Discredited pro-gun researcher John Lott falls apart when you press him

While testifying before a joint congressional committee on gun violence, discredited pro-gun researcher and National Rifle Association favorite John Lott imploded when questioned about his history of dishonesty, going so far as to blame his own family for authoring fake glowing reviews of his research. 

Lott was invited to testify before the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee on September 18 for a hearing on “understanding and reducing the costs of firearm injuries and deaths.” As founder and president of the pro-gun Crime Prevention Research Center, Lott has made a career out of promoting myths about “gun-free zones,” advancing his debunked “more guns, less crime,” theory, and attacking gun safety proposals. He testified at the hearing alongside representatives from two gun safety groups, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as a former Republican Texas state representative who survived the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria.

During the hearing, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) asked Lott about Mary Rosh, a fictitious persona  Lott acknowledged in 2003 that he had invented and used for three years to write positive reviews of his own works and to answer his critics. The senator questioned whether “it show[s] good judgement for a researcher to comment” on their own work “under a name that is clearly not transparent.” In response, Lott crumbled, insisting he didn’t write a  Rosh review that called him “the best professor that I ever had” and blaming “somebody else in my family who was responding to attacks that were on me.” Lott had claimed in 2003 that some of the comments published under Rosh’s name were authored by him, while others were authored by members of his family. But in terms of the particular Rosh comment cited by Heinrich during the hearing, Lott claimed that it was written by someone in his family, but he told The Washington Post in 2003, “I'm sure I did that. I shouldn't have done it.”

This dismantling of Lott’s problematic history is a prime lesson for media outlets that continue to invite him to contribute:

Video file

Citation From the September 18 Joint Economic Committee Hearing on Gun Violence in America:

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-NM): Madam Chair, I would ask unanimous consent to enter an article into the record from The Washington Post called “Scholar Invents Fan To Answer His Critic.” And I’ll just read one quick quote from this article. Now this is under the name Mary Rosh, but it is speaking to various online publications and was, I believe, authored by Dr. Lott. “I had him for a Ph.D.-level empirical methods class when he taught at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania back in the early '90s, well before he gained national attention, and I have to say he was the best professor I ever had.” Does it show good judgement for a researcher to comment that way with regard to your own research under a name that is clearly not transparent? I won't use the word fraudulent, but --

JOHN LOTT JR.: First of all, I did not write that. It was a family account and there was somebody else in my family who was responding to attacks that were on me, OK? So I don’t police everybody in my family when they go and do things like that, and I had members of my family who wrote a couple reviews on my books and other things like that. I'm not going to go into --

HEINRICH: You're quoted in this article as saying, “I probably shouldn't have done it."

Lott was apparently stunned by the question and denied authoring the reviews so aggressively -- despite previously admitting to doing just that -- that the other pro-gun witness could be heard telling him to ease up as the hearing ended. Following his humiliating appearance, Lott pitched himself as a “balance[d]” addition to an upcoming gun safety forum for Democratic presidential candidates that will be hosted by the Giffords Law Center and MSNBC.  

Beyond posing as a female graduate student to praise his own work and push back against critics for three years, Lott has a horrible record of accuracy. For example, in his 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, Lott pushed the myth that increasing gun ownership -- and especially increasing concealed weapons permits -- results in fewer incidents of violent crime. The book was widely criticized, and the Stanford Law Review said Lott made his central claim “without credible statistical support.” In fact, Lott’s premise has proved to be patently false; states with right-to-carry concealed handgun laws have higher rates of violent crime than states with no such laws.

Lott was also a subject of an ethics inquiry in 2003 after he claimed in the second edition of his book that he had conducted a survey showing that 98% of defensive gun uses involved people only brandishing a weapon. Lott couldn’t provide any evidence that he had conducted such a study and later claimed he lost the data in a computer crash.

In 2014, Lott ghostwrote an op-ed for a female victim of stalking who advocated for concealed carry on college and university campuses. The piece was published on FoxNews.com, but the woman credited for the article later told BuzzFeed that Lott had pressured her into allowing him to submit a piece he had written under her name.

Most recently, Lott elevated a fringe conspiracy theory that bombs sent to prominent Democrats and media figures during fall 2018 were false flags meant to frame conservatives.

Despite Lott's decades-long history of flawed research and ethical controversies, Republicans continue to invite him to congressional hearings and mainstream media outlets continue to give him op-ed platforms. But as his reaction at the Joint Economic Committee hearing yet again proves, Lott falls apart with any amount of criticism, and his discredited research should not be considered a credible source on gun violence.