The Nine Worst Claims About Guns From John Lott's New Book


Gun researcher John Lott's chapter on firearms in his new book titled, At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over The Edge?, is filled with inaccurate claims about guns and firearm policy. Lott makes a range of misleading or blatantly false statements, including that the worst school shootings in the world have not occurred in the United States and that concealed carry laws help prevent mass shootings.

CLAIM: "Gun-Free Zones" Make Mass Shootings More Likely

Lott: "Facts And Figures" Prove "Establishing 'Gun-Free Zones' (At Schools, For Example) Actually Makes Mass Shootings More Likely." In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott claims that shootings are more likely to occur in "gun-free zones" and that civilians with guns often stop these shootings: 

Soledad O'Brien, for example, could not wrap her head around that idea when she interviewed me after Sandy Hook. I tried to explain that research into gun crimes indicates that establishing "gun-free zones" (at schools, for example) actually makes mass shootings more likely, and I offered facts and figures to back this up. Ms. O'Brien would have none of it. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1739-1741, 2/19/13]

REALITY: Most Recent Mass Shootings Have Occurred Where Guns Are Allowed

Mayors Against Illegal Guns: Most Mass Shootings Since January 2009 Have Occurred Where Guns Could Be Lawfully Carried. From a January 2013 report on mass shootings:

Nineteen of the 43 incidents (44%) took place in private residences. Of the 23 incidents in public spaces, at least 9 took place where concealed guns could be lawfully carried. All told, no more than 14 of the shootings (33%) took place in public spaces that were so-called "gun-free zones." [Mayors Against Illegal Guns, January 2013]

Schools, Which Typically Ban Guns, Are Much Safer Environments For Young People Than The Surrounding Communities. A 2011 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the proportion of youth homicides that occurred at school has never exceeded 2 percent of total youth homicides for all years where data was collected. In 2008-09, 17 youth homicides occurred at school while 1,562 youth homicides occurred away from school:

[Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, February 2012]

CLAIM: Obama Supported A Ban On Handguns While A Member Of The Illinois State Senate

Lott: "In 1996, Obama Supported A Ban On Handguns." Lott alleges that President Obama once supported banning handguns, a claim that is based on a questionnaire filled out during Obama's 1996 bid for state Senate that asked about his position on various gun regulations. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1775-1776, 2/19/13]  

REALITY: Fact Checkers Have Dismissed Survey Answer As Evidence That Obama Wants To Ban Handguns

PolitiFact: "Obama's Alleged Endorsement Of A Proposed State Law In 1996 Does Not Add Up To A Plan To Ban Handguns." According to PolitiFact, the survey response, which was also cited by the National Rifle Association to claim that Obama supported a ban on handguns, does not accurately reflect Obama's stance on the issue. From the August 2008 article:

In 1996, as a candidate for the Illinois state Senate, Obama filled out a questionnaire for a community group called Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization. It asked if the candidate supported state legislation to "ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns." Obama's answer: "Yes."
The Obama campaign claimed the questionnaire was filled out by a campaign aide who "unintentionally mischaracterize[d] his position" on gun control and other issues, even though Obama's writing was on another part of the questionnaire. (Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama's campaign, said in an e-mailed statement to Politico, "He may have jotted some notes on the front page of the questionnaire at the meeting, but that doesn't change the fact that some answers didn't reflect his views.")
On a more recent questionnaire, he said, "A complete ban on handguns is not politically practicable," but reasonable restrictions should be imposed, according to the Associated Press.
Obama's alleged endorsement of a proposed state law in 1996 does not add up to a plan to ban handguns, particularly in light of evidence to the contrary that has accumulated since then. We find the NRA's claim to be False. [PolitiFact, 8/1/08 Another Survey In 2003 Revealed Obama's Support For Limitations, But Not A Ban, On Handguns. From a September 2008 article addressing the NRA claims about Obama's 1996 survey response:

Whatever his position may have been in 1996, in 2003 he submitted another survey form to the same group avoiding a yes-or-no answer to the gun ban question and stating a position similar to his current stance. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama's answer read:

Obama, 2003: While a complete ban on handguns is not politically practicable, I believe reasonable restrictions on the sale and possession of handguns are necessary to protect the public safety. In the Illinois Senate last year, I supported a package of bills to limit individual Illinoisans to purchasing one handgun a month; require all promoters and sellers at firearms shows to carry a state license; allow civil liability for death or injuries caused by handguns; and require FOID [Firearm Owner's Identification] applicants to apply in person. I would support similar efforts at the federal level, including retaining the Brady Law."

