If itâs Thursday, Lott must be cherry picking

Lott has an article in the National Review Online where he claims that the Washingtonian DC handgun ban caused crime increases:

Crime rose significantly after the gun ban went into effect. In the five years before Washington's ban in 1976, the murder rate fell from 37 to 27 per 100,000. In the five years after it went into effect, the murder rate rose back up to 35. During this same time, robberies fell from 1,514 to 1,003 per 100,000 and then rose by over 63 percent, up to 1,635.

i-406bcc36845f80a1b831a56bf1c3e647-dccrime.png I've graphed the homicide and robbery rates for the ten years on either side of the law so you can see how Lott cherry picked his numbers as usual. (Data is from here.) Notice how the crime rates fluctuate from year to year. If you choose one year at random to represent the situation after the law was passed their is a good chance that it will be unrepresentative. Of course, Lott didn't just choose one year at random. He chose 1981, which just happens to be the year that had the highest homicide and robbery rates of the ten following years.

The law was also in effect for only part of 1976, so that year is not a good choice to represent the situation before the law.

If you look at the graphs you will see that homicides tended to be lower after the law and robberies were about the same. Of course, just looking at the graphs only gives a rough idea of the possible effects of the law. This has been studied by several researchers. Loftin at al (NEJM 325:1615-1620) found significant decreases in firearms homicides and no significant change in non-firearms homicides. Kleck et al (Law & Society Review 30(2):361-380) disputed their findings, arguing that the law had no effect. Whoever is correct, there is no drafted support for Lott's claim that the law caused crime increases.

Over on his blog, Lott presents a graph showing crime rates. And it looks good for his case---it's V shaped, with the bottom of the V right when the law was passed. Except that he graphed the overall crime rate. The majority of crimes are non-violent ones like larceny, where handguns are not a factor, even offensively or defensively. His graph isn't even remotely relevant but if he graphed something relevant like homicide it wouldn't support his case.

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From Lott's blog, we have a link to

this piece

by John Fund, the apparent source for Lott's cherry-picked statistics. Fund says

Preventing law-abiding people from owning guns in their homes (there is no talk of allowing residents the right to carry concealed handguns) has done nothing to reduce crime, which has skyrocketed in part due to police mismanagement and corruption. In the five years after the ban took effect in 1976, the murder rate rose to 35 per 100,000 people from 27. In fact, in the three decades since the ban took effect, the annual murder rate has only once fallen below what it was in 1976. In 2002 the murder rate hit 46 per 100,000 people. Robbery rates have also risen dramatically.

Lott has used Fund's words almost verbatim, without attribution (although I suspect Fund does not object), along with the numbers.

And what in the world does Fund mean by his aside about "allowing residents the right to carry concealed handguns"? Does he figure that homeowners need to pack their heat in shoulder holsters under their pajamas?

You can't be too careful with your spouse, I guess.

definitely, under the jammies.

Lott is really stinking up the place.

I would suggest you allow for the halo effect and free riders - 'hot burglaries' and larceny may be affected by the perceived risk of being shot by armed people at home. These are far more common crimes than murders, and the Wright et al NIJ study (1980's) found this was a clear motivator for behaviors of criminals.

Not that I like cherry picking myself.

I've got to stick up for John Lott's honour as a cherry-picker here. He didn't steal a cherry that Fund picked. Fund probably got his article from a Lott article he published last year. I only had to reword my critique of that article a bit to make it apply to his "new" one.

Chris, in hte US, the level of gun ownership seems to have no effect on the "hot burglary" rate. See here.

Tim "the cherry picker" Lambert is at it again. Note that Lott's piece writes "In fact, while murder rates have varied over time, during the almost 30 years since the ban, the murder rate has only once fallen below what it was in 1976." But Tim forgets to note that after Lott states the increase experienced for the five years immediately after the law, Lott says that it goes up and down after that.

