Who Is Gun Advocate John Lott?

››› ››› MELODY JOHNSON, EMILY ARROWOOD, TIMOTHY JOHNSON & HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

Gun researcher John Lott has made numerous media appearances in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. to argue against the enactment of gun violence prevention measures. While Lott uses his media platform to push a multitude of statistics -- often from his own research -- he has been thoroughly discredited as a serious academic researcher.

Media Turned To Lott To Discuss Gun Violence Following Newtown Attack

Lott Has Made Several TV Appearances To Argue Against New Gun Laws. Following Friday's mass shooting in Connecticut, FoxNews.com columnist and gun "researcher" John Lott has made at least three appearances on CNN, during which he repeatedly argued against the need for new gun violence prevention laws. CNN hosts have challenged Lott during his appearances, underscoring the need for media to be prepared when hosting dishonest pundits like John Lott. [CNN, Piers Morgan Tonight12/14/12; CNN, Special Coverage of Sandy Hook Shooting12/16/12; CNN, Starting Point12/17/12]

Lott Routinely Appears In Media To Downplay The Gun Violence Epidemic In The US

After Mass Shooting In Aurora, Lott Denied The Fact That America Has The Highest Rate Of Gun Deaths In The Civilized World. Appearing on CNN in the wake of the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, CO, Lott rejected host Piers Morgan's assertion that "America has the worst incidents of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world." Lott told Morgan that "factually, it's not true." In reality, a 2003 Harvard School of Public Health study revealed that the firearm homicide rate in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average rate found in other high-income nations. [CNN, Piers Morgan Tonight7/24/12, via Media Matters]

On FoxNews.com, Lott Defended Gun Ownership After NFL Murder-Suicide Shooting. After NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher reportedly shot his girlfriend and himself in a murder-suicide, Lott posted a FoxNews.com column attacking NBC sportscaster Bob Costas for quoting a column on-air that argued, "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today." Lott disputed that the presence of a firearm had anything to do with the murder-suicide, and posited various methods he believed Belcher could have used to kill himself without a firearm. [FoxNews.com, 12/3/12, via Media Matters]

But Lott Is Not A Credible Source For Information On Gun Violence

Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" Hypothesis Has Been Widely Discredited

Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" Hypothesis Maintains That Gun Ownership Helps Curtail Crime. In his book More Guns, Less Crime and in other media, Lott repeatedly pushes the myth that increased gun ownership, especially increased concealed weapons permits, results in a decreased incidents of violence crime.  [University of Chicago Press, accessed 12/17/12]

Stanford Law Review: Lott's Central Hypothesis Is "Without Credible Statistical Support." In a Stanford Law Review report titled "The Latest Misfires in Support of the 'More Guns, Less Crime' Hypothesis," Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III studied how coding errors in data undermine Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" hypothesis. The authors explain:

PW [Lott's co-authors Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley] seriously miscoded their new county dataset in ways that irretrievably undermine every original regression result that they present in their response. As a result, the new PW regressions must simply be disregarded. Correcting PW's empirical mistakes once again shows that the more guns, less crime hypothesis is without credible statistical support. [Stanford Law Review, accessed 12/3/12 via Deltoid]

Computer Scientist Tim Lambert On Lott's Data Errors: "If Anything, Concealed Carry Laws Lead To More Crime." In an April 2003 blog post on ScienceBlogs.com, computer scientist Tim Lambert discussed Ayres and Donohue's Stanford Law Review findings, noting "Ian Ayres and John Donohue wrote a paper that found that, if anything, concealed carry laws lead to more crime." Noting that "Lott, (along with Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley) wrote a reply where they argued that using data up to 2000 confirmed the "more guns, less crime" hypothesis," Lambert summarized Ayres' and Donohue's response to Lott's defense of the data:

In Ayres and Donohue's response to that paper, they found that Lott's data contained numerous coding errors that, when corrected, reversed the results. Furthermore, this was the second time these sorts of errors had been found in Lott's data. Lott had presented to the NAS [National Academy of Science] panel figures showing sharp declines in crime following carry laws. Declines which disappeared when the coding errors were corrected. Finally, when Lott saw Ayres and Donohue's response he had his name removed from the final paper. [Deltoid, 4/25/03]

Economist Mark Duggan: Rate Of Gun Ownership "Significantly Positively" Correlated With Incidence Of Homicide. A study by economist Mark Duggan found that "changes in homicide and gun ownership are significantly positively related," as he reported in "More Guns, More Crime" in the Journal of Political Economy in 2001. Duggan wrote:

My findings reveal that changes in homicide and gun ownership are significantly positively related. This relationship is almost entirely driven by the relationship between lagged changes in gun ownership and current changes in homicide, suggesting that the relationship is not driven simply by individuals' purchase of guns in response to increases in criminal activity.

