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More guns, less crime: rumors of the theory’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Brian Linse seems to be very self-satisfied today over the fact that John Lott Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime (1998), is currently on the ropes in defending his work. He is even going to the point of calling Prof. Lott’s central thesis “fraudulent”. I do not know what Brian’s background is, but I would guess from this that he is neither an attorney or a scientist. In either of those cases, he would know that simply because a theory is flawed, that constitutes no grounds for labeling it fraudulent. Brian should also be aware that, simply because a theory is flawed in its details, that’s no reason to abandon the basic concept.

I must admit, I have been quite remiss in following the efforts to debunk Prof. Lott’s work over the past year or so. But this is a pet issue of mine, so I guess it is time I brought my talents to bear on the matter.

22 comments to More guns, less crime: rumors of the theory’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

  • Marcus Lindroos

    As an aside, that OTHER great libertarian hobby-horse (=an armed populace supposedly deters invading armies [thing Switzerland during WW II]) is sort of being vindicated right now in Iraq. Sure — they have *always* had lots of guns down there and it sure did stop Saddam from gaining power (NOT!).

    But the Yanks are only now starting to find out what determined nationalistic individuals fighting foreign invaders can do. It’s pretty clear a very significant percentage of the Iraqi population dislikes the U.S. presence (=two thirds according to one recent US-commissioned opinion poll, vs. 16% who sees the Americans as “liberators” and the latter percentage is dwindling), and they now have the capability to inflict significant damage.

    Gun-loving libertarians should be encouraged, if the world’s mightiest government never manages to impose its will on the local populace there. Clearly, a bunch of Mahatma Gandhis or Greenpeace protesters could never have done that. You need guns and bombs.


  • S. Weasel

    Hm. Well. I’ve just worked my way through the whole Mother Jones article, and I’m not too impressed. (Well, yes, it’s Mother Jones – but I would describe them as honest lefties. Their hearts are in the wrong place, but they’re usually good journalists).

    The charges seem to be that he can’t produce one survey from his book, and he posed as a student online to defend his own ideas (which is no big deal, and pretty tacky, respectively). Beyond that, they admit themselves that you have to be a statistician to understand how he’s supposed to have exaggerated his data.

    I wouldn’t doubt that he has exaggerated his data. On a gut level, I don’t think the link between lower crime and gun ownership is as strong as he claims (I strongly support gun ownership, just not so much for that reason). But claims that Lott’s conduct sinks to the level of Bellesiles are even more of an exaggeration.

  • Guy Herbert

    Interesting issues, but maybe beside the point. Supposing it were demonstrated that more guns mean more crime, would that be sufficient argument for banning gun-ownership?

  • S. Weasel

    Marcus: have you got a link for that polling data? The most recent poll I know of was the Gallup poll of Baghdad, which found in part:

    The Gallup poll found that 71 percent of the capital city’s residents felt U.S. troops should not leave in the next few months. Just 26 percent felt the troops should leave that soon.

    However, a sizable minority felt that circumstances could occur in which attacks against the troops could be justified. Almost one in five, 19 percent, said attacks could be justified, and an additional 17 percent said they could be in some situations.

    Almost six in 10 in the poll, 58 percent, said that U.S. troops in Baghdad have behaved fairly well or very well, with one in 10 saying “very well.” Twenty 20 percent said the troops have behaved fairly badly and 9 percent said very badly.

    That’s almost an exact inversion of the data you quote.

    And again:

    According to a recent Gallup Poll, by a 2-1 margin Baghdad residents say that ousting Saddam was worth any personal hardships that they have since experienced.

    I don’t know if that’s the same poll – Gallup is charging to access the data now.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > Marcus: have you got a link for that polling data?

    Via WaPo:


    “Iraqis interviewed in Baghdad yesterday had very different ideas from Mr Bush.”

    “All, without exception, approved of the attacks on the hotel and US soldiers, but not the suicide bombings because Iraqis were the victims.”

    “Omar Qais Zaki, 26, said: “I support the attack on al-Rashid but not the others, which only kill Iraqis. The Americans should leave immediately and we should have elections.”


    “At the time of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis were evenly divided on whether they had been liberated or were facing an old-style colonial occupation. . . . Just after the invasion, 43 per cent saw the U.S.-led Allies as ‘liberating forces.’ A poll earlier this month showed that 15 per cent now see the Americans as liberators. Iraqis who see them as occupiers have risen from 46 per cent to 67 per cent.”

    “During the past three weeks, I have driven over much of Iraq. Hatred of the occupation is expressed openly. In the town of Baiji, 150 miles north of Baghdad, demonstrators were waving pictures of Saddam Hussein and singing his praises. In Hawaija, west of Kirkuk, the American campaign to root out Baath party members has led to the dismissal of 14 of 18 doctors in the local hospital as well as 200 teachers. ”

    “These are both Sunni Arab towns on the Tigris river that did well under Saddam Hussein. They might be expected to be hostile. But a wealthy Shia businessman in Baghdad told me that “the Shia are thinking more and more like the Sunni these days. They really hate the occupation.”

    “The only Iraqi community that welcomes the occupation is the Kurds who have been able to extend their territory in the north of the country”

  • S. Weasel

    Thanks, Marcus. His data seems to derive mostly from the good old journalistic methodology of driving around chatting with people and reporting the conversations that please him.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > His data seems to derive mostly from
    > the good old journalistic methodology of driving
    > around chatting with people and reporting the
    > conversations that please him.

    I guess i have to find the exact poll he is referring to, but I would say his conclusions are in broad alignment with (for example-) the rising number of casualties.


