Gun researcher John Lott's chapter on firearms in his new book titled, At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over The Edge?, is filled with inaccurate claims about guns and firearm policy. Lott makes a range of misleading or blatantly false statements, including that the worst school shootings in the world have not occurred in the United States and that concealed carry laws help prevent mass shootings.
National Rifle Association News host Cam Edwards has taken on a media critic role to allege that news reports linking firearms to public safety concerns are inaccurate. The series of rebuttals offered by Edwards on his show Cam & Company, however, are rife with outright falsehoods and are debunked by peer reviewed research.
In five recent "Media Misinformation" segments, Edwards...
- ...cited the long-debunked research of criminologist Gary Kleck to claim that up to 2.5 million defensive gun uses occur each year while also pushing the false claim that loosening concealed gun carry laws reduces crime.
- ...falsely claimed that the United States ranks 28th among industrialized nations in terms of gun homicide rate when the U.S. actually ranks first in a more comparable study among high-income nations.
- ...used discredited research to attack an accurate claim by Mother Jones that guns in the home are more often used in criminal acts, accidents or suicides than for self-defense.
- ...made a flawed and anecdotal comparison to deny that increased gun availability is associated with increased firearm homicide.
- ...denied that a link exists between firearm access and suicide while suggesting that making firearms less accessible to a suicidal individual was not a plausible way to prevent a suicide attempt.
Discredited gun researcher John Lott claimed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "dropped over 94 percent" of instances where an individual failed a criminal background check "after preliminary reviews" in order to discount accurate claims that the background check system has stopped over a million prohibited individuals from obtaining a firearm.
Lott's claim is a willful distortion of how the federal background check system works: once an individual is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) no gun sale occurs, regardless of whether the ATF takes further action.
On to [Senator Chuck] Schumer's second falsehood -- the claim that checks have stopped 1.7 million prohibited sales. In fact, these were only "initial denials," not people prevented from buying guns.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dropped over 94 percent of those "initial denials" after preliminary reviews. Further review cleared at least a fifth of the other 6 percent.
Lott would have his audience believe that because ATF does not take further action after most denials that the background check system did not actually stop "1.7 million prohibited sales." This claim is blatantly false as a denial means that the sale cannot be completed.
From the January 26 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Gun researcher and FoxNews.com columnist John Lott is ignoring the evidence in an attempt to undermine claims from supporters of strengthening gun laws that a large percentage of guns are purchased without the buyer undergoing a background check.
In a National Review Online article, Lott wrote that President Obama's recent claim that "as many as 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check" is false, instead stating that "it closer to 10 percent." However, research shows that significant numbers of firearms are in fact sold without a background check - perhaps a figure greater than the 40 percent cited by Obama.
It is true that the 40 percent figure is based on a 1994 poll with a small survey sample, and that the authors of the study have said that they estimated that the actual figure for gun sales from private sellers ranges from 30 to 40 percent of all sales. But no data has been compiled that contradicts that figure, while several more recent data points support a figure in that range.
In finding that the "40 percent" statistic is "Mostly True," Politifact pointed out that neither the National Rifle Association nor the National Shooting Sports Foundation, groups that oppose expanding background checks to private sales, provided data contradicting that figure.
As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler reported, part of the problem in obtaining up-to-date figures on the private sales of firearms is that National Rifle Association lobbyists have been successful in convincing Congress to block funding for such research. In his analysis of the 40 percent figure, Kessler quoted one of the authors of the 1994 study, Jens Ludwig, who stated, "While there is no perfect estimate in social science, we'd have a better estimate for this proportion had the federal government not decided to get out of the business of supporting research on guns and gun violence several years ago."
But the data that has been made available since the 1994 report lends credence to that estimate. For example, a 2012 analysis of how handguns are sold in Michigan, the Michigan State Police reported that 48 percent of all handguntransfers in the state are conducted through private sales where no background check is required. Criminals in particular tend to seek weapons from sources where they are not subject to background checks - only 11 percent of inmates incarcerated for gun crimes said that they got the weapon from a licensed gun dealer, according to a 2004 survey.
Data from the gun industry itself also suggests sales without a background check are commonplace. According to 2010 data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, only 45 percent of assault weapon owners reported buying their firearm from a retail location, including independent and chain retail stores. Approximately half of respondents reported buying their firearm from venues where a background check is not necessarily required, including over the Internet, from gun shows, or through a face-to-face sale.
Conservative commentator and Fox guest Ann Coulter cited discredited gun researcher John Lott to falsely claim that concealed carry permits are the "one public policy" that reduces incidents of gun violence. In fact, experts say Lott's findings have little statistical support, and armed civilians have not successfully stopped mass public shootings.
On Hannity, Coulter claimed that if "you want to cut down on public shootings" and "if you care about children dying, if you care about innocent victims, you should be in favor of concealed carry." She cited research by Lott, claiming his study was the only "thorough examination of public multiple victim shootings" and proves concealed carry permits reduce shootings and casualties.
