I've been reading Lott's new book, The Bias against Guns. Chapter 3 is entitled "How the Government Works against Gun Ownership". The heart of the chapter is on pages 53--55, where he argues that the National Academy of Sciences stacks its panels against guns.
His first example is their panel on firearms research. He argues that the panel was set up "to examine only the negative side of guns". Lott writes:
Rather than comparing how firearms facilitate both harm and self-defense, the panel was only asked to examine "firearm violence" or how "firearms may become embedded in community."
Now look at the first paragraph of the project outline. (I have emphasised the parts that Lott did not tell his readers about.)
In 1997, some 24,000 victims of non-fatal gun crimes suffered gunshot wounds, and 12,382 persons were murdered with a gun. Homicide is outstripped by suicide, which annually accounts for more than half of all people killed with guns. While it is clear that firearms are heavily involved in criminal violence, homicides, and suicides, causal pathways remain uncertain. For example, there is the unresolved question of the potential role of temperament, motivation, and circumstances that is, whether in most cases, persons who commit a suicide or homicide with a gun would, because of these other influences, find another means of doing so if no gun were available. Even if firearms contribute to lethal violence, the development of successful prevention, intervention, and control policies is a complex undertaking. Significant numbers of Americans own guns for sporting, recreational, or defensive purposes. Public officials must sort through important but competing policy objectives involving the protection of Second Amendment rights and legitimate recreational and defensive uses of guns on the one hand, and the lowering the rates of gun related mortality and injury on the other.
Nor can Lott claim to be unaware that the panel considered self-defense, because Lott was a speaker (as well as Gary Kleck) at the panel's Workshop on Self-Defense, Deterrence and Firearm Markets on Jan 16, 2002.
Lott also claims that as well as rigging the scope of discussion, the government stacked the panel with anti-gun people. He writes that panelist Steve Levitt has been described as "rabidly anti-gun", citing this article by Dave Kopel and Glenn Reynolds. Lott does not mention that Levitt denies the charge and does not mention that the accuser was anonymous. (For all we know, the accuser could have been Mary Rosh.) Lott goes on to imply that an op-ed that Levitt wrote arguing that swimming pools were more dangerous to children than guns was written for the express purpose of hiding Levitt's true feelings about guns. (There was some blogspace discussion last September of the Kopel-Reynolds smear of Levitt, with postings from Brad DeLong, Mark Kleiman and Glenn Reynolds.)
Unfortunately, this is not the only stacked National Academy of Sciences panel. During August 2002, I was asked to participate in a National Academy of Sciences day long workshop on "Children, Youth, and Gun Violence." I was one of the last people invited for the September 18 meeting. Despite my concerns that I was being included simply so that they could claim that had a "balanced panel," I was assured by the staff person who invited me, Mary Ellen O'Connell, that the workshop would be balanced. I only attended my session, and at the beginning of my talk I asked the audience of over a hundred people: "How many people here are presenters?" About twenty-five people raised their hands. I then asked of those who were presenters: "How many of you think that it might be possible, not for sure, but just possible, that existing gun control produces more problems than benefits?" All the hands went down. Not one of the presenters was even willing to acknowledge the possibility. Even worse than the bias, the problem was that the academy was unwilling to even acknowledge their biases and were unwilling to engage in a balanced debate.
Unfortunately for Lott, a recording of his talk is available online. At 18:35 in the audio we can find out what he really said:
"How many people are speakers here? How many of those people who are speakers think that on net gun regulations probably cause more problems than good? <pause> Oh, that's a pretty balanced group."
And no, the tone of his last sentence was not sarcastic. I also note that one of the people who presumably put his hand down was Dave Kopel, who was a speaker in the previous session. [Update: I am informed by someone who was there that virtually all the hands did go down, so it looks like he was being sarcastic. This doesn't help Lott very much since the question he actually asked was very different from the question he claimed he asked.]