The panel was set up during the Clinton administration, and all but one of its members (whose views on guns were publicly known before their appointments) favored gun control.
In his op-ed he doesn’t tell us who the members are who were publicly known to be “entirely pro-gun control”, but in his book The Bias Against Guns he gives three names:
- Richard Rosenfeld,
- who wrote an editorial in JAMA saying “current knowledge does not warrant relaxing or abandoning any of the Brady Act-type restrictions on handgun purchases.” OK, that seems to be supporting gun control.
- Peter Reuter,
- who studied the 1996 gun laws in Australia and wrote: Australia: A Massive Buyback of Low-Risk Guns. As you might guess from the title, Reuter seems to think that the buyback was misdirected. I don’t see how this counts as supporting gun control.
- Steve Levitt
- The only evidence that Lott offers that Levitt favours gun control is an NRO article by Dave Kopel and Glenn Reynolds who say that Levitt has been described as “rabidly antigun”. However, Reynolds and Kopel have no evidence to support this claim other than the word of a “scholar” whose identity they refuse to reveal. The anonymous scholar is probably none other than Lott. The whole story is here.
Even if we are extra generous to Lott and let him count both Rosenfeld and Reuter, that is only two out of eighteen panel members who support gun control. Notice the way he made it sound like almost all of them supported it.
Of course, it may be that all the others are secret supporters of gun control—the real test of whether the panel was biased is whether their report was biased. Lott claims that it is; that it ignores the evidence that shows that gun control is harmful.
It’s bad enough that the panel backed away from its own survey and empirical work; worse yet is that it didn’t really look objectively at all the evidence. If it had, it would have found not just that gun control doesn’t help solve the problems of crime, suicide and gun accidents, but that it may actually be counterproductive.
The panel simply ignored many studies showing just that. For example, the research on gun locks that the panel considered examined only whether accidental gun deaths and suicides were prevented. There was no mention of research that shows that locking up guns prevents people from using them defensively.
The research that Lott claims they did not mention was conducted by Lott and Whitley on child access prevention (CAP) laws that make owners liable if a child uses an unlocked firearm. But here is what is on page 218:
Two papers evaluate the effects of CAP laws on accidents, suicide, and crime. Lott and Whitley (2002), using the same basic data and methods as in the Lott and Mustard (1997) analysis of right-to-carry laws (see Chapter 6), conclude that CAP laws have no discernible effect on juvenile accidents or suicide, but they do result in a substantial increase in violent and property crime. In sharp contrast, Cummings et al. (1997) find that CAP laws reduce accidents and may reduce suicides and homicide among youth as well, although these are imprecisely measured.
The report goes on to discuss Lott’s and Cummings’ research for another page or so. Note that Lott must have read this passage, since he states that the panel examined the research on gun locks and accidents and suicides. It is difficult to understand why Lott claimed that the panel did not mention the Lott and Whitley research.
Lott also claims:
The panel also ignored most of the studies that find a benefit in crime reduction from right-to-carry laws. It did pay attention to some non-peer reviewed papers on the right-to-carry issue, and it also noted one part of a right-to-carry study that indicated little or no benefit from such laws. What the panel didn’t point out, however, is that the authors of that particular study had concluded that data in their work did much more to show there were benefits than to debunk it.
The report has a whole chapter and three appendices on right-to-carry laws. If you compare the report’s references on carry laws with Lott’s own list of studies that Lott claims show a benefit from carry laws, you will see that most of Lott’s list appears in the panel’s references. And most of the discrepancy is because Lott padded his list with studies that were not about carry laws. As for the fact that they did not point out that the authors of “that particular study” (who were Plassman and Tideman) felt that their data was supportive of Lott’s thesis, what of it? The panel did its own analysis of Plassman and Tideman’s data and concluded that it was not supportive of Lott’s thesis. And what Lott doesn’t point out was that the panel also did its own analysis of Lott’s data and concluded that there was “no credible evidence” that carry laws either increase or decrease violent crime.
Lott next misrepresents James Q Wilson’s dissent:
James Q. Wilson, professor of management and public policy at UCLA, was the one dissenting panelist and the only member whose views were known in advance to not be entirely pro-gun control. His dissent focused on the right-to-carry issue, and the fact that emphasizing results that could not withstand peer-reviewed studies called into question the panel’s contention that right-to-carry laws had not for sure had a positive effect.
Lott doesn’t have any answer to Ayres and Donohue’s research, so all he ever does is point out that it was published in the Stanford Law Review, which like all law reviews is not peer-reviewed and imply that there must be something wrong with it. It looks like he messed up his argument this time though—there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies that contradict Ayres and Donohue. In any case, this bears no relation whatsoever to anything Wilson says in his dissent. And don’t you like the way he turns the panel’s conclusion that there was “no credible evidence” that carry laws had a positive effect into “not for sure had a positive effect”?
Lott misrepresents Wilson some more:
Wilson also said that that conclusion was inaccurate given that “virtually every reanalysis done by the committee” confirmed right-to-carry laws reduced crime. He found the committee’s only results that didn’t confirm the drop in crime “quite puzzling.” They accounted for “no control variables” — nothing on any of the social, demographic, and public policies that might affect crime — and he didn’t understand how evidence that wouldn’t get published in a peer-reviewed journal would be given such weight.
But Wilson didn’t say that Lott’s reductions in crime survived virtually every reanalysis by the committee. He said that the reductions in murder did. Contrary to the impression Lott tries to create, Wilson did not dispute the committee’s finding that Lott’s results for violent crimes other than murder were fragile. As for the results on murder, the committee’s response to Wilson’s dissent, deals with this most adequately.
If you want to know what the panel found it is probably just best to completely ignore Lott’s misrepresentations of their report and read the report or the press release or the panel’s opening statement.
Update: Lott also claims that the panel presented “a survey that covered 80 different gun-control measures”. This is not true. The survey covered 80 different firearms education programs and found:
There is almost no evidence that violence-prevention programs intended to steer children away from guns have had any effects on their behavior, knowledge, or attitudes regarding firearms. More than 80 such programs exist.