[, 9/22/08

CLAIM: Assault Weapons Are No More Dangerous Than Small-Game Hunting Rifles

Lott: Assault Weapons "Inflict The Same Damage" As "Small-Game Hunting Rifles." In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott claims that the firearms used in the Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut shootings only bear a "cosmetic resemblance" to military weapons and do not cause the same amount of damage:  

The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 used in the Aurora shootings and the Bushmaster.223 used at Newtown are "military-style" weapons -- emphasis on "style." They bear a cosmetic resemblance to the M-16, which has been used by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War. The civilian versions of the M&P and Bushmaster use the same sort of bullet as small-game hunting rifles, fire with the same rapidity (one bullet per trigger-pull), and inflict the same damage. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1786-1789, 2/19/13]

REALITY: An Assault Weapon Typically Fires A More Powerful Round Than A Small-Game Hunting Rifle, Resulting In Devastating Tissue Damage

Firearms Manufacturer Ruger: Remington Brand .22 Rimfire Ammunition Commonly Used For Small-Game Hunting Has A Muzzle Velocity Between 700 And 2000 Feet Per Second. From Ruger's website:

[Ruger, accessed 3/11/13]

Firearms Manufacturer Remington: Remington Brand .223 Ammunition Commonly Used In Assault Weapons Has A Muzzle Velocity Between 3000 And 3550 Feet Per Second. From Remington's website:

[Remington, accessed 3/11/13]

Study Of Soldiers Killed By High-Velocity Rifle Rounds: "The Nature Of Internal Tissue Injuries From Rifled Firearm Weapons Depend Greatly On The Velocity Of The Missile." An October 2011 report by doctors who had performed autopsies on soldiers killed by gunfire in Iraq found that rounds with a velocity "exceeding 2,500 feet per second" cause a shockwave to pass through the body that caused catastrophic injuries even in areas remote to the direct wound:

For damage to occur some or all of the kinetic energy of the missile has to be absorbed by target tissues So the mode of injury depends on the velocity of the missile, (6) relatively the missile that travels in a speed (exceeding 2,500 feet per second) when it passes through the tissues sends a shock wave of compression ahead from the laceration track. (7) That wave lasts only for a brief period but it raises the tissue pressure up to thousands of kilopascals that can cause severe damage into fluid containing tissues like vessels lying away from the missile track. (8) Direct effect of missile is the permanent tissue loss along the local track; the tissues are compressed ahead of the track by a compression in the form of shock waves of spherical form so that tissue damage can be produced in a considerable distance away from the original missile track. [Medico-legal Study of Shockwave Damage by High Velocity Missiles in Firearm Injuries, Journal of the Faculty of Medicine, Baghdad, Vol. 53, No. 4, October 2011]

For more information about attempts by right-wing media to overstate the difference between a civilian assault weapon and a military assault rifle, click here

CLAIM: Mass Shootings Are Often Prevented By Civilians Carrying Firearms

Lott: Civilian Holders Of Permits To Carry A Concealed Gun Have "Prevented Mass Shootings On Many Occasions." In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott makes the claim that armed civilians have prevented mass shootings:

Opponents of concealed-carry laws, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, insist that the presence of armed citizens at mass shootings would result in even more deaths because of crossfire. But armed civilians prevented mass shootings on many occasions -- in schools, a mall, and other public places -- and there is no instance on record of a permit holder's accidentally shooting a bystander.
One such incident took place at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs in December 2007. Seven thousand people were in the church when an armed man entered and began firing. He had killed two people and wounded others when a female churchgoer with a concealed-carry permit stopped him. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1898-1903, 2/19/13]

REALITY: Shooting Rampages Are Not Typically Ended By Civilians Carrying Concealed Firearms

Mother Jones Analysis Of Mass Shootings Over Past 30 Years: "In Not A Single Case Was The Killing Stopped By A Civilian Using A Gun." A 2012 Mother Jones investigation into 62 mass shootings with four or more fatalities concluded that none of these shootings was stopped by an armed civilian:

In the wake of the massacres this year at a Colorado movie theater, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 62 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. And in other recent (but less lethal) rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, those civilians not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed. [Mother Jones12/15/12]

Mother Jones: New Life Church Shooting Was Stopped By A Security Officer, Not A Civilian With A Gun. From a December 2012 article debunking claims by gun advocates that mass shootings have been prevented by civilians with firearms:

In 2007 a gunman killed two people and wounded three others before being shot himself; the pro-gun crowd likes to refer to the woman who took him out in the parking lot as a "church member." Never mind that she was a security officer for the church and a former cop, and that the church had put its security team on high alert earlier that day due to another church shooting nearby. [Mother Jones12/19/12]

CLAIM: Law Enforcement Supports Legislation To Loosen Concealed Carry Firearm Rules

Lott: Law Enforcement Backs Legislative Effort To Force States To Recognize Concealed Carry Permits Issued In All Other States. In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott claims that law enforcement officials largely support making states honor concealed carry permits "in the way that drivers' licenses are recognized through [sic] the country":

