April 2006

Downrange: 04/06

Buy Lott’s “Bias Against Guns”

"The Bias Against Guns, Why Almost Everything You’ve Heard about Gun Control Is Wrong," is a follow-up book to "More Guns, Less Crime," the ground-breaking work by economist John R. Lott Jr.

"Bias" examines the inaccurate coverage of guns, the role of firearms in self-defense and countering terrorism, and the impact of gun-control laws such as waiting periods and regulations on gun shows. Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in Bias that guns receive tremendous attention from media and government.

And he asks rhetorically if these institutions do a good job of informing people about the costs and benefits of guns. The answer, of course, is no, and he goes on to document how these and other institutions provide an inaccurate picture of the tradeoffs we face with guns. He writes that while ignoring the risks of guns can put families in danger, exaggerating the risks of gun ownership can frighten people and discourage them from owning guns to defend themselves and their families.

For instance, Lott points out that while Americans use guns to stop crime at least 4.5 times more frequently than to commit crime, the morning and evening national news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC during 2001 had about 190,000 words on gun crimes and zero words on cases where citizens have used guns to stop crime.

The print media is little better. The New York Times had almost 51,000 words of contemporaneous gun-crime stories and only one story (163 words) on a crime that was stopped with a gun by a retired police officer.

He notes that given that the vast majority of defensive gun uses simply involve brandishing a firearm, much of the lopsided media coverage is understandable. But as this book shows, this explanation is not sufficient to understand why crime stories already being covered nationally or even internationally leave out information on how the crime was stopped by a citizen with a gun. This imbalance gives a skewed view of the costs and benefits of guns and strongly influences the gun-control debate.

Also, Lott’s "Bias" discusses many gun-control laws, but his focus in this book is on several gun-control issues that have received much attention recently: how to reduce possible terror attacks with guns, the risks of increased gun ownership in the home, whether guns should be locked, gun-show loopholes, and assault-weapon bans.

He uses statistics to argue convincingly against the idea that gun-free zones prevent mass killings; that few accidental gun deaths involving children are caused by other children; and that falling gun ownership leads to more general crime and more violent crime.

Perhaps most satisfying, "The Bias Against Guns" addresses these issues from an economic — not philosophical — perspective. As he sees his role as an economist, he doesn’t consider whether Americans have a “right” to own guns, keep them unlocked, sell them at gun shows, carry them wherever they go, and so on. He writes, “My only objective is to study the measurable effect that gun laws have on incidents of violence and to let the facts speak for themselves.”


-Todd Woodard