[...]

These findings contradict the results from recent work suggesting that legislation allowing individuals to carry concealed weapons (CCW) caused a significant decline in violent crime (Lott and Mustard 1997). [Journal of Political Economy, 2001]

Lott Relies On Unscientific Research And Factual Distortions To Promote His Views On Guns 

Lott Pushed Discredited Claim That Gun Laws Disarm Law-Abiding Citizens. In The Wall Street Journal, Lott cited dubious survey research to claim that members of law enforcement generally believe that "too often the laws disarm law-abiding citizens, not criminals, and thus make it easier for criminals to commit crime."  In fact, academic research indicates broad support for some gun violence prevention measures within the law enforcement community. [Media Matters, 8/3/12]

Lott Used Distorted Anecdotes To Advocate For Dangerous National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act. In a FoxNews.com column, Lott inaccurately described legal proceedings against individuals who ran afoul of New York's gun laws to push the passage of the gun-lobby favored National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow for weakened restrictions on carrying concealed guns. Several law enforcement associations have spoken out against the National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act, suggesting that it would "endanger" police officers and "compromise public safety." [Media Matters, 1/20/12]

Lott Offered Phony Criticisms Of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey's Opposition To National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act. In a FoxNews.com column, Lott falsely claimed that Ramsey's complaint about a dangerous Pennsylvania resident who obtained an out-of-state permit to carry a firearm was moot because the individual could have obtained a Pennsylvania permit to carry a weapon. In fact the individual in question, who was indicted for murder after shooting a car burglar 13 times, had previously been stripped of his Pennsylvania permit and was unsuccessful in an appeal to have it restored. [Media Matters11/16/11

Lott Has Faced Convincing Allegations That He Fabricated Research On Defensive Gun Uses

Lott Became Subject Of Ethics Inquiry After Failing To Produce Evidence That He Actually Conducted A 1997 Survey. A January 17, 2003 letter written by Northwestern University Professor of Law James Lindgren, raised concerns that Lott fabricated a survey that found 98 percent of defensive gun uses involved only brandishing a weapon. Lott has failed to produce the data from the study, claiming to have lost it in a computer crash. From Lindgren's letter:

In September 2002 I offered to look into a question raised about John Lott's work. I thought that offering such help to Lott and to the profession was the responsible thing to do when serious questions were raised, and I thought it would be exceedingly simple to establish that a survey of 2,424 people had been done. While I recognized that it is extremely easy to lose data in a computer crash, I had not anticipated that Lott would claim to have done a large national survey without discussing the sampling design with anyone, leaving any financial or other records of the study, or remembering anyone who had worked on it.  I had never heard of a professor doing anything of that size with no funding, paid support, paid staff, phone reimbursements, or records (though there are probably precedents for such an unusual method).  As it stands now, unless someone comes forward to verify working on the study--as I still hope occurs--we may never know with any certainty whether the 1997 study was done.  Although I strongly favor emailing 1997-98 University of Chicago college graduates to see if any remember any classmates working on the study, John Lott now raises serious questions about how complete the University's alumni records are, rendering that approach a less reliable route to an answer than I had anticipated.

[...]

I find recent developments in this affair personally troubling.  I carefully recorded what John Lott told me and now Lott has changed the story he told me in several specific ways--most of them minor.  They are discussed in my revisions to this report.   I have no research interests in this subfield and no ideas for further efforts to get to the bottom of this inquiry beyond surveying graduates and Lott's looking at picture books of former students. This project detracts from my other scholarly efforts.  Accordingly, my part in this affair is essentially done, at least if John Lott will stop changing his stories about our conversation.  If not, then I suspect that I will have to stay in it a little longer, at least to respond to comments on this report. [James Lindgren, 1/17/03]

Computer Scientist Tim Lampert And Sociologist Otis Dudley Duncan Summarized A Number Of Suspicious Circumstances Surrounding Lott's Defensive Gun Use Survey. Among other points, Lampert -- a critic of Lott's research methods -- noted that Lott regularly cited the 98 percent defensive gun use statistic prior to when he says he conducted his research that reached that conclusion:

Was there fabrication and falsification in regard to the findings of the survey that Dr Lott has stated that he conducted? Even conclusive proof that he conducted a survey in 1997 would not, of itself, resolve this issue. The findings of that survey could have been fabricated even if a survey was actually carried out. The main reasons for suspecting that this happened are:

1. Dr Lott claimed his survey was conducted over a three month period in 1997. He also claimed that survey data shows that 98% of defensive gun uses involve merely brandishing weapon as early as Feb. 6, 1997, in his testimony to the Nebraska legislature.

