(from The Criminologist Vol 25, No 5 Sep/Oct 2000 pp 1,6)

In a recent issue of the Criminologist, Otis Duncan raises concerns about my writings. He discusses a wide range of issues from the estimated number of defensive gun uses and the rate at which defensive uses result in the gun being fired to even the significance of why the NRA doesn’t cite certain aspects of my research. Let me go through the different points raised by Duncan:

  1. In discussing my op-ed pieces, Duncan notes that “It is especially noteworthy that Lott does not credit Kleck with the estimate of 2.5 million.” (p. 5)

    Unfortunately, unlike scholarly publications, there is simply not space in an op-ed piece or on a television show (such as Hardball) to cite all the sources upon which the figures one references are based. Usually one is constrained to a total of 700 to 900 words in op-ed pieces. Indeed as Duncan himself notes (p. 5). my book both mentions “the 2.5 million annual DGUs” as arising from Kleck as well my mild “reservations” about the evidence. Yet, I am not really sure of the point that Duncan is raising. The reference that Duncan makes to the Business Week article attributing the 2.5 million number to myself is strange because the Business Week piece was a book review and, as Duncan himself notes, my book clearly referenced Kleck. As I told Duncan last year in a telephone conversation, I had no idea why the estimated 2.5 million defensive gun uses was attributed to me. I am an admirer of Gary Kleck’s work, and I think that he deserves great credit for the work that he has done advancing the study of crime.

  2. Duncan (p. 5) is concerned about where the reference to “fifteen national polls” comes from, when the Kleck and Gertz (1995) piece provides a table that only lists twelve national and three state level polls. What is not mentioned by Duncan is that the twelve polls do not even include Kleck’s own work and do not include subsequent surveys by Cook and Ludwig as well as my own research, thus producing a total of fifteen surveys.
  3. What about the different references (p. 5) to “about 2 million” or “over 2 million defensive uses” and at other times refer to “2.5 million” times?

    The 2.5 million estimate obviously comes from Kleck. The “about 2 million” reference is the average of the 15 national surveys and is very similar to my own estimate of a little over 2 million defensive uses. The survey that I oversaw interviewed 2,424 people from across the United States. It was done in large part to see for myself whether the estimates put together by other researchers (such as Gary Kleck) were accurate. The estimates that I obtained implied about 2.1 million defensive gun uses, a number somewhat lower than Kleck’s. However, I also found a significantly higher percentage of them (98 percent) involved simply brandishing a gun. My survey was conducted over 3 months during 1997. I had planned on including a discussion of it in my book, but did not do so because an unfortunate computer crash lost my hard disk right before the final draft of the book had to be turned in.

    Duncan raises a related issue that “Lott may well have read Will, in as much as Will’s article is in the bibliography of More Guns, Less Crime. … Did Lott borrow the ’98 percent’ from Kleck . . . from Snyder, via Will? Even if that account explains part of the puzzle, the question remains. Where did the 2 million come from?” (Page 6) The course that Duncan tries to follow – from a 1988 article by Kleck to a 1993 piece by Snyder to George Will to my book because it cites Will – is fascinating. Yet, I am not sure why this entire discussion was necessary since I told Duncan on the telephone last year that the “98 percent” number came from the survey that I had done and I had also mentioned the source for the 2 million number.

  4. I am not really sure what to make of Duncan’s references to whether the NRA cites different parts of my research. The NRA obviously is an organization with an agenda, and they probably find that certain material better fits in with their discussions. I certainly don’t draw much of a conclusion whatsoever from the fact that they don’t reference my results on such issues as the Brady Law, state waiting periods, background checks, or penalties for using guns in the commission of crime. If Duncan for some reason is concerned about the NRA’s views, instead of simply trying to infer their motivations, why doesn’t he simply contact them and ask them why they don’t reference certain parts of my research?
John R. Lott, Jr.
Senior Research Scholar
School of Law
Yale University