Summary of *Gun Control Myths,* by John R. Lott
A calm, fact-based analysis of the debate over gun violence, mass shootings, and the Second Amendment
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15 , your AK-47 . ” — Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman and Democratic Presidential Candidate
If you base your opinions on emotions, each new wave of gun violence or mass shooting becomes an occasion to update your opinion on the 2nd amendment. Mainstream media paints those who defend our Constitutional rights as heartless, or worse – sociopathic. Politicians insinuate that you would have to be cruel to not want to put an end to these tragic events. And they’re half right. Everyone should indeed feel the urgency of reducing gun violence in America and around the world. But the solution to mass shootings, according to economist John R. Lott, might surprise the gun control advocates.
This Sunday, live radio listeners can hear an encore of my August 2021 program with John Lott. Be sure to tune in at 8am Pacific, or catch the podcast.
In study after study, Lott has uncovered the stunning correlation between More Guns, (and) Less Crime. While his book of the same name might sound like hyperbole at first, the facts reveal a far more nuanced picture than the anti-gun pundits and demagogues paint on the nightly news.
🏆 Gun Control Myths in 5 paragraphs
Gun Control Myths picks up where Lott’s previous books left off, debunking the primary falsehoods that are accepted as truth – chief among them that banning guns (or restricting who can buy them) has any measurable effect on crime rates or the incidence of mass shootings. Indeed, in the first chapter, Lott notes that “94 percent of mass public shootings in the United States occurred in places where general citizens were banned from carrying.” Furthermore, the notion that the United States, with its history of protecting gun ownership, has a unique homicide problem is not borne out by the data unless you cherry-pick only the countries that fit the narrative. Mexico, for example, with its strict gun control laws, has a much higher rate of gun deaths. As the old saying goes, when you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.
Another piece of often ignored data is the frequency with which homicides are prevented by the proverbial “good guy with a gun.” Gun buybacks and restrictions on legal ownership may have the perverse effect of limiting the ability of law-abiding citizens to stop shooters in the act – something that happens dozens of times each year without ever once making national headlines. The reason? Media is biased towards events that can be spun toward the conversation about gun control, and any story that suggests a valid reason to possess a gun runs contrary to the preferred narrative. Countless other homicides are prevented without a shot being fired – such as when a person brandishes a weapon at an armed home invader, who then retreats.
📕 Buy the Book → or subscribe at no cost to read the rest of the summary below
Well-funded groups receive millions from people like Michael Bloomberg to peddle the myth that regulations like the “assault weapons ban” of the 1990s had a direct effect on gun crime rates. Again, Lott points to contradictory studies that try to tease out causation from correlation, only to find that the drop in violent crime was already taking place when the ban went into effect. It’s much the same as with automobile regulations such as seat belt laws, which coincided with car manufacturers adding new safety features to meet market demand. In both cases, it’s not the law that creates the positive change, but other social and economic factors. Lott also notes that the media and general public (especially in blue cities and states) have no clue about what distinguishes automatic, semi-automatic, and assault weapons from non-automatic weapons. They talk about banning high-capacity magazines, without realizing that the magazine is one of the simplest and easiest parts of the gun to make illegally – meaning once again, the laws would be biased towards only affecting those who follow them and not the perpetrators that the law is aimed at.
Finally, Lott turns to what actually does work to prevent gun violence and finds (unsurprisingly for those who have read the book up to this point) that having armed guards in schools, for example, is one of the best ways to deter shootings. Despite the media portrayal, evidence from journals and writings by mass shooters suggests that they are highly rational. The infamous Charleston shooter, for example, decided against making a college his target when he learned that they had armed security — instead opting to take his murderous rage out on the innocent people of a church congregation. While this does not necessarily mean that we need to hire armed guards to protect us in every area of our life, it does remind us that there are no easy solutions. Merely banning guns and wishing the problem would go away is the height of wishful thinking, and would pointlessly erode our fundamental rights.
🗨️ About the Author
Dr. John R. Lott, Jr., an economist and a world-recognized expert on guns and crime, founded the Crime Prevention Research Center. Lott has held research or teaching positions at various academic institutions including the University of Chicago, Yale University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Rice University, and was the chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission during 1988-1989. He is currently a contributor to The Hill newspaper and columnist for Fox News and Townhall.com. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA.
Lott is a prolific author for both academic and popular publications. He has published over 100 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and written nine books, including “Gun Control Myths,” “More Guns, Less Crime,” “The Bias Against Guns,” “Freedomnomics,” “Dumbing Down the Courts: How politics keeps the smartest judges off the bench” and “The War on Guns.”
