Separated at Birth?


The parallels between anti-gun fraudster Michael Bellesiles and pro-gun maybe-fraudster John Lott seem to be increasing. I wrote about Lott's penchant for online sock puppetry in the May Reason; Bellesiles apparently thought it was such a great idea that he'd give it a shot as well.

NEXT: Boy on the Bus

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  1. This is by no means an exhaustive analysis, but there’s a good popular science book called “9 Crazy Ideas In Science–Some of Them Might Be True!” It examines some out-of-the-mainstream theories that the author nonetheless thinks are worthy of examination. (He’s a physicist.) And since many academics do, I admit, have a left-of-center bias, the author includes the hypothesis “more guns, less crime” as being out of the academic mainstream.

    (Before anybody freaks out, the author is actually genuinely fond of most of the 9 hypotheses, and believes they deserve analysis rather than dismissal. Saying Lott is not in the mainstream of academics simply means that a lot of academics disagree with him, which is true. If you have a low opinion of academics then you can choose to see criticism of Lott as vindication, I guess…)

    The book is for a popular audience, so the author doesn’t try to do an exhaustive and conclusive analysis of each theory. Instead, he just puts it through some heavy scrutiny to show the reader the right way to evaluate theories (i.e. open minds, lots of questions, lots of data), points out the open questions that must be answered to really resolve the issue one way or the other, and then gives his own tentative rating of the hypothesis (emphasizing that it’s in the nature of “well, based on what I know right now” not “This is the final word on such-and-such theory.”

    I can’t recall all of his critiques, but the author had a lot of qualms about Lott’s statistical methods. At the end, he rated Lott’s hypothesis “more guns, less crime” 4 cuckoos. He rated the opposite hypothesis, “more guns, more crime” 2 cuckoos.

    In other words, the guy came away from the data skeptical of the notion that there’s any connection between gun ownership and crime rates. Before you start bashing him on ideological grounds (“Duh! Gun ownership will deter criminals! Only a stupid liberal wouldn’t see that!”), remember that he was pretty harsh on the anti-gun hypotheses as well.

    Anyway, it’s a good book, and it has some other interesting hypotheses, like the possibility that petroleum actually comes from non-biogenic sources. There’s a small but respectable community of researchers working on the possibility that oil was created by chemical processes that didn’t require dead dinosaurs as inputs. Who knows? The author gives it zero cuckoos, meaning he thinks it’s worthy of serious consideration.

  2. Deep down I really do mistrust the use of “studies” and “statistical data” as a means of determining or suggesting public policy, especially when it comes to constitutional matters. The whole thing smacks of a utilitarian, technocratic impulse, and not out of a respect for freedom.

    In the end, I don’t care if XX% of crimes are commited with firearms, or XX-out-of-XX gun owners shoot themselves or others, etc.. I know that *I* am safe with a firearm and I resent any so-called academic or beurucarat suggesting that I am not because of “their study.”

    As trite as it sounds, my freedom-and the freedom of others–should not be subject to a study. My rights are my own no matter what the statistics say.

  3. It now looks like Benny Smith was playing games with us and actually is not Bellesiles.

    Click on my name to see Jimmy Wales’ post giving the details.

  4. I’m a bit skeptical of some of Lott’s conclusions. I think his theory would probably have merit if perhaps 20% of people were packing heat, but typically only 1% or 2% obtain permits, and of those, probably an even smaller percentage carry on a regular basis.

    Thus I have to question the likelyhood that any assailant will come into contact with an armed victim, especially in urban areas where crime is more likely to happen, and ordinary citizens are less likely to carry weapons. I’m more inclined to believe that “hot burglary” is deterred by widespread gun ownership in the home, but on the street, I just don’t think enough decent people carry.

    As someone who has a license to carry, I can attest that it’s a real pain in the ass to lug a sidearm around with you. Combine that with falling violent crime rates across the US, and I don’t see the number of armed citizens ever approaching the levels needed to have a reasonable test of Lott’s hypothesis.

  5. “I’m a bit skeptical of some of Lott’s conclusions. I think his theory would probably have merit if perhaps 20% of people were packing heat, but typically only 1% or 2% obtain permits, . . .”

    Well, if you make a habit of assaulting people or robbing them on the street, the probability of eventually encountering one who is packing can go up quite a bit. It’ not like a typical mugger robs one person a year.

    Also, you have to consider the potential severity of the risk, not just the probability. Potentially getting shot is a severe response.

  6. Let’s say we toss out important parts of Lott’s work. Gary Kleck made many of the same points, and he started out as a pro-control prof.

    I, too, put the #’s in a secondary position to the question of rights.


  7. The completely uncontroversial case that there has never been a statistically significant increase in any crime category as a result of a shall issue policy should be sufficient. Demonstrably, no societal harm results from this action. Also demonstrably, specific harm to specific people have been avoided as a result of their having the right tool for the job, as it were.

    Lott may wind up doing much more harm than good by convincing people that the bar has to be raised to the higher standard of a reduction in crime. It is like forcing Hostess to claim that Twinkies represent a good to society rather than a choice that some people may make to suit themselves. He has constructed an argument that may unfairly take down a lot of good ones if is falls.

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