Do Guns Protect Us? Violence Policy Center Says No

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The gun lobby was understandably quiet after the tragic shooting of Veronica Rutledge by her 2-year-old son in the Hayden, Idaho, Walmart. After all, it's pretty tough to reconcile the human cost of such carelessness with the notion that people walking around with guns make themselves and others more safe. But sooner or later you can always count on John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, to stomp into territory where others fear to tread, and he's done it in this case with a Fox News blog in which he accuses the media of playing up the few instances of accidental shootings involving folks who legally carry guns, while ignoring or downplaying the many instances in which gun-carrying citizens protected themselves and others from crime.

Lott's been on this bandwagon about how guns protect us from crime for the past 20 years, and his alleged research is cited again and again by politicians and pro-gun enthusiasts who believe America should be fully armed. The only problem is that not only has his research been debunked by other scholars time and time again, but when a panel of criminologists asked him to furnish his data so that they could replicate his results, at first he couldn't produce any data, and when he was submitted a 'revised' dataset, the subsequent analysis also didn't hold up. But Lott isn't interested in being a scholar; he's promoting the value of owning guns.

Which is fine as far as it goes. A man has to earn a living, after all. But Lott's one-sided approach not only forces him to make arguments not supported by facts, but also to ignore data which, at the very least, throws the whole notion of CCW for personal defense up for grabs. I am referring here to the ongoing project of the Violence Policy Center to track killings by concealed-carry licensees, which shows that more than 600 people with CCW killed themselves or others since 2007. The study, of course, is based on media reports that have come to the attention of the VPC, so it is necessarily incomplete, and I suspect that in the suicide category, which comprises slightly less than one-third of the shootings, the real number is substantially higher than what is estimated to have really occurred.

Most disturbing in the VPC report were the 29 mass shootings committed by CCW-legal individuals that resulted in 147 deaths, including 13 suicides by the shooters themselves. What is most concerning about this category is that we all assume that individuals who commit mass shootings are the most deranged and disturbed among us, and it's the gun lobby more than any other group that has vociferously demandedthat better screening be put in place to keep mentally-unbalanced individuals from getting their hands on guns. But it's also assumed that when a jurisdiction grants a CCW permit, the scrutiny of that individual's fitness goes beyond a mere background check. The data gathered by the VPC shows this assumption, like many of the assumptions about the value of CCW, to be wrong.

Lott gives the whole thing away and shows his true motives when he says that, "If Americans only hear about the bad things that happen with guns, they will be much more likely to support strict gun regulations." And since more regulation usually leads to fewer guns, this is certainly not the direction which the gun lobby would like us to take. But simply claiming that guns make us safer while ignoring studies like the VPC report may play well to zealots like Ted Nugent and the NRA crowd, but it's not in accord with the facts.

Don't get me wrong. I'm licensed for CCW and I carry a gun from time to time. So I'm not opposed per se to the notion that guns do more good than harm. What I do oppose is constructing an argument for either position out of whole cloth, and John Lott has been stitching together his argument for longer than he should.

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