A Lott of shit (as usual)

You’d have to wonder why a prestigious national broadsheet newspaper like the Australian would give column space to an utterly discredited shyster like US pro-gun “academic” John Lott Jnr. Have a read of the redoubtable Tim Lambert’s blog if you think I’m being overly harsh on Lott.

Incidentally, Lambert has been quick off the mark blogging about Lott’s article in today’s Oz. Strangely, however, Tim doesn’t focus on the central misleading aspect of Lott’s article. Lott performs the dishonest politician’s standard trick of building a straw man and then effortlessly demolishing it:

Violent crime rates have gone up dramatically in Australia since the 1996 Port Arthur gun control measures. And violent crime rates averaged 20 per cent higher in the six years after the law was passed (from 1997 to 2002) than they did in 1996, 32 per cent higher than the violent crime rates in 1995. The same comparisons for armed robbery rates showed increases of 67 per cent and 74 per cent, respectively; for aggravated assault, 20 per cent and 32 per cent; for rape, 11 per cent and 12 per cent; murder, attempted murder and manslaughter rose by 5 per cent in both cases.

Perhaps six years of crime data is just not enough to evaluate the experience. Yet Australian governments seem to believe that if gun controls don’t work at first, more and stricter regulations (like getting rid of swords) are surely the solution. Remember, never second-guess government regulations.

But no-one with more than half a brain claims that tighter gun laws reduce crime per se: rapists will still rape, drug addicts will still rob chemist shops and so on. What you would expect/hope to see is a reduction in gun-related deaths, and that’s precisely what we do see in the Australian statistics. An Australian Institute of Criminology study titled Firearm related deaths in Australia, 1991-2001 by Jenny Mouzos and Catherine Rushforth found:

The examination finds a 47 per cent decrease in annual numbers of firearms related deaths between 1991 and 2001, with a fall in the number of suicides accounting for the largest part of that decrease.

Why doesn’t Lott mention this in his Oz article? Because he’s not an academic in any meaningful sense, just a dishonest political advocate of the worst kind.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Stalin
Stalin
2022 years ago

Since only semi-automatics rifles were banned after Port Arthur, wouldn’t we only expect to see a reduction in deaths from those guns?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Joe,

You’re quite right. Of course, what that underlines is that there are almost certainly numerous factors operating in any phenomenon. Falling gun homicide rates may well have several causes, and must do if the fall is in handgun homicides etc as well as those with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. From memory, Mouzos and Rushforth say that there aren’t specific enough figures as to the precise type of firearm used for suicides and accidental firearm deaths (as opposed to homicides). However, as you’ll see from the extract below, handgun deaths rose significantly during the time period, whereas rifle and shotgun deaths fell steeply.

The point is, if you acknowledge that there are likely to be several factors operating on the level of firearm deaths, the same must be true of crime rates in general. That’s ultimately why Lott’s argument is futile. It’s unlikely one can prove beyond all doubt that tighter gun laws cause either higher or lower crime rates or higher or lower firearm deaths, because it’s almost impossible to devise scenarios where all other variables are controlled, and because the sorts of “data mining” methods Lott uses are dubious at best. I think the best you can say is that the figures are strongly suggestive of a desirable link between tighter gun laws and lower firearm deaths. Here’s the extract from the Mouzos and Rushforth paper dealing with this topic:

“As previously indicated, the use of firearms to inflict fatal injury declined over the period examined. This decline is most conspicuous
in the case of non-handgun firearms (Figure 4), illustrated by a comparing two time periods: 1991

bargarz
2022 years ago

Joe…

Heh.

Tysen
Tysen
2022 years ago

I didn’t take this too seriously thats why I thought it was kinda funny. I thought he was being facetious but I haven’t read any of his previous work so I had nothing to go on.

c8to
2022 years ago

who cares whether firearm related suicides decreased. surely no one is commiting suicide merely because they have access to a firearm. one might argue that killing yourself with a hunting rifle is slightly easier than other methods, but i still think theres plenty of other, and less painful ways of removing yourself from the gene pool.

furthermore, with the possible exception of youth suicide, why should we be that concerned that adults have decided, of their own free will to kill themselves. they might be making a rational decision that theyd rather have no experience, than their current experience.

also, if overall suicide rates arent dropping, then we can discount the accesibilty to firearms argument as a cause for increased suicide. maybe people are just deciding to kill themselves in less gruesome ways. and its not true that we cant evaluate the laws because its too complex – people still commit suicide even if they cant find a gun to do it with.

more telling are the statistics on accidents, which have oscillated around the same level.

Tom Davies
Tom Davies
2022 years ago

c8to, when you try to kill yourself with a gun, you often succeed. When you don’t have a gun and use a bottle of pills (say) instead, you often don’t succeed, and get help.

The substitution of natural gas for coal gas in the UK produced a fall in suicide rates (coal gas contains a lot of CO) and the increased proportion of cars with catalytic converters may have had a similar effect.

John Humphreys
2022 years ago

Ken – I think you’re jumping the gun a little (pun intended).

The point Lott is trying to make is that stricter gun laws do not reduce crime, they simply re-distribute it. Surely a rape victim isn’t happier because they were raped at the point of a knife instead of a gun?

Further, the general point from the pro-self defence lobby is that the harder it is to legally access a gun, then the greater is the comparative advantage of a criminal that can access a gun – and this may lead to an increase in crime. This is true even if it’s only a perception on behalf of criminals (ie, it doesn’t matter if nobody actually has a gun).