  • Marcus Lindroos

    OK — found more references:


    A poll released this week showed that 67 per cent of Iraqis view the American-led coalition as ‘occupying powers’, more than 20 per cent higher than a survey conducted shortly after the fall of the former regime. According to the poll, conducted by Iraq’s Centre for Research and Strategic Studies, the number of Iraqis who view the coalition as a ‘liberating’ force has dropped from 43 to 15 per cent, and very few feel safe in the presence of the police or foreign armies controlling the country.


    BAGHDAD (AFP) – More and more Iraqis view the US forces as “occupiers” not liberators and say they want an Islamic-style democracy, citing Iran as a model, said a new poll.

  • S. Weasel

    Well, we’re wandering pretty far off-topic here, but I don’t see how you can possibly correlate number of deaths, or even number of incidents, to general public opinion in Iraq. We’ve got a bigger death toll in Detroit, and I don’t see them seceding any time soon.

    It could have the meaning you suggest. It could be the same small group of actors over and over (excluding, obviously, suicide bombers). It could be that the same few bad actors are getting better at what they do. Certainly, many of the captured aren’t Iraqis at all.

    In a country of 25 million, an explosion every day or two isn’t much of a popular uprising.

    (I just paged through all four Google pages on “Centre for Research and Strategic Studies”, and all the hits are references to this poll. Hm.)

  • Marcus Lindroos

    > I just paged through all four Google pages
    > on “Centre for Research and Strategic Studies”,
    > and all the hits are references to this poll.

    Hardly surprising; it seems they mostly conduct opinion polls. It is apparently a Baghdad think tank founded after Saddam’s ouster.


  • Kevin L. Connors

    It should be noted that residents of Baghdad, particularly the Sunni districts, are not representitive of the entire Iraqi population.

    As for the left’s ‘debunking’ of Lott’s work: I just did a quick perusal of things last night before bed. and I have only to say that this is going to be fun. One claim was that Lott failed to account for drop in violent crime contingent with the demise of the crack war. However, the idiotarian claimant fails to recognize that by far the greatest concentration of crack war related violence was concentrated in the same urban areas which have seen their gun prohibition regimes either maintained or strengthed. As such, making provision for that data could actually strengthen Lott’s position.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Marcus is funny. The posting is about guns and crime, but somehow he ends up talking about the US and Iraq. Obsess much, Marcus?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    An armed citizenry is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

    But without an armed citizenry, you can pretty much forget about any form of resistance at all.

  • Riiiiight. You haven’t actually looked at the evidence but manage to conclude that the rumours have been exaggerated based solely on a strawman argument. Linse isn’t saying that it’s fraudulent because it’s flawed, he’s saying it’s fraudulent because it’s fraudulent and provides the links so you can see for yourself.

  • Kevin L. Connors

    I am a stickler for precise use of vocabulary; words have meanings. It is common for emotive thinkers, and the cynically manipulative, to pervert those meanings in an attempt to evoke a desired misunderstanding among their audience. It is common among those without adequate intellectual preparation and discipline to fall for this rhetorical ploy.

    But, in this case, the matter is quite cut-and-dried. Intent is an essential element in fraud. ‘Nuff said.

  • Kevin, I know what the word “fraud” means. Are you seriously trying to suggest that Lott did all those things accidently?

  • Kevin L. Connors

    I’ll reserve judgement until I have a better command of the facts. But thus far, All indications are that those who feel as such are relying upon a large degree of supposition.

  • Guy Herbert

    Kevin Connors: “Intent is an essential element in fraud. ‘Nuff said.”

    In the US, maybe. The situation is not quite as clear as that in England. The courts have construed common law conspiracy to defraud so widely that all commerce is potentially within its ambit.

    Intent to deceive seems not to be required (Scott v MPC [1975] AC 819), intent to benefit from information unavailable to the other party is apparently enough. Indeed the “victim” need suffer no actual loss. It is sufficient for his “economic interests” to be put at risk (Wai Yu-Tsang v R [1992] AC 269).

    Since entrepreneurial activity involves taking a profit on the valuation placed by others on their goods and services, any partnership or corporate business might be held to be a criminal conspiracy in Britain. No wonder the government finds jury trial so inconvenient in fraud cases.

  • Dave

    Bigger death toll in Detroit?

    Is that including Iraqi, NGO, Aid Organisation deaths or just US military?

  • S. Weasel

    Oh my, no. If you count aid organizations and NGOs, the casualty rate is much higher than the Detroit murder rate. It’s more like an average week’s worth of the Vietnam war. One night in London at the beginning of the Blitz. Or the first ten minutes of the bombing of Dresden, maybe.

  • Kevin L. Connors

    Thanks, Guy. That’s an interesting tidbit, and another very good reason to avoid doing business in Britain. It seems almost other-worldly. I mean, with the exception of ‘insider trading’ laws in securities, capitalizing on some sort of superior intellegence is like a cornerstone of American business.

  • Hey Kevin:

    I’ve been swamped with work lately, so I’m late to this thread. Glad to see you contributing to Team Sam.

    My use of the term fraudulent was due to the clearly fraudulent means that Lott has employed in his work. As I mentioned in my first post on him over a year ago, I am willing to accept that his basic thesis might apply in narrow circumstances, but his attempts to make it a universal through dodgy research and cooked econometrics does more damage to our cause than good. And yes, I say our cause, because I, too, am a proud gun owner. See that SP-89 in the lovely grip of the amazing Adriana in the pics from her trip to LA?

    That’s my piece.

    I can’t remember where I read it, but someone on a blog somewhere pointed out that the most important result from the challenges to Lott’s model was that there was no INCREASE in violent crime due to more guns, even when the coding errors that Lott programmed in were fixed. As Guy pointed out above, even if there we more crime as a result of more guns, my position on this would be the same.

    Lott does a disservice to all gun rights supporters with his fraudulent tactics.