Statement by David Gross

[This is an email sent to John Lott that Lott posted to the firearmsregprof mailing list on January 20, 2003.]

I believe that in my emails to you and in my conversation with James Lindgren, I have stimulated just about all of my memories and impressions that I’m going to have concerning the survey that I took, without having any substitutions and additions by any possible suggestion, express or implied. I do not wish to be seen as a partisan in this matter, for I am not. I also am unwilling to speculate. My recollections and impressions of the survey that I took are now closed to prevent any accusations that I am having “convenient” recollections. I simply refuse to get in the middle of this any more than I already have. I am a witness who has come forward; I don’t have a dog in this fight.

I wish I had a perfect memory, but I don’t. I have, however, an excellent memory for a human being, with all that entails. In matters of the highest importance to me and which affect me personally, and I know that they are significant to me, my complete and accurate recall of detail (because I was paying strict attention) and producing corroborative documents and witnesses can be astounding and confounding. Ask my former employer concerning the first time they attempted to fire me in 1992 for being politically incorrect. I was reinstated 9 months later with back pay, accumulated seniority, and vacation and sick time, and they had no clue what to do with me. :-) Well, they did; but it took them another 2 1/2 years to get rid of me and it involved putting my life at risk over my permit to carry and the threats on my life because of my work.

In this matter, I have a memory of the survey, which was interesting to me, but not personally significant, as I had a permit to carry for personal protection at the time. By that time, I had been fired from my public employment in 1994 for brandishing a firearm on November 2, 1993 against the very person whose threats caused the permit to be issued, and possibly saving my life. A police investigation into the incident resulted in no charges being even considered, as the matter was “exceptionally cleared – self-defense.” My economic analysis of the situation was that the benefits of being alive and fired/unemployed far outweighed the costs of being fully employed and dead. Different strokes for different folks; that’s economics for you. Let’s just say that my specific memory and impressions of the 1993 incident far and away outstrip any detailed recollection of the survey, and perhaps emotionally color my recollections of the survey, with the exception of the recollection of being briefly surveyed on this rather arcane, and for Minnesota, “politically incorrect,” subject matter. I also clearly remember seeing John Lott in Minneapolis in early 1999 and commenting to him, as an aside, that I had been surveyed on some of the issues he had covered, involving defensive use of a firearm, a couple of years before.

If it is of any help, I undertake to summarize the audiotape from the event in it’s possibly relevant areas to the matter under discussion, especially as it corroborates my recollections and impressions of the short survey involving use of firearms in self defense that I took “a couple of years” before January 27, 1999 that was asked by a male student who represented himself as being from some institution in the area of Chicago. As I mentioned to Mr. Lindgren, that fact had a soothing and reassuring impact on me, because of my connections with Chicago, having applied to both Northwestern and the University of Chicago, myself (accepted at both); my son having applied to and having been accepted at Northwestern (he decided on Colorado College, has graduated, and is never coming back); several good friends from Law School with whom I have had close contact (two of whom graduated from Northwestern); my contact with Dan Polsby after the Atlantic Monthly article several years ago; and my frequent visits there with Leroy Pyle, who has since moved to Alameda, CA; and on and on and on; not to mention my respect for the Chicago School of Economics as championed by Milton Friedman oh so many years ago when I was studying economics at the University of Pennsylvania (I was not in the Wharton School, John, but I took many classes there). It is, perhaps, my training in economics, as my major field of study, way back when, that causes John’s econometric/social science approach and analysis to resonate with me so powerfully and clearly.

The bottom line is that listening to the audiotape, today, has confirmed the recollections that I had of the survey and the timing and the comment that I made to John as his presentation was concluded and he was going to the Minnesota Legislature to testify before a committee concerning his research and his book and his conclusions concerning citizen carry of firearms. I am necessarily selective, and this reflects MY perceptions of relevance; so, please bear with me.

