Myth #6b - "Lott and Mustard's study is just gun industry propaganda!"

Myth #6b - "Lott and Mustard's study is just gun industry propaganda!"

In the most comprehensive study yet conducted on the effects of the recent concealed carry reform laws in the U.S., two economists at the University of Chicago examined county level and statewide data for the entire United States from 1977 to 1992, obtained from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) program. Their conclusions that concealed carry reform laws have had a measurable effect in reducing violent crime rates, have prompted a barrage of criticism in the press by anti-gun activists, but the response of their academic colleagues has been much more cautious.

Lott and Mustard found that county-level violent crime rates declined by 4.90% in states where concealed-carry laws went into effect, and that for specific categories of violent crime, the benefits associated with concealed-carry laws were even greater. County-level murder rates declined 7.65% in concealed-carry states, rapes declined 5.27%, and aggravated assaults declined by 7.01%. Based upon the numbers of violent crimes reported in 1992 in counties without concealed-carry reform laws, Lott and Mustard conclude that "at least 1,414 murders and over 4,177 rapes would have been avoided" in 1992 if states which lacked these laws instead had them in effect. The rate of robbery, while it was observed to decline in those counties where statewide concealed-carry laws went into effect, did not register such a dramatic change, dropping only 2.21%. Considering this decline in absolute terms, as above, concealed-carry reform would have meant 11,898 fewer robberies in 1992. Aggravated assaults in 1992 would have declined by 60,363 incidents, according to the same analysis.

Property crimes, however, increased 2.69% in counties where statewide concealed-carry went into effect, with the largest jump occurring in auto theft, which increased 7.14%. Lott and Mustard argue that this finding supports "the notion that criminals respond to incentives" and "criminals respond substantially to the threat of being shot by instead substituting into less risky crimes" where contact with a potentially armed victim is less likely. Even with this increase in property crime, Lott and Mustard estimate a net economic gain from allowing concealed handguns of over $5.74 billion in 1992 dollars, using methods similar to those of a 1996 National Institute of Justice study which attempted to estimate economic losses due to crime.

The changes in crime rates associated with concealed-carry reform laws were not evenly distributed geographically or demographically, according to the authors. Counties with larger populations showed larger effects, both greater declines in violent crime, and greater increases in property crime. When county-level data are aggregated, such as when considering state-level crime rates, low-crime rural counties and high-crime urban areas are lumped together, tending to average out their differences. Indeed, state-level analysis of the data set used by Lott and Mustard reflects decreases in property crime associated with concealed-carry laws across the country instead of increases! In the state-level analysis, violent crime rates declined 10.11% (rather than 4.9% as seen the county-level analysis), murder rates declined 8.62%, rape rates declined 6.07%, aggravated assault declined 10.9%, and robbery declined 14.21%. Property crime rates, which are observed to increase in the county-level analysis show a decline of 4.19% when analysis is done with state-level data aggregation. Auto theft, rather than showing an increase, declines very slightly in the state-level analysis, down 0.88%.

Counties with larger populations are more likely to have had restrictive carry laws than low population counties, and so it is in these counties where the presumed benefits of liberalizing concealed-carry will be seen most strongly. "The implication for existing studies is that simply using state level data rather than county data will bias the results against finding any impact from passing right-to-carry provisions," the authors note. In order to better understand the changes brought by the concealed-carry reform laws, differences between the counties in arrest and conviction rates for various crimes, sentence lengths, and rates of issuance of carry permits before and after the laws also need to be controlled for, though such complete data were only available for a small subset of counties in the Lott/Mustard study. Data for counties in Arizona, Oregon and Pennsylvania showed that counties with higher arrest rates had lower crime rates, and the Pennsylvania data show a strong correlation between issuance of concealed handgun permits and decreased violent crime. The Oregon data did show decreases in violent crime correlated with concealed carry permits, but the effects were not nearly so dramatic. The Arizona law had changed too recently for any such correlation to be noticed. The authors suggest that the differences observed between Oregon and Pennsylvania may be attributable to Oregon having passed a 15-day "waiting period" law at the same time.

Despite the fact that comparatively few women have acquired carry permits, the county-level data for states issuing CCW permits show correlations with reductions in rape rates which are comparable to the reductions observed in other categories of violent crime. This suggests, Lott and Mustard argue, "that rapists are particularly susceptible to this form of deterrence," and that "providing a woman with a gun has a much bigger effect on her ability to defend herself" than does providing a gun to a man. The benefits to other women ("positive externalities," in the terms used by economists), from a woman carrying a handgun are apparently "large relative to the gain produced by an additional man carrying a concealed handgun."

Lott and Mustard also considered the question of whether increased concealed carry might result in a greater number of gun accidents. Adopting concealed carry was not found to have a statistically significant effect on gun accidents.

At the time of the release of the Lott/Mustard study, a smear originating with Josh Sugarmann's Washington-based anti-gun group, the Violence Policy Center, was picked up uncritically by several news organizations, including the Associated Press. In a press release/editorial letter signed by VPC's Kristen Rand, the claim was made that Dr. Lott's research had been "in essence, funded by the firearms industry." The tortured logic used to reach this conclusion was this: since Dr. Lott is the John M. Olin Visiting Law and Economics Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, and because the endowment for that position was provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, established by the estate of the late John M. Olin (who died in 1982), and who while he was alive was part of the family that owns Olin Corporation, one of whose subsidiary businesses makes Winchester ammunition, therefore...argumentum ad hominem. While Dr. Lott is the current occupant of that faculty position, he was not at the University of Chicago when it was created, nor is he the first professor to be the Olin fellow, nor does the Olin Foundation have any control over who gets appointed to the position (which is decided by a faculty committee), nor does the Olin Foundation (or anybody else) have input into the research topics chosen. Neither is such a fellowship unique to the University of Chicago, since the Olin Foundation has endowed chairs at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, the University of Virginia, and others. Dr. Lott's salary is paid by the University of Chicago Law School. After further investigation, the Associated Press printed a retraction of the smear, and other news organizations soon followed suit (so to speak).

The data set used in the study, which Lott and Mustard have freely released, is currently being analyzed by other researchers, and academic criticism will hopefully soon take the place of political mudslinging.

Recommended Reading:

"Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns", Lott, John R., and Mustard, David B.
J. of Legal Studies, vol.26, n.1, pp.1-68 (Jan. 1997)

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