Dr. Lott has been one of the most productive and cited economists in the world (from 1969 to 2000 he ranked 26th worldwide in terms of quality-adjusted total academic journal output, 4th in terms of total research output, and 86th in terms of citations). Among economics, business and law professors, his research is currently the 28th most downloaded in the world. He is also a frequent writer of op-eds.
💡 Book Highlights
Chapter 1: Introduction
On mass shootings in “gun-free zones”:
These killers aren’t as stupid or impetuous as some people imagine . They want to maximize casualties , so they deliberately attack gun - free zones . Yet , after the mass public shooting the Virginia Beach City Council’s response was to create more gun - free zones .
Between 1950 and June 2019 , 94 percent of mass public shootings in the United States occurred in places where general citizens were banned from carrying . p. 13
Confusion over “Semi-automatic” weapons”
But the AR - 15 fires bullets at the same rapidity as any other semi - automatic gun ( one bullet per pull of the trigger ) . The vast majority of guns in the US are semi - automatic guns. p. 13
On the defensive use of guns
Americans use guns defensively about 2 million times a year — about 5 times more frequently than guns are used to commit crimes . p. 15
Gun Buyback programs:
[Police were asked] “ Do you believe gun buyback or turn - in programs can be or have been effective in reducing the level of gun violence ? ” Only 11.2 % of police answered “ yes , ” whereas 81.5 % said “ no . ”
For two months in 2019 , Twitter locked my personal Twitter account . I am also the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center , and they locked the organization’s account for almost a month . We weren’t able to post anything or read messages from other users . 22 Twitter offered to unlock the accounts if I agreed to a post saying that “ your Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules . ” But we don’t believe that it actually violated the rules , and Twitter refuses to explain why it locked the accounts . In March , I tweeted from my personal account that the perpetrator of the New Zealand mosque shooting was “ a socialist , environmentalist , who hates capitalists & free trade . ” I also wrote that the killer believed his attack would “ lead to more gun control ” in New Zealand and the United States . After Twitter locked my account , I wrote about it in a New York Daily News article.
What I tweeted was entirely accurate , and the New York Daily News also fact - checked my op - ed piece . In both cases , Twitter identified the offending tweets and then wrote , “ We determined this Tweet violated the Twitter Rules , specifically for : ” but the messages ended there . Appeals produced no additional information .
Examples of media bias:
Let me give one more example of media bias . In the media , I am constantly referred to as a “ gun rights advocate , ” while people on the other side of the debate are referred to as violence prevention advocates… But I never got into this research just so that people could own guns . I want to help make the world a better place , and it turns out that letting people defend themselves makes society safer .
Who’s funding the gun control lobby?
Bloomberg was responsible for more than 90 percent of the funding in support of these ballot measures . He also gives $ 50 million a year to Everytown for Gun Safety to push for regulations — 2 1 / 2 times the amount spent by the National Rifle Association on political activities .
What do gun control advocates want?
The candidates debate whether there should simply be a ban on “ assault weapon ” purchases , or whether police should conduct home invasions to to confiscate them . And most , but not all , of the nineteen candidates support requiring a license to own a gun .
Chapter 2: Gun Control Myths
Gun deaths without total deaths:
It is total deaths that need to concern everyone . If you take away guns , people might substitute other methods for suicide or murder . But the Vox article focuses exclusively on gun deaths without looking at the larger picture .
Although 192 countries report total homicides , only 116 of them report firearm homicides .
Among countries that don't release firearm homicide data , their combined homicide rate is 11.1 per 100,000 . This is far above both the US rate and the global average . If these high - homicide countries were to report their firearm homicide rates , they would almost surely outrank the US .
The countries with the highest homicide rates don’t even report firearm homicides , and these same countries have very strict gun control regulations . In Brazil , there are only 330,000 licensed firearm owners in a country of 152 million adults – just 0.22 percent of the adult population.
A Clustered Problem:
In 2014 , the worst 2 percent of counties accounted for 52 percent of the murders . Five percent of counties accounted for 68 percent of the murders .
Clearly , drug gangs have been major contributors to the violent crime problems in America’s cities . Drug dealers use guns to protect their expensive merchandise , and they supply guns just like they sell drugs . Unfortunately , it is just as difficult to stop drug dealers from getting guns as it is to stop them from obtaining illegal drugs .
