Gun Prohibitionists Miss their Mark

By Chris Little and Dave Kopel

Aug. 27, 1997. More by Kopel on licensed carry.

The gun prohibition lobby is getting desperate. Thirty-one states now have laws allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns for protection. Other states—including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and New Mexico—are on the verge of enacting similar laws. In each of these states, the gun-carry law was blocked a lone politician (a governor or a powerful legislator). But politicians come and go, while the movement for concealed carry never quits. So Inevitably, Colorado and other states will join the concealed carry ranks.

To make things all the worse, from the gun prohibition viewpoint, new research from University of Chicago economists John Lott and David Mustard has demonstrated that concealed carry laws are one of the most effective anti-crime tools available. Everyone, not just gun carriers, benefits. In the years following the enactment of concealed carry, violent crime falls six to eight percent.

The gun prohibition lobby, which can’t stand the idea that Americans might be capable of owning dangerous things like guns, is firing back. Leading the charge is the Violence Policy Center (VPC), a gun prohibition group based in Washington, D.C. The VPC’s J. Kristen Rand has been sending out form letters to newspapers all over the country, attacking Professor Lott personally. The Rocky Mountain News recently ran Rand’s form letter.

Rand’s most outrageous claim is that Professor Lott, whose salary is paid entirely by the University of Chicago, is "in essence, funded by the firearms industry." Ms. Rand’s letter does not inform the reader that her group made similar claims last year, when the Lott study was first announced; the Associated Press at first printed the claim, and then published a retraction upon discovering that the claim was false.

Here are the facts: Like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and many other excellent schools, the University of Chicago has an endowed chair created by a single large donation from the John M. Olin Foundation. The Foundation exercises no control over who is appointed to the Olin Chair at any school, and no control over any professor’s research. While Professor Lott currently holds the Olin Chair at the University of Chicago, he was not at the school when the chair was created, nor was he the first professor to hold the chair.

The John M. Olin Foundation was created with gifts from Mr. John M. Olin, who passed over twenty years ago. Before retiring, Mr. Olin had made some of his fortune from Olin Corporation, which, among other things, makes ammunition. The John M. Olin Foundation has no association with Olin Corp., just as the Ford Foundation has no connection with the Ford Motor Company. Similarly, Stanford University was founded with a gift from railroad magnate Leland Stanford, but that hardly means that every Stanford professor works for the railroad industry.

Ms. Rand attacks Professor Lott by pointing to other issues on which she disagrees with him, such as whether decisions about allowing smoking in restaurants should be made by individual restaurants or by the government. These issues obviously have nothing to do with the technical validity of Professor’s Lott’s findings about the effect of concealed handgun laws. Ms. Rand happens to be a vehement opponent of tort reform; should people who disagree with her on this issue therefore dismiss anything else she says?

The Rand form letter asserts that Lott’s study is flawed, but she does not point to even a single flaw in Professor Lott’s research, which looked at over 50 variables from every county in the United States, over a 15 year period.

Ms. Rand says that researchers at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins have criticized the University of Chicago study, but she does not specify what those criticisms are. Nor does Ms. Rand let on to the fact that all of the issues raised by other researchers are addressed in detail in Professor Lott’s paper, which was published in the rigorous, peer-reviewed Journal of Legal Studies earlier this year. The most powerful criticism–which Professor Lott accepts–is that the decline in some violent crimes, such as murder, does not occur all at once when a concealed handgun law is enacted, but instead takes place over several years.

The Lott/Mustard study concludes: "If the rest of the country had adopted right-to-carry concealed handgun provisions in 1992, at least 1,570 murders and over 4,177 rapes would have been avoided." Happily, over a dozen states since 1992 have adopted concealed handgun license laws. But unhappily, Colorado was prevented from doing so by Governor Romer’s veto.

Gun control advocates chant the mantra: "If the law would save just one life, it is worth it." Right-to-carry legislation will save much more than one life and prevent much more than one rape every year in Colorado.

The mean-spirited distortions from the anti-gun lobby show just how weak the case against concealed carry really is. Colorado is sure to have a concealed carry law within a few years. But the longer that the gun prohibition lobby and its political allies make us wait, the more murders, robberies, and rapes the good people of Colorado will have to suffer.

Chris Little is a Senior Fellow, and David Kopel is Research Director with the Independence Institute, a free-market think in Golden.

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