However, Lott is not a credible source for information on gun violence. He has been caught using fraudulent data in his concealed-carry studies, and his "more guns, less crime" hypothesis, which maintains that gun ownership helps reduce crime, has been characterized by a Stanford Law Review report as "without credible statistical support." Computer scientist Tim Lambert, discussing the Stanford Law Review report's findings, wrote that "if anything, concealed carry laws lead to more crime."
Indeed, a Mother Jones investigation could not identify a single mass public shooting in the past 30 years that was ended by an armed civilian, while economist Mark Duggan found that the rate of gun ownership "significantly positively" correlated with incidence of homicide.
Lott has also been caught modifying his research when his claims are called into dispute, and was the subject of an ethics inquiry after failing to produce evidence that he had actually conducted a 1997 survey. This has not stopped media figures from citing his claims, and he routinely makes media appearances to argue against the enactment of gun violence prevention measures.
Last month, Coulter responded to the mass shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school by calling for more concealed carry permits.
John Lott, a vocal opponent of gun violence prevention legislation, says that the National Rifle Association's plan for armed security guards at schools would be costly and ineffective.
During a December 21 press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre laid out the group's proposed response to the December 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT:
LAPIERRE: Now, the National Rifle Association knows there are millions of qualified and active retired police, active, Reserve, and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel, an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every single school.
We could deploy them to protect our kids now. We can immediately make America's schools safer, relying on the brave men and women in America's police forces. The budgets -- and you all know this, everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained, and the resources are severely limited, but their dedication and courage is second to none. And, they can be deployed right now.
I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation. And, to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.
Responding to a question about the press conference from Mayors Against Illegal Guns staffer and Aurora shooting survivor Stephen Barton on Twitter, Lott criticized the idea as costly and ineffective, saying that "identifiable guards are of very limited use in these cases":
Lott frequently appears in the media - despite being thoroughly discredited as a serious academic researcher - to opine against stronger gun laws.
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.
Addressing the murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, discredited gun researcher John Lott downplayed the relationship between firearm availability and the incidence of murder in a FoxNews.com column. Lott took issue with NBC sportscaster Bob Costas discussing the tragedy during halftime on Sunday Night Football. Quoting FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock, Costas said, "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, writing, "Even if no weapon existed, the strength differential is so large that Belcher could have easily killed [his girlfriend Kasandra] Perkins in any number of ways."
Lott's attempt to take guns out of the equation was the latest effort by right-wing media to silence the discussion of gun violence in the wake of Saturday's murder-suicide. It is also at odds with research about the relationship between gun availability and gun violence.
As Forbes contributor Rob Waters noted, the presence of a firearm drastically increases the lethality of domestic violence incidents. Using statistics compiled by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Waters wrote that, "If a gun is used during a domestic violence assault, there's a 23-fold increased likelihood that the victim will die. Women who are victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser owns a firearm."
In a November 30 article in The Atlantic, national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that it was "too late" to enact gun violence prevention laws, using discredited research from John Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" thesis and debunked claims by criminologist Gary Kleck that defensive gun uses outpace gun crimes.
An investigation on shooting rampages by Mother Jones could not identify a single mass public shooting that was ended by an armed civilian, a violence prevention strategy that remains popular in right-wing media. In two instances, however, armed individuals who attempted to stop a shooting were wounded or killed. Mother Jones also deduced that successful attempts by armed civilians to stop public shootings in general, not just those incidents involving mass casualties, were rare.
The analysis conducted by Mother Jones, which examined 60 public shootings that have occurred in the United States over the last 30 years, stands in sharp contrast to baseless conjecture by members of the right-wing media that the solution to prevent mass shootings is a greater number of people armed in public.
More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to stop shooting rampages are rare -- and successful ones even rarer. There were two school shootings in the late 1990s, in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, in which bystanders with guns ultimately subdued the teen perpetrators, but in both cases it was after the shooting had subsided. Other cases led to tragic results. In 2005, as a rampage unfolded inside a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington, a civilian named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with a licensed handgun he was carrying. The assailant pumped several bullets into McKown and wounded six people before eventually surrendering to police after a hostage standoff. (A comatose McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.) In Tyler, Texas, that same year, a civilian named Mark Wilson fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson--who was a firearms instructor--was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47. (None of these cases were included in our mass shootings data set because fewer than four victims died in each.)
Appeals to heroism on this subject abound. So does misleading information. Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia to armed "students" who intervened--while failing to disclose that those students were also current and former law enforcement officers, and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammo by the time they got to him. [emphasis added]
Mother Jones noted that 2012 is already a record year for mass public shootings in terms of the number of killed and injured. The right-wing media's response to each of this year's mass shootings has been the same: "If only more people would have been armed, it would have been prevented."
But even setting aside the fact that the United States already has the most heavily armed private citizenry in the world, and that laws allowing the concealed carrying of firearms in public are increasingly permissive and widespread, the bottom line is that there is no data to support the right-wing media's armed citizen theory.