As for what policemen think about concealed carry, the 2010 annual survey by the National Association of Chiefs of Police found 78 percent of its members believed that concealed-handgun permits issued in one state should be honored by other states "in the way that drivers' licenses are recognized through [sic] the country" and that making citizens' permits portable would "facilitate the violent crime-fighting potential of the professional law enforcement community." [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1906-1909, 2/19/13]

REALITY: Law Enforcement Groups Oppose Proposal To Expand Concealed Carry

National Law Enforcement Partnership To Prevent Gun Violence Opposes Federal Legislation To Expand Concealed Carry. Various law enforcement groups signed a letter in opposition to  H.R. 822, a piece of proposed legislation that would force states to recognize the validity of concealed carry permits issued in other states:

H.R. 822 would severely undermine state concealed carry licensing systems by allowing out of state visitors to carry concealed firearms even if those visitors have not met the standards for carrying a concealed weapon in the state they are visiting. Every state but Illinois makes some allowance for concealed weapons. Local standards for permits vary widely. For example, 38 states prohibit people convicted of certain violent crimes like assault or sex crimes from carrying concealed guns. At least 36 states set a minimum age of 21; 35 states require gun safety training. The proposed National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011 would shred those standards and the public safety judgments behind them. [National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, accessed 3/11/13]

A 2006 Survey Of Police Chiefs Conducted By Academics And Published In The American Journal Of Preventive Medicine Found That Most Police Chiefs Do Not Believe Civilians Should Carry Guns In Public. [Police Chiefs' Perceptions of the Regulation of Firearms, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol. 3, No. 4, April 2006]

National Association Of Chiefs Of Police Survey Cited By Lott Does Not Contain Any Study Methodology. The survey cited by Lott in At the Brink to make the claim that law enforcement officials are in favor of expanding conceal carry laws does not include a methodology to back up its findings.  [National Association of Chiefs of Police, accessed 3/11/13]

National Association Of Chiefs Of Police Is A Partisan Group That Has Opposed Gun Violence Prevention Measures. The survey cited by Lott in At the Brink to make the claim that law enforcement officials are in favor of expanding conceal carry laws was conducted by a partisan organization that has an agenda opposing gun violence prevention measures. [Media Matters, 8/3/12]

CLAIM: The Worst School Shootings In The World Have Occurred In Germany

Lott: "Germany, Despite Having Some Of The Strictest Gun-Control Laws Anywhere, Has Been The Scene Of Two Of The Three Worst School Shootings In The World." In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott claims that strict gun control measures in other countries, such as Germany, have not prevented mass shootings there. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1911-1913, 2/19/13]

REALITY: The Two Worst School Shootings In The World Occurred In The United States

On December 14, 2012, A Gunman Killed 20 Children And Six Educators At Sandy Hook Elementary School In Newtown, Connecticut. [, 12/14/12]

On April 16, 2007, A Gunman Killed 32 Students And Educators At Virginia Tech In Blacksburg, Virginia. [The Washington Post4/17/07]

Lott Cited An Article He Wrote About Two German Shootings That Had Fewer Casualties Than Virginia Tech Or Newtown As The Basis Of His Claim. In a July 2010 article for the National Review Online about "the worst K-12 school shootings," Lott refers to a 2002 massacre in Erfurt, Germany where a gunman killed 17 people as the "worst" one, and a 2009 massacre in Winnenden, Germany where a gunman killed 13 people at a school and two people at a nearby car dealership as the "third-worst" school shooting. Lott wrote that a 1996 school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland where a gunman killed 17 was "the second-worst." [National Review Online, 6/11/10]

CLAIM: Permissive Gun-Carrying Laws Reduce Crime

Lott: The "Vast Majority" Of Studies Have Found Concealed Carry Reduces Homicide. In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott claimed that concealed-carry handgun laws do not lead to an increase in murder, suicide, or accidental death and that most studies had found "the opposite" was true:

None of the criminologists or economists who have studied concealed-carry handgun laws has found an increase in murder, suicide, or accidental death. Indeed, the vast majority of studies have found the opposite. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1821-1822, 2/19/13]

REALITY: Lott's Thesis That More Guns Lead To Less Crime Has Been Thoroughly And Repeatedly Debunked

John Hopkins Center For Gun Policy And Research: Concealed Carry Laws Most Consistently Linked To Increase In Aggravated Assault. An October 2012 report that surveyed research on the effect of loosening concealed carry laws found that enacting such a policy was associated with a one to nine percent increase in aggravated assaults:

A large body of research has been conducted to investigate the effect of RTC [right to carry] laws on violence. Most notably, research led by John Lott, Jr. suggests that RTC laws have led to significant reductions in violent crime. But the research showing crime-reducing effects of RTC laws, including Lott's, has been carefully reviewed by a National Council of Research panel of experts, and others, and has been found to have serious flaws. The most consistent finding across studies which correct for these flaws is that RTC laws are associated with an increase in aggravated assaults. Using various statistical methods, estimates range from a one to nine percent increase in aggravated assaults as a result of RTC laws. [John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research,10/25/12]