2. Long before Dr Lott ever mentioned that the 98% figure came from his survey, he had (erroneously) attributed it to various other surveys.

3. The statistics concerning incidence of defensive gun use, frequency of firing or brandishing, and firing target (warning shots vs. shooting at the offender) are such that it is hardly conceivable they could have been legitimately produced by a sample of the size Dr Lott has mentioned.

4. Dr Lott has been unable to supply any documentation whatever of the particulars of his survey such as the exact wording of the questions asked, the sampling plan, calculations of statistics, and so on. Any text on survey research will make explicit the details of what is normally expected by way of documenting a survey. A formal listing can be found at the American Association for Public Opinion Research. And it should be borne in mind that loss of data because of a computer crash or any other reason does not relieve the investigator of the responsibility to provide such documentation. It is a clear breach of the ethics of science to promulgate a finding in the absence of data (see the Duan case, above). [Deltoid, 2/9/03]

Otis Dudley Duncan: Lott's Usage Of Defensive Gun Use Statistic "A Clear Breach Of The Ethics Of Scientific Inquiry." In an April 2003 article, Duncan also pointed out serious methodological flaws in how Lott says he conducted his survey, leading Duncan to call Lott's conclusions "junk science." From the article:

That statistic appears, apparently for the first time, on p. 3 of the 2000 edition of More Guns, Less Crime and reads as follows: "If a national survey that I conducted is correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack." There is no mention of the DGU [Defensive Gun Use] frequency, nor is there any other material to explain this rather cryptic statement.

Such piecemeal announcement of results from a major piece of research is, shall we say, unusual in scientific circles. (No, we shall not resort to such a euphemism. It is a clear breach of the ethics of scientific inquiry, one that comes up over and over again in regard to premature announcements of new medical "discoveries," and so on.) But it is possible that I have missed some earlier and more detailed report on the survey, and I would be happy to make any needed correction.

[...]

Notwithstanding that arguments about the trustworthiness of Lott's research threaten to go on forever, the only honorable thing for him to do at this point is to withdraw his claims about the 1997 survey at the same time as he disavows his erroneous statements about the research of others, making appropriate apologies to all who have innocently facilitated the dissemination of his junk science. [Deltoid, 4/10/03]

Lott Has Been Caught Modifying His Research And Writings When His Claims Are Called Into Dispute

Lott Attempted To Cover Up Debunking Of "More Guns, Less Crime" Thesis By Changing His Statistical Model. From an October 12, 2003 Mother Jones article describing how Lott reacted to Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres and Stanford Law School professor John Donohue's revelation that fixing coding errors in his research caused Lott's conclusions to be undermined:

In an interview conducted on August 18 (transcript), Lott told me that he had posted "corrected" tables on his website for all to see. But when I downloaded Lott's "corrected" version of the contested table, it showed the same numerical values as that of Donohue and Ayres -- that is, the coding errors were gone -- but bizarrely claimed the properly coded data still indicated statistically significant drops in murder, rape, and robbery. That's because Lott had introduced a new twist: Rather than simply fixing the incorrectly coded data, he omitted a key calculation regarding statistical significance used in the Plassmann-Whitley paper. (For statistics geeks, it's called "clustering at the state level.") Faced with no other way to save his thesis, you could say that Lott changed the rules -- rules his own team had laid down -- in the middle of the game. [Mother Jones10/12/03]

Lott Falsely Accused Media Matters Of Misquoting Him After He Changed Language In His Own Article. Media Matters quoted John Lott as writing that the Obama administration has "also imposed much more extensive reporting requirements on sales of long guns" in an article for BigGovernment.com. He later changed this language to say that the Obama administration has "tried imposing much more extensive reporting requirements on sales of long guns" and accused Media Matters of misquoting him for repeating what he originally wrote. [Media Matters3/24/11, emphasis added]

Lott Created A Fake Internet Persona To Defend His Research

Washington Post: Lott Posted Online Under The Pseudonym "Mary Rosh," Who Called Lott "The Best Professor I Ever Had." For three years, Lott repeatedly posed as an imaginary former student named "Mary Rosh." Rosh "tirelessly defended Lott against his harshest critics" in numerous online debates. From a February 1, 2003 article:

Mary Rosh thinks the world of John R. Lott Jr., the controversial American Enterprise Institute scholar whose book "More Guns, Less Crime" caused such a stir a few years ago.

