Lott to G&P: Johns Hopkins’ gun violence study flawed, twisted

The economist, who is the leading expert on gun violence statistics, refuted a Johns Hopkins study that claims the repeal of Missouri’s “universal background checks” law is the cause of an increase in murder rates, in an exclusive Guns & Patriots interview.

“There is a lot of arbitrary cherry-picking of the data,” said John R. Lott Jr., president of Crime Prevention Research Center, a research and education organization that studies the relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime, and public safety.  “Other research that looked at all the states, not just one, comes to a different conclusion.”

Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study that claims Missouri’s murder rate increased by 16 percent after the state legislature in 2007 repealed its universal background checks law, which required all handgun purchasers to undergo a background check at the auspices of local law enforcement. 

John R. Lott Jr.

John R. Lott Jr.

Federal law already prohibits interstate firearm transfers, including handguns, except among licensed dealers who are required to conduct a federal background check of all purchasers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, said Lott, who is a Fox News columnist.

Even though there are 19 states in the union with universal background checks or similar laws, researchers in the study chose only one state to look at, covering only one point-in-time, addressing murder rates alone, he said. “Simply looking at whether murder rates were higher after the law was rescinded than before misses much of what was going on.”

The results are more complicated, he said. “With the current research only looking at Missouri, you are producing biased estimates because you are not able to properly disentangle all the changes that were occurring in Missouri.”

The Johns Hopkins study, which is expected to be published this month in the Journal of Urban Health only looks at the time period from 2008 to 2012 after the background checks law was repealed instead of examining the change in crime rates to include before the law was enacted in 1981, said the author of eight books including the 3rd edition of “More Guns, Less Crime.”

In the five-year period after the law was enacted, the murder rate went up faster in Missouri than it did in other states, but in the five-year period before the law was enacted the murder rate was going up even faster, said Lott. “Missouri was on an ominous path before the law was ended.”

While it is true that murder rates increased by 16 percent in Missouri during the controlled time-period of the study, there is evidence to suggest that murder rates actually slowed down after the regulation was rescinded, he said. “Most likely, getting rid of the law slowed the growth rate in murders.”

Results from a nationwide study in “More Guns, Less Crime” show a slight 2 percent increase in murder rates from universal background checks, but he said the result was not statistically significant.

“It is obvious to anyone who has looked at the national data that the study’s lead author Daniel W. Webster, who is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, picked Missouri because it was the one state that gave him the result that he wanted.”

Gun control laws are about taxes, fees and restrictions rendering law-abiding citizens – defenseless, said Lott, who first researched gun violence with the intent of supporting the benefits of restricting gun rights–until he kept coming up with the opposite findings.

The people who are most likely to be victims of a violent crime are the ones who will not go through the expensive, regulatory process of purchasing a firearm, but benefit the most from having a gun to protect themselves, he said.

The cost to license and register a handgun in Washington is $534, said Lott. In Illinois, one can apply for a conceal carry permit at the cost of $650 to $700, and in New York City there is an additional $85 flat fee to purchase ammunition, whether it is one bullet or 100 bullets, he continued.

“Unfortunately the main effect of a lot of these laws is not only to reduce gun ownership from law-abiding citizens, but to reduce gun ownership among relatively poor law-abiding citizens especially those who live in high crime, urban areas, particularly blacks.”

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