  • 6 minutes into the tape, John Lott says that the “Media focus on tragic outcomes” is responsible for misimpressions.
  • 6 minutes, 12 seconds into the tape, John mentions “16 national surveys” including the L.A. Times, CNN, Gallop, Peter Harten (sp?) and Associates, and “several universities” that show that “at least two million times a year” citizens use firearms defensively to prevent crime and says this is “rarely discussed.”
  • 6 minutes, 58 seconds into the tape, John mentions that a completed, tragic crime is more newsworthy than that of “a woman brandishing a gun and her attacker or rapist ran away.”
  • 7 minutes, 24 seconds into the tape, John alleges that these “misimpressions have real costs” in frightening people and preventing them “from defending themselves and their families.”
    John begins to discuss what he calls “myths” concerning guns.
  • 7 minutes, 50 seconds into the tape, under the heading of the myth of “passive behavior is best,” he states that “brandishing a gun” is the most effective deterrent to being a crime victim.
  • At 13:45, John begins to discuss myth #4, that the “Family Gun is a Risk to the Family” (my synopsis). His first concern was those studies that don’t bother to ask whether the gun kept in the home was the gun used in the killing. He concluded that there was a “96% false attribution” there.
  • At 14:30, John states that “98% of the time” defensive use of a gun does not involve discharge: “Simply brandishing a gun is sufficient to cause a criminal to break off an attack.”
  • Further, at 14:57, he states, “less than 2% of the time is the gun fired, and only in a fraction of that is the gun directed/fired AT the criminal.”
  • John continues on to decry other studies’ “ignoring all those times when there are “warning shots” (15:02) or when “the criminal simply runs away” by “focusing on only those times when the attacker is killed.”

So, there you have it, as far as I can see relevancy.

I draw one simple and direct conclusion from all of the circumstances: I was surveyed by one of John’s students.

It goes beyond any statistical possibility that I was surveyed by anyone else, given the timing, the subject matter, its brevity, it’s precise focus, etc.. The clincher, for me, was my recollection, last night, in my note to John, that there was a question concerning warning shots as a distinct category of discharge as opposed to a shot directed/fired AT the criminal. From my letter, last night to John, before I listened to the tape of his talk, today:

“I don’t recall whether the survey was limited to permits to carry and usage, or whether the subject matter was the broader “defensive use” to include use on private property. I think it was the broader question, because I know that I mentioned those two significant incidents in my life as defensive use. I seem to recall, at this point, some question about a “warning shot,” concerning discharge of a firearm, but I’m not sure.”

I had not listened to the tape, when I wrote that note, because I hadn’t even begun to look for it yet. I had just concluded my conversation with James Lindgren and was responding to an email from John requesting permission (as it turns out, belatedly) to forward my initial contact with him to others; reporting that I had been contacted by James Lindgren, already; and amplifying my comments on what I remembered; as well as obligating myself to try to find the audiotape, something I had recalled since I first contacted him, and which I had mentioned during my conversation with James Lindgren.

Yet, as clear as day, in the tape of the talk, as I listened this morning, was the distinction between warning shots as a discharge (a distinct category, or part of “brandishing”) and shots directed/fired AT the criminal. Bingo! That was the sound of a synapse firing, ladies and gentlemen. :-)

The 98% figure is not only set out in his talk, but further, briefly explored/defined. He does not, anywhere that I could find in the tape, say that he was the one who had developed the figure and its nuances. But it was clear to me, then, whoever did conduct the survey, that I had been a respondent in that survey; and I mentioned it to John in passing.

Now, I’m sure that it was John’s survey. I’ll bet the house on it. I have no reasonable doubts based on logic, evidence, and common sense.

I’ll accept further questions, and even grillings, from anyone on this list or those to whom you direct that I submit. But, please, understand that this is not my life’s work: a side issue that isn’t presented as bearing on the central thesis of John’s book; nor does it bear on the central thesis of John’s book; and the study has been properly and rigorously recreated/redone. Somebody get a grip on something called “perspective,” here.

And somebody, please, anybody, get me James Lindgren’s email address so that I don’t have to get him everything second hand and around the Horn. Since he is mentioned in my writing, he deserves a direct copy of it.

David M. Gross