In postings on Web sites in this country and abroad, Rosh has tirelessly defended Lott against his harshest critics. He is a meticulous researcher, she's repeatedly told those who say otherwise. He's not driven by the ideology of the left or the right. Rosh has even summoned memories of the classes she took from Lott a decade ago to illustrate Lott's probity and academic gifts.

"I have to say that he was the best professor I ever had," Rosh gushed in one Internet posting.

Indeed, Mary Rosh and John Lott agree about nearly everything.

Well they should, because Mary Rosh is John Lott -- or at least that's the pseudonym he's used for three years to defend himself against his critics in online debates, Lott acknowledged this week.

[...]

Lott said that he frequently has used the name "Mary Rosh" to defend himself in online debates. The name is an amalgam of the first two letters of his four sons' first names. In a posting to the Web site maintained by Tim Lambert, an Australian professor who has relentlessly attacked Lott's guns studies, "Mary Rosh" claims to be a former student of Lott at the University of Pennsylvania, where the economist taught between 1991 and 1995.

"I had him for a PhD level empirical methods class when he taught at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania back in the early 1990s, well before he gained national attention, and I have to say that he was the best professor that I ever had. You wouldn't know that he was a 'right-wing' ideologue from the class. . . . There were a group of us students who would try to take any class that he taught. Lott finally had to tell us that it was best for us to try and take classes from other professors more to be exposed to other ways of teaching graduate material." [The Washington Post, 2/1/03, retrieved via Nexis]

Lott Is An Outspoken Proponent Of The "Kill At Will" Law Connected To Trayvon Martin's Death

Lott Suggested That "Kill At Will" Law Had Nothing To Do With Martin Controversy. During a May 1 appearance on MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, Lott claimed that Florida's "Kill At Will" law -- called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents -- had nothing to do with the controversy surrounding Trayvon Martin's death.

LOTT: What I will say is that no matter whose story is right, the Stand Your Ground law isn't relevant to the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case. If George Zimmerman is right and the wounds on the back of his head that he was on the ground, Trayvon Martin was on top of him beating him, there was no place for him to retreat. And so the old defense, even if you had the rule that you have to retreat as far as possible, he still would have been able to act in self-defense there. And if the other side is right that somehow George Zimmerman provoked the attack, attacked Martin to begin with, then he wouldn't be able to rely on the Stand Your Ground law to protect him in that case either. [Media Matters, 5/1/12]

Lott Advocated For Controversial "Kill At Will" Law. Following the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Lott made broad claims about how self-defense in public places worked before the widespread enactment of "Stand Your Ground." In The New York Post, he wrote, "Earlier statutes affirmatively required potential victims to retreat as much as possible before using deadly force to protect themselves, sometimes putting their lives in jeopardy." Actually, states that did require duty to retreat largely did so only under the narrow circumstance where the victim could do so safely. If it was unsafe to retreat from a conflict, a victim was fully entitled to use deadly force to protect him or herself from death or serious injury. [Media Matters, 4/26/12]

Lott Overlooked "Kill At Will" Cases In Order To Come To Its Defense. Also during the May 1 Daily Rundown,  Lott claimed that "the Stand Your Ground law doesn't allow you to provoke an attack, doesn't allow you to throw the first punch, it doesn't allow you to go and shoot someone in the back. You have to pass this reasonable person test that you're in direct threat, serious injury or death was going to occur." By suggesting that all shooters claiming immunity under "Stand Your Ground" face a thorough review into their actions, Lott is ignoring the fact that some of these shootings, even those that occur under dubious circumstances, are resolved without the shooter ever having to face a jury of his peers. [Media Matters, 5/1/12]

For more information on past "Kill At Will" cases, click here.

Posted In
Guns
Person
John Lott
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.