To understand the effects of laws , we have to observe how homicide rates change before and after their implementation . Then , we can compare these changes in crime rates with the changes in places that didn’t reform their laws . This is a method that we will come back to many times . p. 30
Misleading statistics on how many lives are saved by guns:
The claim that guns are rarely used in self - defense comes from only counting defensive actions that result in the death of the attacker . But by any measure , only a fraction of one percent of defensive gun uses result in the criminal attacker being killed or wounded . In 95 % of the cases , merely brandishing a firearm is enough to fend off an attacker . These innumerous cases are completely missed by focusing only on justifiable homicides .
Which way does causality run?
Most likely , stricter gun control laws happen to be associated with other factors that in turn lead to a less suicide - prone environment . In a relatively famous economics paper on suicide , Cutler , Glaeser , and Norberg found that rural areas have both more gun ownership and a gender imbalance that leads to high numbers of older , single men . 45 This , the authors argue , explains the greater frequency of suicide in rural areas , which also have higher gun ownership rates .
Case Study: The Specious Comparison of Automobile Regulation
Kristof believes that automobile regulation serves as a model for gun regulations . He argues that automobile safety regulations saved lives and that gun control can do the same ( Figure 36 ) .
Kristof’s graph makes it appear as if the drop in motor vehicle deaths only started to occur around the time when seatbelts were first introduced in cars . As indicated by the figures from my previous book , The War on Guns : 55 1 ) using the same data source as Kristof , it is easy to see ( Figure 37 ) that cars were getting safer from the time the very first data was released in 1921 and 2 ) when you look over the entire period , the rate at which car safety improved actually slowed down after the federal government started regulating car safety . The first seatbelts were introduced in 1950 by car companies that were figuring out on their own how to make cars safer . But the New York Times ’ graph doesn’t show the even faster drop in vehicle deaths per - mile - traveled that occurred before 1946 . Accidental deaths of all types have fallen over time . Companies competed with each other to come up with innovations such as seat belts , shatter proof glass , padded dashboards , and safety cages . They started doing so long before the federal government got involved in regulating auto safety .
Regulations slowed down safety innovations for a simple reason : government micromanaged how companies would meet those safety improvements . It isn’t just that the government mandated the use of airbags in cars ; it is that the government would tell the companies exactly how to make those bags and how to install them . So , to ensure compliance , car companies waited to install these safety features until the federal government told them how to do it . If the companies didn’t wait , they may have to devote massive resources to redesigning everything and starting all over . Government delays in approving safety products haven’t just affected automobile safety . They have probably also increased deaths and injuries from skin cancer .
Chapter 3: Debunking Myths about Mass Public Shootings
“ Hell yes , we’re going to take your AR - 15 , your AK - 47 . ” 1 — Beto O’Rourke , former Congressman and Democratic Presidential Candidate , September 12 , 2019 “ Kamala Harris laughs when Biden tells her she can’t ban guns with an executive order , ” 2 — Headline at Fox News , September 14 , 2019 “ AR - 15s are the choice of our worst mass murderers . ” 3 — CBS’s “ 60 Minutes , ” June 23 , 2019 “ Assault weapons are weapons from the military . ” 4 — Senator Bernie Sanders ( I - VT ) , during Democrat Presidential debate , June 27 , 2019 “ The weapon was a Bushmaster AR - 15 semiautomatic rifle adapted from its original role as a battlefield weapon . The AR - 15 , which is designed to inflict maximum casualties with rapid bursts , should never have been available for purchase by civilians ” ( emphasis added ) . 5 — New York Times Editorial , March 4 , 2016
The ignorance of gun control advocates:
It is hard to debate guns if you don’t know much about the subject . And it is not surprising that gun control advocates who live in New York City know very little about guns .
Ignorance around automatic weapons:
Semi - automatic guns don’t fire “ rapid bursts ” of bullets .
There is a common perception that so - called “ assault weapons ” can hold larger magazines than hunting rifles . In fact , any gun that can hold a magazine can hold one of any size . This is true of both handguns and rifles .
A magazine , which is basically a metal box with a spring , is trivially easy to make and virtually impossible to stop criminals from obtaining . They can be made with simple tools , or efficiently assembled with 3D printers .
Only the outlaws will have large-capacity magazines:
Bans on large - capacity magazines are more or less exclusively obeyed by law - abiding citizens , and will prevent concealed handgun permit holders from carrying many bullets in their guns .
