Yale's John Lott Says...
“The bottom line should be not whether we strike a blow against the gun industry,
but what impact we are going to be having on people’s safety.”

By Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR associate editor------------lopezk@nationalreview.com

John R. Lott Jr. is a senior research scholar at the
Yale University Law School and the author of

More Guns, Less Crime:
Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws


National Review: To a New York Times reporter, one official from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said the new rules that went into effect in Massachusetts on Monday "mark the sharpest blow yet to the gun industry." How pernicious are these rules? Do you see states lining up to follow suit?

John Lott: It’s sad that they phrase it in that way, as a "blow to the gun industry." The bottom line should be not whether we strike a blow against the gun industry, but what impact we are going to be having on people’s safety. I have real concerns about these rules in Massachusetts. When they decide to essentially ban so-called "Saturday Night Specials," inexpensive guns, like they have here, it is the poor people in high-crime urban areas who aren’t going to be able to defend themselves.

As for the impact this might have on other states, it’s interesting to note that these restrictions weren’t part of a law that was passed. It was, rather, an attorney general who issued these rules unilaterally. I don’t think they could pass. In fact, there have been attempts to pass similar types of safety rules in Massachusetts--and they haven’t been successful.

These rules generally — whether they be effectively banning certain types of guns or mandating "childproof locks" — will create future problems. There’s no such thing as a lock that’s impossible to tamper with. I’m concerned that there will be a mandatory "tamper-proof" lock. Then, at some point in the future, someone will discover that the lock can be tampered with, so there will be legal action against companies that are selling the guns with the locks. The [government] will say, "Did you realize that this lock was not tamper-proof?" And the gun manufacturers will say, "Yes." But they’ll face violations of the law for having sold the guns even though they knew that their guns were not able to stand up to this "tamper-proof" standard. I think that what’s largely going on here is an effort to raise the price of guns, make it impossible to sell many types of guns — if not handguns completely — and make it so that over time the number of law-abiding citizens who own guns will decline, and make it easier for more stringent rules to pass in the future.

NR: In one news story, the author ends the article by explaining that "less than of all handguns models have load indicators or magazine disconnects." And then it says that a "GAO study of accidental shootings found that 30 percent of them could have been prevented with the devices." Is it disingenuous to throw out numbers like that?

Lott: The author is referring to a GAO study that was done during the early ’90s when the Democrats were in control of Congress. You’ve got to multiply these percentages by the numbers that are involved. Let’s say even if I accept 30 percent — which, to be honest, I have a hard time believing--there are two things to bear in mind: First of all, the GAO study said that gun locks were only reliable in stopping accidental shootings for children under the age of seven. Now, the number of accidental gun deaths for children under the age of seven is actually very small. There’s no direct breakdown for six-year-olds and under, but there is a breakdown for under age five. And for children under age five in 1996, there were 17 accidental gun deaths in the United States. So, let’s say 30 percent of those 17 would have been eliminated, well then you’re talking about something like six. That’s important. It would be nice to eliminate those. When you’re talking about handguns, you’re only talking about a couple that are identified as involving handguns. So, it’s not even clear how many of those you can get rid of. Secondly, I don’t really think the GAO study went into who’s firing these guns. Even when you’re talking about young children dying, it’s rarely a young child who is firing the gun. It’s almost always somebody who is in their twenties or who is an alcoholic or a drug addict or somebody who has a history of arrest for violent crimes. I have a hard time understanding how if you impose these rules--if I have a lock on the gun — how it’s going to stop somebody who is in their twenties — who is an adult — from firing his own gun. Surely they are going to be the ones who are going to be able to unlock them.

Finally, the studies out there that have looked at either the accessibility of guns or storage rules for guns don’t find an impact on accidental gun deaths. The main reason for that — in particular with regard to the storage law--is that the type of people that these laws would affect, law-abiding citizens, are the ones for whom the risk of an accidental gunshot involving a child is essentially zero to begin with. The types of families where you are likely to see something bad occur are the ones which have drug problems or other criminal activities going on. I don’t really think you are going to be able to affect their behavior very much by passing these laws. When you look at the safe-storage laws you have in 17 states now in the United States, they had increases in violent crime occurring after the passage of those laws--because they made it more difficult for people to be able to defend themselves. It seemed to be of no benefit in terms of reducing accidental gun deaths. My concern is, what is the net effect on deaths? Even if one believes there might be some small impact — the people that keep on arguing that are talking about just a few deaths a year.

NR: At last week’s annual Children’s Defense Fund conference, just about every main event was prefaced with the same rallying cry to "stop the violence." It became chant-like by the end of the weekend that 12 kids die every day because of guns. How dangerous is this kind of talk?

Lott: It’s very dangerous, because it causes people to think that having guns around the home is much more dangerous than it actually is. I think that causes people to make mistakes that endanger their safety.

President Clinton has mentioned this claim over and over in the last month after the Kayla Rowland death in Michigan, essentially using the number of deaths per day as a justification for trigger locks. What he doesn’t point out, and what is misleading about this, is that when you look at the public-service ads that the Clinton administration has put out within the last couple of years they have pictures or voices of young children, who are under ten always, usually seven or eight years old. That’s the impression that people get — that these are these young kids that are dying when they talk about these 11 or 12 deaths per day. The problem is that that is a complete misrepresentation, because about 70 percent of those deaths involve 17,- 18-, and 19-year-olds. The deaths that they have are for people under the age of 20. The 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds are primarily homicides in high-crime urban areas, primarily involving gangs. To go and argue that trigger locks are going to be relevant in stopping 19-year-old gang members from getting into a gang fight in an urban area seems bizarre to me. When you break down the numbers to correspond to the images that people are trying to make, you find that just a little bit over 2 percent of the deaths involve children under the age of 10. That’s a significant 2 percent, but it’s probably a lot smaller than people are getting the impression of when they hear these claims bandied about. I think it’s sad that they have to go and distort these numbers.

Crime is Down around the country, Except in the Whitehouse.


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