Lott on Athletes and Guns

Lott has on op-ed on gun carrying by professional athletes. As usual, he gets his facts about guns and crime wrong. Lott claims that NCVS data shows that guns are the safest means of self-protection:

Take robbery or assault. The Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey has shown for decades that providing no self-protection is by far the most likely to result in injury. Even actions other than carrying a weapon, such as screaming or trying to attract attention, are safer than passive behavior.

Let’s look at what the National Crime Victimization Survey really shows. The table below shows the injury rates for the self-protection measures Lott mentions. (Extracted from Table 7.1 of Armed by Kleck and Kates.)

Percent Injured NCVS 92-98
  Robbery Assault
Any SP with gun 13% 28%
Cooperated with O 13% 38%
Tried to attract attention 45% 70%
Screamed from pain, fear 70% 94%
All SP measures 34% 58%
No SP measures at all 24% 55%

Doing nothing is not “by far the most likely to result in injury”. In fact, for both robbery and assault folks who do nothing are less likely to be injured than if they take some self protection action and much less likely to be injured than those who screamed.

And did you notice something else badly wrong with Lott’s argument? He assumes that the injury is the result of the self-protection action. In other words, the injury was caused because the victim screamed in pain. But it is much more likely that the injury came first and caused the victim to scream in pain. The table does not tell us whether the self-protection came first or the injury came first, so we can’t say that the self-protection action caused (or prevented) injury. Fortunately for us (but not for Lott’s argument) the clever people running the NCVS thought of this and also asked if the injury was received after the the self-protection action. Here are the results:

Percent Injured after SP action
  Robbery Assault
Any SP with gun 8% 4%
Cooperated with O 7% 15%
Tried to attract attention 14% 7%
Screamed from pain, fear 22% 13%
All SP measures 7% 8%
No SP measures at all

This shows that using a gun isn’t significantly safer than other means for self-protection. Kleck puts it like this:

Consequently, while defensive gun use is generally safe, it does not appear to be as uniquely safe among self-protection methods as data from earlier NCVS data suggested.

Notice that after arguing for years that guns were the safest means of self-protection, when disconfirming data showed up, Kleck changed his opinion. How unlike Lott.

Now Lott is well aware of the table and Kleck’s analysis of it. We know he read Armed, because he posted an anonymous negative review of it. He also cites Armed in The Bias Against Guns claiming it says the opposite of what it actually says. And he also read my entry pointing out that Kleck said the opposite of what Lott claimed. Far from correcting his false statements, Lott repeats them and adds new ones. His article gives dangerously misleading advice about which self-protective actions are best during a robbery or assault.

Most of Lott’s article is stories about incidents of crime. There are only two more statistics offered. They turn out to be unsupported/wrong as well:

Well over 50 percent of NFL players are estimated to own guns. By contrast, about 45 percent of Americans generally own guns.

Notice the “are estimated”. Lott does not give a source for this estimate, but it is likely that the 50 percent number is just someone’s wild guess. And his claim that 45 percent of Americans own guns is wrong also. Even though I’ve corrected him before, he has once more confused a figure for houseold ownership with a figure for personal ownership.


  1. #1 Michael Peckham
    January 30, 2004

    Tim, do the tables you posted include fatalities in the injury rates? I’m interested to see if there are any significant differences in the different categories of self-protection incidents and their likelihood of ending in death for the victim (as opposed to injury).

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    January 30, 2004

    No, fatalities are not included.