Bans on Assault Weapons made no difference:
Many politicians argue that if only we could ban “ assault weapons ” and “ weapons of war , ” the United States wouldn’t have these mass public shootings . But as we have noted , it doesn’t make any sense to ban “ military - style ” weapons , as Senator Feinstein calls them , when there are other , functionally identical semi - automatic hunting rifles available . There’s no evidence that crime rates were affected by the 1994 federal ban on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets . Even the left - leaning Urban Institute , with funding from the Bill Clinton administration , was unable to find any such evidence . 19 In that report , criminologists Chris Koper and Jeff Roth concluded : “ The evidence is not strong enough for us to conclude that there was any meaningful effect ( i.e . , that the effect was different from zero ) . ” Koper and Rother found in a 2004 follow - up report : “ We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence . And , indeed , there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence . ” Even a 2014 survey by the equally left - leaning ProPublica found no compelling evidence that the federal assault weapons ban had any impact on any type of crime . 20 But a book titled Rampage Nation by Louis Klarevas has been cited by gun control advocates and politicians , including Senator Feinstein . 21 Klarevas limits his research to shootings with 6 or more fatalities . I don’t know of any other study that does this , and Klarevas provides no explanation for it . Nor does he explain why he lumps in public shootings with gang shootings , failing to draw any distinction . Here is a Washington Post graph that makes use of Klarevas ’ numbers ( Figure 2 ) . Senator Dianne Feinstein ( D - CA )
Armed Guards work:
The infamous 2015 Charleston , South Carolina church shooting was originally going to be a college shooting . But Dylann Roof changed plans after realizing that the College of Charleston had armed guards .
Mass Shooters are still rational:
It’s normal to imagine that mentally ill killers would tend to be less than careful planners . UCLA Professor Adam Winkler echoes that sentiment in the quote at the beginning of this section . Some people have a hard time imagining deranged individuals considering such issues as gun - free zoning , especially because it’s not a topic that comes up much in media reports . But the cold truth of the matter is that many of these mentally ill people have left documents laying out their intentions .
Concealed carry saves lives everywhere .
Mass public shooters avoid places where victims can defend themselves . That way , they can keep shooting until police arrive . And , with a higher death toll , they are more likely to fulfill their dreams of infamy .
The media almost never asks Democrats tough questions on guns .
And there are many such questions to ask , since background checks on private gun transfers would not have stopped Parkland or any other US mass public shooting in this century .
Chapter 4: The Heroes that the News Media Doesn’t Cover
When Guns Save lives, no one reports it:
Chicago , Illinois , April 19 , 2015 An Uber driver with a permitted concealed handgun stopped what likely would have become a mass public shooting . 41 On a Friday evening , 22 - year - old Everardo Custodio started firing into a group of people on a Logan Square sidewalk in Chicago . The Uber driver , who had just dropped of a passenger , “ was acting in self - defense and in the defense of others , ” said Assistant State’s Attorney Barry Quinn . Custodio suffered wounds to his shin , knee and lower back , and was on the ground bleeding when the police arrived . Police recovered Custodio’s handgun at the scene . The judge denied bail to Custodio , who faced charges of aggravated battery with a firearm and illegal possession of a firearm .
Chapter 5: Politicizing the FBI
During the Obama administration , the FBI issued false reports to the media in order to advance the gun control agenda . One can also see it in the FBI’s raw crime data , particularly when it comes to the public shootings that have so galvanized Americans .
Chapter 6: How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the U.S. Share of Mass Public Shootings: U.S. Rate is Lower than Global Average
…more thorough news coverage in recent years might help to explain the increase in recorded attacks , as well as the apparent drop in number of people killed per attack . Cases with fewer victims might be getting coverage that they didn’t receive before . Page 190 · Location 2775
Chapter 8: Why is it that so much money from the government and Michael Bloomberg goes to funding public health research?
Research is biased
“ My budget will include an annual investment of $ 100 million for DOJ and HHS to conduct research into the root causes of gun violence and the most effective ways to prevent it . . . . We’ll continue by constantly revisiting and updating those solutions based on new public health research . . . . It starts by acknowledging that gun violence is a public health crisis . . . . ” 1 — Senator Elizabeth Warren , August 10 , 2019 Page 223 · Location 3259
The Times said that its academic panel consisted of 32 “ experts on gun violence , ” including criminologists , economists , and public health academics . “ Only five said they oppose [ gun control policies ] , ” according to the Times , and those who opposed them “ tended to particularly oppose blanket policies . ” Page 223 · Location 3267
In an earlier , more limited study — discussed in my book , “ The War on Guns ” — I found that economists differ from criminologists in their views about the relationship between gun ownership and crime or suicide .
There are some differences in the political views of researchers in these different fields of study , but they lean heavily Democrat . Democratic economists outnumber their Republican counterparts by almost five to one , while in sociology ( of which criminology is a subfield ) there are about 37 Democratic faculty members for every Republican . 5
Economics of Gun Crime:
Economics is based on the “ law of demand , ” which holds that as something becomes more costly , people do less of it . Applied to crime , this concept means that crime will decrease as punishments become more severe or the probability of arrest and conviction increases . In sharp contrast to criminologists and public health researchers , economists always include law enforcement as a key factor when doing empirical work on crime .