Harvard Injury Control Research Center's David Hemenway: "More That A Dozen Academics Have Found Enough Serious Flaws In Lott's" More Guns, Less Crime Thesis "To Discount His Findings." From Private Guns, Public Health where Hemenway noted that Lott's work had significant coding errors and that "[r]esults from a more appropriate model suggest that permissive gun carrying laws increase violent crime in most states":

One study by John Lott (1998a) has frequently been cited in the national gun debate. The initial results seemed to show that permissive gun-carrying laws significantly reduced murder, rape, and aggravated assault but not robbery and increased larceny, auto theft, and property crimes generally (Lott and Mustard 1997).
In at least eight published articles, more than a dozen academics have found enough serious flaws in Lott's model to discount his findings (Alschuler 1997; Webster, Vernick, and Ludwig 1997; Zimgring and Hawkins 1997a; Black and Nagin 1998; Dezhbakhsh and Rubin 1998; Ludwig 1998; Dugan 2001; Ayres and Donohue 2003a, 2003b). These studies found, among many other problems, that Lott did not sufficiently account for the cyclical nature of crime or the differing nonlinear effects of the laws on various localities. The general consensus among those who have seriously analyzed the results is that "any inference that is based on the Lott and Mustard models is inappropriate, and their results cannot be used responsibly to formulate public policy" (Black and Nagin 1998, 219). The results of extending Lott's model through 1999, once his data coding errors are eliminated, show no significant effect of concealed carry laws on crime, except to increase property crime (Ayres and Donohue 2003a). Results from a more appropriate model suggest that permissive gun carrying laws increase violent crime in most states (Ayres and Donohue 2003b). [Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health, pgs. 101-2] 

CLAIM: Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives' Operation Fast And Furious Was A Study On Drug Cartel Behavior

Lott: ATF's Failed Operation Fast and Furious Was Designed To "Study How Mexican Drug Gangs Obtained Their Guns." In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott speculates over the intention of the Fast and Furious operation:

The program, which started in October 2009, was supposedly intended to study how Mexican drug gangs obtained their guns. Yet that explanation never made sense. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 1992-1993, 2/19/13]

REALITY: Independent Investigation Into Fast And Furious Found Motive To Be Firearms Interdiction

Department Of Justice Office Of The Inspector General: Agents Involved In Fast And Furious Sought To "Dismantl[e] A Dangerous Firearms Trafficking Organization." From a September 2012 report on the OIG's findings from an investigation of Fast and Furious:

ATF's Phoenix Field Division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, bore primary responsibility for the conduct of Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. While we found no evidence that the agents responsible for the cases had improper motives or were trying to accomplish anything other than dismantling a dangerous firearms trafficking organization, we concluded that the conduct and supervision of the investigations was significantly flawed. [Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, 9/19/12]

CLAIM: Fast And Furious May Have Been An Obama Administration Plot To Implement Further Restrictions On Gun Ownership

Lott: Independent Investigation Into Fast And Furious Never Examined Whether Its Purpose Was "To Build Pressure In The United States For Gun Control." In At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Lott wondered why the Office of the Inspector General did not address the "concern" that Fast and Furious may have been a way of building support for gun control in the United States:    

Is it too outlandish to speculate that an administration only too eager to depict Mexico as awash in American guns might have concocted Fast and Furious to build pressure in the United States for gun control? The inspector general's report never addresses or even acknowledges this concern. Given that prominent news outlets, such as CBS News and Fox News, as well as senators and congressmen were raising this question, one might expect the report to address it. [At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?, Kindle locations 2094-2096, 2/19/13]

REALITY: The Office Of The Inspector General Examined And Dismissed This Claim

Department Of Justice Office Of The Inspector General: "No Evidence That ATF Phoenix Initiated The Investigation In Order To Facilitate Efforts To Obtain Long Gun Legislation." From a September 2012 report:

[Then-acting ATF director Kenneth] Melson told the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] that the impetus for the long gun reporting requirement came from him, though he could not recall the date that he asked his staff to pursue the matter. He also stated that when he discussed the long gun reporting requirement with staff at ATF Headquarters, "[n]o one ever suggested that [Operation Fast and Furious] was being done for purposes of supporting our position on the long guns," and that he did not make any decisions concerning the case in order to increase the likelihood that the long gun reporting requirement would be implemented. We found no evidence that contradicted Melson's statements to us concerning the long gun reporting requirement; and no evidence that ATF Phoenix initiated the investigation in order to facilitate efforts to obtain long gun legislation. [Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, 9/19/12]

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Guns
John Lott
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