Lott’s letter to the Economist

Kevin Drum is dismayed that the Economist has printed a letter from Lott:

Contrary to your claims of the Americanisation of armed robbery in Britain, one could only hope that robbery in England and Wales was truly becoming Americanised (“You’re history“, January 3rd). The International Crime Victimisation Survey shows that for 2000, the latest year available, the robbery rate in England and Wales was twice America’s rate.

Equally tellingly, your figure shows that armed robberies stopped falling in England and Wales in 1997 and started rising dramatically almost immediately afterwards. Was not the 1997 handgun ban in Britain supposed to reduce armed robberies? By contrast, American robbery rates have fallen during the 1990s just as more and more Americans have been able to carry concealed handguns for protection.

Lott is up to his usual tricks in his letter. First, although the article was about armed robbery, he compares the English and American robbery rates, instead of the firearm robbery rates. That makes an enormous difference. In the US, 40% of robberies involve firearms, while in England the figure is 4% (see section 3.20). I don’t think that we should hope that the 4% figure turns into 40%.

Second, he tries to blame the increase in firearms robberies after 1997 on the handgun ban and misstates the purpose of the ban. The ban was a response to the shootings at Dunblane and was intended to prevent something like that happening again. Nor is their a plausible mechanism for it to have increased firearms robberies.

Third, while robbery rates have fallen in the 90s in the US, Lott does not mention that they fell the most in the states that did not make it easier for people to carry concealed guns.

The address for letters to the Economist is letters@economist.com.

Comments

  1. #1 :
    January 26, 2004

    Yes, the handgun ban was a response to Dunblane, but it was not exclusively intended to prevent a future incident. But the Cullen Inquiry accepted some and rejected other submissions concerning the relationship between gun ownership and violent crime, and if presentation speaches (ie Jack Straw’s) were anything to go by, the governments did intend for the gun ban to reduce violent crime.

  2. #2 :
    January 26, 2004

    Yes, the handgun ban was a response to Dunblane, but it was not exclusively intended to prevent a future incident. But the Cullen Inquiry accepted some and rejected other submissions concerning the relationship between gun ownership and violent crime, and if presentation speaches (ie Jack Straw’s) were anything to go by, the governments did intend for the gun ban to reduce violent crime.

  3. #3 :
    January 26, 2004

    Yes, the handgun ban was a response to Dunblane, but it was not exclusively intended to prevent a future incident. But the Cullen Inquiry accepted some and rejected other submissions concerning the relationship between gun ownership and violent crime, and if presentation speaches (ie Jack Straw’s) were anything to go by, the governments did intend for the gun ban to reduce violent crime.

  4. #4 :
    January 26, 2004

    Yes, the handgun ban was a response to Dunblane, but it was not exclusively intended to prevent a future incident. But the Cullen Inquiry accepted some and rejected other submissions concerning the relationship between gun ownership and violent crime, and if presentation speaches (ie Jack Straw’s) were anything to go by, the governments did intend for the gun ban to reduce violent crime.

  5. #5 ThinkTank
    January 26, 2004

    not nearly as accurate I think as using A)Reported crime, B)Hospital Records, and C) last of all these “victimization surveys.” If A and B agree with C it passes the smell test, if they don’t its got problems.

  6. #6 Brett Bellmore
    January 26, 2004

    Of course… It’s so much better to be robbed with a knife or a club, that we should just ignore all robberies committed with weapons other than guns.

  7. #7 Toby
    January 26, 2004

    Tim, wasn’t the British increase in reported violent crime in 1997 largely (or entirely) due to an increase in reporting of crime, rather than an increase in actual crime? I remember you discussing that a while ago on your blog, and linking to the home office report that stated it.

  8. #8 Tim Lambert
    January 26, 2004

    Brett,it is better to be robbed with a knife or a club. Such robberies are much less likely to end up with a dead victim.

  9. #9 Kevin Baker
    January 26, 2004

    Can you back that up with stats? Say, percentage of U.S. robberies committed with a knife resulting in death vs. percentage of robberies committed with handguns? I’ve never seen such a comparison. I have seen a comparison that says that being attacked with a knife is just about as lethal as being attacked with a handgun, though. (Neither are remarkably deadly.) Remember, in the U.S. we have a higher non-firearm homicide rate than the total homicide rate of most European countries.

  10. #10 dsquared
    January 26, 2004

    Thinktank: You’ve got the order of reliability exactly the reverse way round. Lots of crime goes unreported, mainly because nobody likes a grass. Overcome your prejudice against survey methodolog in this case; it’s pretty settled criminology that they’re best.

    Kevin: Your finger can’t slip on the trigger of a knife.

    I sign off with my usual pessimistic conclusion that all international criminological comparisions are bogus, because you simply can’t control for crime cycles or differing degrees of urbanisation. The rate of homicide in the UK for people not connected to two or three drug smuggling organisations is massively different from the aggregate number.

  11. #11 Michael Peckham
    January 26, 2004

    dsquared, what does “nobody likes a grass” mean? From the context, it sounds like “nobody likes to bother with the fuzz,” but I’ve never heard that expression before.

  12. #12 Tim Lambert
    January 26, 2004

    Kevin, Zimring and Zeuhl studied Chicago robberies and found that with-gun robberies were 3 times as likely to result in death as with-knife robberies. You can get their data here.

    Kleck did a study on violent crime that found that gun crimes were five times as lethal as knife crimes. He screwed up the interpretation of the results and claimed that it showed that guns and knives were almost the same. Perhaps this is what you were thinking about. (Not being Lott, Kleck conceded the error when it was pointed out to him.)

    Michael, “nobody likes a grass” means “nobody likes a dobber”. Errr, if a person told the troopers that the swagman had stolen a jumbuck and hidden it in his tucker bag, then that person would be a dobber.

  13. #13 Kevin Baker
    January 26, 2004

    Good stuff.

  14. #14 Michael Peckham
    January 26, 2004

    Tim, gotcha re: “nobody likes a grass.” Perhaps you should write all of your entries in Aussie slang from now on.

  15. #15 ThinkTank
    January 26, 2004

    reported crime as a close guestimation is about 50% of the total.

  16. #16 Toby
    January 26, 2004

    Sorry, slight error in my previous post – when I said reporting of Crime, what I meant to say was _recording_ of crime. The methods used by British police for counting crime, and the categorization of offences, changed at this time, and that was responsible for the jump. The reporting, of crime, through the British Crime Survey, decreased over this time (or at least didn’t show a big jump the way the crime rate did).

    The crime survey concerned was administered by the British Home Office, so it should be believable. Tim discussed it ages ago – click on the ‘UK’ link and scroll to the bottom if you want some more details.

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