Economists are more cognizant of issues such as substitutability in methods of committing suicide or murder . They focus on total suicide or murder rates , whereas public health researchers focus heavily on firearm suicides and homicides . If firearm suicides significantly decline after a particular gun control law , economists would suspect that suicidal people are simply picking other methods of killing themselves . Page 225 · Location 3288
The Public Health Bias:
Unlike most economists and criminologists , public health academics also see themselves as more than just researchers . “ Public health academics are expected not just to study problems , but also to reduce them , ” public health researchers David Hemenway and Matt Miller note . 7 “ The dual mission of public health academics is reflected by the mixture of academics , advocates , practitioners , and policymakers who attend the annual American Public Health Association meetings . ” Page 238 · Location 3410
What Works, According to Science, Criminology and Economics?
American criminologists rate the following policies most highly : allow K - 12 teachers to carry concealed handguns ( with a survey score of 6 ) , allow military personnel to carry on military bases ( 5.6 ) , encourage the elimination of gun - free zones ( 5.3 ) , and relax OSHA regulations that pressure companies to create gun - free zones ( 5 ) . The top four policies for economists are the same , but in different order : encourage the elimination of gun - free zones ( 7.9 ) , relax OSHA regulations that pressure companies to create gun - free zones ( 7.8 ) , allow K - 12 teachers to carry concealed handguns ( 7.7 ) , and allow military personnel to carry on military bases ( 7.7 ) . By contrast , public health researchers place these same policies near the bottom of their list . Their top policy choice — barring gun sales to people deemed dangerous by a mental health provider with just over a 6 out of 10 rating — is the fifth most valued policy by criminologists ( 4.88 ) , but their other top policies aren’t viewed positively by criminologists . Their second through fourth top - ranked policies are banning magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets ( 6.2 ) , banning semi - automatic guns ( 6.1 ) , and prohibiting assault weapons ( 5.98 ) . All of these policies involve highly restrictive bans . For Criminologists , these were their 21st ( 2.6 ) , 20th ( 2.8 ) , and 10th ( 3 ) ranked policies . There was an even larger gap between economists and public health researchers .
Criminologists and economists have about an 80 % match in how they order the different policies . 9 By contrast , both criminologists and economists tend to rank policies in reverse of how public health researchers do . Page 239 · Location 3424
Chapter 9: Conclusion
The Failure of Mexican Gun Control
But Mexico already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world . Since 1972 , Mexico has had just one gun store in the entire country . This military - run store in Mexico City is the only place where people can legally purchase a gun , and only 1 % of Mexicans possess a license to own a firearm . The store’s prices are very expensive , and the most powerful rifle on sale is only a . 22 caliber . That isn’t the type of weapon used by Mexican drug cartels . In Mexico , background checks take six months to complete and require fingerprints and an employment history evaluation . Any person - to - person firearm transfer is strictly illegal . People can only sell their guns to the government , and then it is up to the government to decide to sell it to someone else . Mexico’s current murder rates are twice what they were in 1972 , when the country’s strict gun control measures were implemented . Up until 1972 , Mexicans had a constitutional right to carry guns . Now , people can’t transport guns without a permit from the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense . This is true even if the gun is unloaded , lawfully registered , and placed in a locked container . Page 258 · Location 3639
More Guns, Less Crime
Some studies have linked increased gun ownership with a drop in crime . After all , the presence of weapons on a scene can serve as a deterrent , even if no shots are actually fired . Ronald Noble , former Secretary - General of the UN’s International Criminal Police Organization ( Interpol ) , put it this way in 2013 : “ One [ option ] is to say we want an armed citizenry ; you can see the reason for that . Another is to say the enclaves [ should be ] so secure that in order to get into the soft target , you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security . ” 6 Noble warned , “ You can’t have armed police forces everywhere . ” He also cautioned that it is essentially impossible to stop killers from getting weapons into these “ secure ” areas . Noble concluded : “ You have to ask yourself , ‘ Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past , with an evolving threat of terrorism ? ’ ” 7 Gun control advocates argue that the Second Amendment is a relic of the 18th Century , but the reality is that an armed citizenry is as necessary as it’s ever been . Page 262 · Location 3704
📰 Additional Resources
Gun Control Myths: How politicians, the media, and botched "studies" have twisted the facts on gun control