyone had a gun and no one seemed deterred from doing anything. :)

    • tmac57 says:

      Sounds like Libertarian heaven… ;)

      • Miles says:

        Are we resorting to sensational Hollywood movies now to make political arguments? Seems like a good idea. Okay, how about the movie “Defiance”, where German Nazi soldiers occupying Belarus were confiscating guns from the local populace so that it was easier to round them up and murder them all once they were defenseless later on.

        Oh wait….I screwed up….that movie was actually based on real events. It’s the fictional movies I should be referencing to make my point. I’m such a “tard” sometimes!

      • Nyar says:

        Yep, it is so much more easy to get people in the cattle cars to Auschwitz if they are unarmed.

      • tmac57 says:

        HaHa…you guys are just too easy!Bazzinga…as Sheldon would say!

  41. d brown says:

    Freakonomics is a popular book. But i think a lot of it is made to look right, R/W that is. But I don’t have any real facts to back that up. I just think a lot of it is slanted BS. There are a lot of Libertarian dreams here. If many Jews had guns they would have been killed sooner.

  42. BillG says:

    We can always pull out the the Nazi/Hitler card – another ruse in the NRA playbook.

  43. Kenn says:

    Violent crime began to drop in 1992, 18 years after Row v Wade.

    Is there a connection?

  44. ClintH says:

    I distrust most statistics, particularly from government. I distrust most of what I see on the internet. I do trust my own observations.

    I have seen criminals casing my home. I walk out on my driveway, shotgun in hand and the van flies away.
    My brother in law stopped a home invasion with his own shotgun.
    The son of a coworker shot a mugger attacking a woman on the street. Guns stopped crime.

    On the other side of this; I live in a very close neighborhood. We are all friends and worked together overcoming a hurricane. One family who were known in the neighborhood to be extreemly anti gun had thier home robbed 3 times.
    We have a house of convicted druggies/thieves on the block. It can’t be proven but we were convinced druggies robbed my neighbors. Myself and another neighbor had a talk with the druggies. No more robberies on block since we confronted them.

    No gun means more crime.

  45. Richard says:

    I come from a country with a conscript army. Until 1990, people were _required_ to keep an assault rifle (and a full uniform kit) in their homes in case of a Soviet invasion. (Yes we were a bit paranoid)

    Home invasion crimes were non existent. My hypothesis is that nobody is stupid enough to invade a home where you _know_ the people inside have assault rifles and spend 3 weeks every year practicing warfare with it.

    During the course of the ’90s and early 00s, the guns were gradually moved to military bases and home invasion type crimes were on the rise. They are still rather low by international standards, but we seem to be working on that.

  46. Justin says:

    Did Paul’s study differentiate between various segments of Christianity? I’d heard of studies that showed that while the larger swathe of Christians showed worse rates, that evangelical Christians specifically actually had statistically better rates overall (I’d have to dig these back up).

    Neither do I think that most Christians mean that they would have worse character if it were not for their faith because God is like some “policeman in the sky” as is often an atheist canard. Rather, it’s what they would denote as their experience and knowledge of the love of God that eliminates the element of aggressive selfishness and elevation above others, and gives them more compassion for their fellow man.

    Having said all that, I love Lott’s studies and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of his book. I appreciate you giving voice to his work.