Since the tragedy in Tucson, the New York Times has started an all-out campaign for gun control, with a relentless number of pieces -- news, editorials, and op-eds. In its advocacy, even the news stories are heavily biased by selectively quoting only academics who support pro-gun control positions. These seemingly unbiased sources are then contrasted with opposing views from clearly biased people on the other side, such as an NRA spokesman or a right-wing politician. The implied conclusion: scientific evidence favors gun control, but self-interest stands in the way.
Take two recent news stories by Michael Luo (here and here). He quotes seven academics who agreed with the New York Times position, but no one on the other side was even interviewed. Talk about misrepresenting academic opinion. The overwhelming majority of studies actually supports the claim that more guns mean less crime. Among peer-reviewed studies in academic journals, criminologists and economists studying right-to-carry laws have produced 18 national studies showing that these laws reduce violent crime, 10 indicate no discernible effect and none finds a bad effect from the law. One would never guess that 294 academics from institutions as diverse as Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, the University of Pennsylvania, and UCLA released an open letter to Congress during 1999 warning that new gun laws were “ill advised.”
A frequent claim in these recent New York Times articles has been that more guns mean more gun deaths (see also here). As evidence, the Times articles usually bring up comparisons across states or a selective set of countries, showing that where people possess more guns, there are also more deaths from guns.
On the face of it, this argument seems very straightforward: the guns must be causing the additional deaths. Yet, a closer look at the numbers reveal that an overwhelming proportion of gun deaths are suicides, not homicides, and that rural areas generally have high suicides. What is driving the correlation is simply the factors linked with rural areas (hunting and gun ownership) and suicides (relatively more unmarried men and isolation).
Simply taking away guns doesn't prevent suicides. If there are guns around, some people will use them to commit suicide. But if guns are not handy, there are still a long list of alternative ways to end one’s life. So, more guns available will enable more gun suicides, but there is no evidence that eliminating guns would reduce total suicide.
There are many reasons that different states or countries have different crime rates, and comparisons across places at one point in time simply won't properly account for them. The UK has a low murder rate relative to the U.S. today, and many attribute it to their lack of gun ownership. But before the UK imposed its first gun laws back in 1920, it compared even more favorably to the United States despite extremely widespread gun ownership.
The New York Times pieces stayed far away from this point. It is no wonder, because no place - not a single one -- that has banned guns has seen its murder rate fall. In the US, murder and other violent crime soared in DC and Chicago after their handgun bans were enacted back in 1977 and 1982, respectively. Conversely, after the Supreme Court recently struck down their bans and gunlock law, murder and violent crime rates in DC and Chicago have fallen. The same pattern has occurred across the world, even for island nations that don't have neighbors to blame for gun smuggling.
One columnist, Nicholas Kristof, claimed that in the seven years after Australia banned some types of handguns and rifles "the firearm homicide rate was almost halved." But note that he does not point to overall homicides. He has good reason to avoid that statistic, as there was no decline in overall homicides during that period. Criminals simply shifted to other ways of killing their victims.
A couple of articles in the Times point to a University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine survey claiming that those who carry guns are far likelier to get shot—and killed—than those who are unarmed. This fails to ask why people carry guns in the first place. Of course, individuals who are threatened and at higher risk tend to carry guns more frequently. The study also includes criminals and gang members among those carrying guns. Furthermore, the survey only included people in Philadelphia who had been shot during assaults, which means that it totally ignored the vast majority of defensive gun uses. That issue has been addressed by other academic studies, though, with the majority of refereed academic studies finding a benefit from law-abiding citizens carrying concealed handguns.
Other attacks are more flippant. A Texas congressman suggesting that people carry concealed handguns after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' wounding is dismissed by Timothy Egan: "Gohmert has enough trouble carrying a coherent thought onto the House floor. God forbid he would try to bring a Glock to work." No effort is made to look at how careful permit holders actually are. In 2009, 164 out of 402,914 Texas permit holders had their permits revoked, a rate of 0.04 percent, and most are trivial. Or that "It defies logic, as this case shows once again, that an average citizen with a gun is going to disarm a crazed killer," but he made no attempt to discuss why civilians with permitted concealed handguns so regularly stop not only multiple victim public shootings but also violent crimes of all types.
With multiple mistakes per article, the New York Times would never want to compare its error rate to the rate of mistakes by permit holders. But then these biases are so obvious and over the top that accuracy really doesn’t seem to be their goal. Is it really that hard for the Times to quote any academics who disagree with their position?
John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns. He is the author of several books, including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.