According to an e-mail sent by the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Mark O'Mara, the defense attorney for George Zimmerman, will speak at the SAF-sponsored Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC), which will begin September 28. The conference will be held, for the first time in its 27 year history, in Florida.
Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26. The conference will take place at an Orlando hotel less than 25 miles away from the site of the shooting.
According to a GRPC flyer, the event will provide attendees with the "once a year chance to network, get an insider's look and plan pro-gun rights strategies for the coming year." Whether O'Mara will divulge any new information about the ongoing criminal case remains to be seen. So far the Florida attorney has largely remained mum about the specifics of Zimmerman's self-defense claim, other than to indicate that that Florida's controversial "Kill At Will" self-defense law, called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents, will likely play a significant role in his client's defense.
Although the guest list has not been finalized, it is likely that O'Mara will get the chance to rub elbows with some of the most ardent defenders of "Kill At Will." The invitees include Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb, discredited gun rights "researcher" John Lott and unnamed representatives from Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the National Rifle Association, and Gun Owners of America.
In an opinion piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, discredited gun "researcher" John Lott cited dubious survey research to make the 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.
Lott's goal was to admonish New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made waves last week when he suggested that police officers "go on strike" until legislative bodies agreed to address gun violence. But Lott's reliance on surveys with extremely suspect methodology makes it difficult to take his critique seriously.
Lott first cites a 2010 survey of 20,000 police chiefs and sheriffs conducted by the National Association of Chiefs of Police (NACOP). The number of officers that actually responded is unknown because NACOP did not release any methodology other than to say that the survey was conducted by mail. According to Lott:
Seventy-seven percent believed that concealed-handgun permits issued in one state should be honored by other states "in the way that drivers' licenses are recognized through the country" -- and that making citizens' permits portable would "facilitate the violent crime-fighting potential of the professional law enforcement community."
The fact that the survey would use such a leading question was probably of little concern to Lott, who has faced convincing allegations that he fabricated data in his own research. That the survey was released with insufficient information to describe its methodology means that it cannot convincingly be said to prove anything.
Lott also never mentioned that during the 1990s NACOP was a public opponent of the Brady Bill; legislation that required individuals purchasing a firearm from a gun dealer to undergo a background check. NACOP used the same mail survey methodology seen in its 2010 survey to claim that law enforcement officers largely opposed the Brady Bill. In a 1991 CNN special, pollster Robert Miller, who had examined NACOP's methods, stated, "The results would not be considered accurate by any scholarly or recognized body that evaluates polls." [CNN, 11/6/91, via Nexis]
During an appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight last night, discredited gun "researcher" and FoxNews.com contributor John Lott pushed a number of falsehoods about gun violence in America while discussing the July 20 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead and scores wounded.
Lott rejected host Morgan's assertion that "America has the worst incidents of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world." Later on in his appearance, Lott baselessly claimed that banning the types of weaponry used by the Aurora shooter would necessitate banning all semi-automatic firearms.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Do you accept that America has the worst incidence of gun murders of any of what they call the civilized world?
JOHN LOTT: No, I don't think that's true. Look, guns --
MORGAN: They are not true?
LOTT: No, I mean, factually, it's not true. Look --
MORGAN: But it is, isn't it?
LOTT: No, it's not.
Lott went on argue that because two gun deaths occurred in London in 1900 compared to 39 gun deaths in England in 2011, that restrictions placed on firearms between 1900 and 2011 can be linked to an increase in gun homicides. But Lott's reliance on century-old statistics doesn't change the modern reality of gun violence here in the United States.
The United States leads the world in private gun ownership. We also lead the industrialized world in gun deaths, which occurred in the United States at a rate eight times higher than our economic counterparts between 1990 and 1995. A 2003 study by Harvard School of Public Health professor David Hemenway found that the firearm homicide rate in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average rate found in other high-income nations. A study by the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that the availability of firearms is correlated with increased gun homicide rates in high-income industrialized countries. This is certainly born out in the United States where states that have the highest gun ownership and loosest gun laws also often have the highest rates of gun death.
During a May 1 appearance on MSNBC's Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, discredited gun "researcher" John Lott continued his whirlwind media tour in defense of the "Kill At Will" law (called "Stand Your Ground" by its proponents) that has been linked to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. In his appearance, Lott reiterated many of the misleading claims he pushed in his April 25 op-ed for the New York Daily News defending the controversial law.
Lott began his appearance by suggesting that prior to the widespread codification of "Kill At Will," victims of serious crimes had a duty to retreat from an attacker at his or her own peril. He told Todd, "You have to understand where the laws were before. Before people had to retreat as far as possible before they could go and act in self-defense." Just because Lott repeats this falsehood over and over does not make it true. States that did require duty to retreat largely did so only under the narrow circumstance where the victim could do so safely. What Lott is attempting to do is to set his defense of "Stand Your Ground" upon the premise that these laws were enacted to fix an existing problem. His argument, however, is not credible because it seriously mischaracterizes basic legal principles of self-defense.