Of couse, in addition, Tim fails to note that Lott's website also links to the original data up through 2000 and if he wanted to graph out another year or so for the index crimes beyond the natural stopping point of 1980 Lott could have gotten even bigger increases in index crime. If you look at the link lott gives for the different crime numbers he could have put together very similar graphs for robbery murder and other crimes. I don't understand why Tim believes that property crimes like burglary will not be affected by the gun ban.

So your defence of Lott is that he could have cherry picked even more if he had tried harder? How is a graph of the total crime rate even remotely relevant?

Tim, thanks for the background. I realized after posting that I did not know for sure who was quoting whom, but I lacked the familiarity with Lott's paper trail that might have let me sort it out.

It bears noting that the timing of these two articles is no accident. The House


referred to in both the Lott and Fund opinion pieces was approved just this past week. It is one of

several bills

on hot-button issues introduced by Republicans in Congress to embarrass Democrats just before the election.

The Republican leadership hopes to get votes on Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage and flag-burning, and a law blocking federal courts from reviewing the inclusion of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. I expect the Democrats would be doing the same kind of thing if they were in power, but that doesn't make it smell any better.

The DC gun ban is part of this push.

Due to a quirk of law, the House has oversight over DC affairs, creating a temptation for congressmen to introduce bills nominally having to do with the District, but really intended to play well back home. Mark Souder's rural Indiana constituency has little in common with Washington, DC, but its residents will by God stand up for the rights of DC citizens to be well-armed.

The irony of all this was

not lost

on Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's own (non-voting) member of Congress.

Interesting discussion but really nothing new.
This stat says you're safer around a gun and that stat says you're at greater risk. Really moot don't you think? Consider the law of the land in the US. That would be the Constitution of the United States. And those pesky amendments in the Bill of Rights. To wit, the second. So does it really matter if some research supports the notion of less guns less crime or more guns less crime? It's not that the law allows Americans to have guns. The law prevents the government from making laws that deprive Americans of guns. The law is this way because of the philosophies of the founders of the US. To change this particular law is a difficult process. Not to say there are not laws restricting and even banning guns in the US. Lawmakers in the US in modern times have shown a propensity to make law in violation of their constitution knowing their trespass might be contested in court but also cognizant that a larger number of the judges deciding such issues are amenable to overlooking everything except the most blatant violations if even then. The result is a hodge-podge of firearms laws. Some that make no sense at all.
So it's not a question of numbers. It's a question of law. Regardless of the numbers, americans want to own guns. And they own alot of guns. It is impossible to remove many guns from american society. The process was started. The internet and it's flow of information killed the process. The more people that learned the truth about gun control the more unpopular gun control laws became. Witness the increase in states that passed laws requiring "shall-issue concealed carry" and the failure of the american legislators to renew the assault weapons ban.
You may not like it. You may think it is insane. The statistics may even support your point of view. You might even be safer if you don't have a gun. That doesn't hold true for me. But none of that matters because the law says. And we ain't changin' it.

Thanks for the non sequitur. And the idiots-eye-view of gun control legislation in America was really unenlightening as well. As was the idiots-eye-view of the process of amending the US Constitution.

The really funny thing to me about Lott's cherry-picking is that he cherry-picked a high point *prior* to the passage of the law. It makes for a really pretty curve. It makes the passage of the gun control law particularly malign- it even manages to increase crime backwards in time!? Or something. To make his case intelligently, he should've cherry-picked a point that had similar crime to 1976; that way, he could say "see, everything was just going along fine until the bill was passed."
Adding that spike before the bill passed to impress the unintelligent reader merely makes the intelligent reader realize that there's probably a lot more noise than signal in his graph. Even without the cherry-pick.


By Carleton Wu (not verified) on 01 Oct 2004 #permalink

Hold on there. Have you thought to have M&M look at that graph before you put it up. Could be riddled with errors.

Jim wrote, And those pesky amendments in the Bill of Rights. To wit, the second.

But Jim ignore a phrase in the second amendment. To wit, the first. ("A well-regulated militia,...").