This thesis has some evidence to support it – most especially in America. Certainly, I have seen insufficient evidence to justify the gun restrictions we have.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

John,

The central point is that a rape, robbery, assault or domestic violence incident where a gun is present is much more likely to escalate into a homicide, and more guns in the community necessarily mean more accidental deaths over time.

The American “evidence” of the supposed deterrent effect of criminals fearing their victims might be armed has been fairly convincingly debunked IMO. Tim Lambert has covered this at some length on his blog, and even John Quiggin has occasionally taken aim at Lott’s “data mining” methodologies in this regard.

The marked discrepancy between US homicide rates and those in countries with much tighter gun laws (like Australia and UK) is rather difficult to explain away, especially when one notes that US crime rates in general tend to be significantly lower than Australia and the UK. I can’t conceive of a persuasive explanation as to why Americans should be more law-abiding than Australians or Pommies, with the sole exception of having a strange attraction to killing each other. More likely the anomalously high US homicide rate is a direct result of the lax gun laws.

Moreover, US crime rates in general fell significantly through the 1990s even though there were no significant broad changes in gun laws, either in a liberalizing or tightening direction. Fairly clearly crime rates are driven by a multitude of factors, and any deterrent effect of gun ownership (if it exists at all) on those rates is likely to be a very small component indeed, and hardly likely to compensate for the large number of deaths directly caused by lax gun laws.

The problem, given the multitude of variables and the difficulties of multiple regression analyses etc, is that we’re unavoidably in the area of largely untestable probabilities. Accordingly dominant community preferences will (and should) prevail. You start from a libertarian position where the burden of proof for any restrictive regulation should fall on the proponent. For my part, although my position on most issues might be characterised as somewhat libertarian, I take a different view on the “right” to own and use inherently very dangerous objects (including cars as well as guns) which potentially enhance the individual’s ability to project deadly force against other people, either deliberately or through recklenssness. For those sorts of things, in my view the default position should be tight restriction, and the burden of proof should rest on those who advocate de-restriction. Fortunately my own position seems to reflect the strong view of the general Australian community, so I won’t be losing too much sleep about the possibility of Lott managing to persuade any Australian government to adopt US-style gun laws.

Mary Rosh
Mary Rosh
2022 years ago

Well I think John Lott’s piece makes a lot of sense.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

one, two, three, many Marys..

John Humphreys
2022 years ago

Sure, the U.S. has a higher murder rate than Australia. And lower violent crime rate. I think probably both are linked to their gun laws in some way. Which is more important? That’s much less easy to determine.

Several other countries have fewer gun regulations and lower murder rates – so that correlation doesn’t seem to hold universally. However, the correltaion between lax gun laws and lower violent crime rates does seem to hold universally. More violent crime happens than murder, and there is a legimate trade off that can be made (ie, accept 1 more murder to prevent 10 rapes etc).

Data from within the U.S. seems to indicate that states that have relaxed their gun laws have seen a decrease in both violent crime and murder. This again goes to the ambiguity of the relationship between total murders and gun ownership (due to two somewhat offsetting influences).

I accept your point that a gun turns a small incident into a big incident. I hope you accept mine that guns may decrease the probability of an incident occuring. How these two points weigh against each other is a matter of reasonable debate – but I have seen insufficient evidence to conclude that guns produce a negative outcome. And I believe the burden of proof lies with the person advocating any restriction (that’s a general rule I believe in – not restricted to gun issues).

The only options to this is to assume that restrictions should be the null hypothesis (which I find weird) or that conservativism should be the null hypothesis (according to which, there would have been no moral argument to oppose slavery). Ask yourself – if it made absolutely no difference whatsoever… which option would you prefer? I hope that most people answer “well, if it makes no difference – then to each their own”.

Finally – I don’t care what the community preference is. If the community wanted to kill muslims for sport, that wouldn’t influence my opinion. I base my opinion on what I believe is right.

c8to
2022 years ago

good work humphreys, i have come to see your comments as ever clear, concise and getting right to the issue at hand…

its interesting that ken sweeps aside the lower crime rate, and the murder rate higher saying “strange attraction”.

this is intuitively exactly what you would expect. if im in LA id be less likely to rob a house because maybe id get shot, but lets say i do it anyway, maybe i get a gun and shoot the home owner, or they shoot me. so an extra murder. (just because im saying its consistent, doesnt mean i think this is conclusive proof)

i am sympathetic to ken’s claim that we ban all really dangerous things, and then allow some if there is a good reason for it.

then again, i think john makes a good case for libertarians – that we have no restrictions unless there can be shown there is a very good reason to restrict it.

having said all that, i think it would be good if there were no guns on the streets. which australia has traditionally had, and not because of any laws either way on hunting rifles and sporting shooters. its mostly because we didnt have a big problem with crime gangs etcetera (except for say bikers)

the problem now is handguns being stolen from security guards, and then used in robberies, assaults and murders. we could make the case that we shouldnt allow security guards to have handguns because they are soft targets for criminals to get handguns from, but stopping it now would just mean the existing criminals would have the upper hand against the now un-armed security guards.

as for addressing the suicide point above, my argument stands – why should we make it any harder for people to kill themselves. letting them overdose on pills causing brain damage and tying up the hospital system seems like a pathetic reason to have gun laws.

Anthony
Anthony
2022 years ago

Yeah, I’m with c8to. Suicidal people are tiresome and we should issue them all with firearms so they can blow their heads off if they are feeling a bit down. Which also makes it more exciting for the people who find them.
Who knows, if they had to use another method, they might find the extra effort of planning involved would get them thinking, and they might end up seeking help, like a bunch of girl’s blouses.

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