Stanford law prof gets it wrong on guns -- right-to-carry reduces crime, not the other way around

Would you rely almost exclusively on trends in Hawaii to predict violent crime rates in Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Utah?  Would you look at Illinois to predict changes in Louisiana and South Carolina?   Illinois has a drastically difference crime landscape, with half of its violent crime occurring in Chicago.

Though it wouldn’t pass the laugh test for most people, an unpublished report making just these sorts of comparisons has been all the rage in the media.  Lead author John Donohue, a professor at Stanford Law School, makes a claim which goes against existing national research: that right-to-carry laws increase violent crime.

The report has been covered in NewsweekThe Atlantic, Bloomberg, other national outlets and many newspapers from Newsday to the Salt Lake City Tribune.  Despite outlets such as Newsweek claiming that the report “debunks” my own research, not a single reporter has contacted me for my thoughts.  The only quotes were from gun control advocates. By contrast, those same outlets have consistently sought out critics when discussing my own research.  Apparently, politically correct results get a free pass on proper journalistic scrutiny. 

With 16 million permit holders across 50 states, it is telling that not one state has ever held a legislative hearing to consider rescinding right-to-carry laws.

No other study by an economist, criminologist, or law professor has claimed that US violent crime rose after right-to-carry laws were adopted.

So the game is to find states where murder rates fell relative to the states adopting right-to-carry laws, then use that as evidence of right-to-carry laws causing an increase in violent crime.  Before this researchers made an across-the-board comparison between states that changed their laws and states that haven’t changed them. 

This new study picks out just two to four states, and in many cases effectively just use Hawaii to compare with right-to-carry states.  In the cases of Idaho and Minnesota, over 96 percent of the comparison is just with Hawaii.  For Mississippi, Nebraska, and Utah, Hawaii counts for between 72 percent and 83 percent of the comparison.

The study claims that police simply “underestimate criminality by permit holders.”  But Donohue's only evidence is two news stories from 2000 and 2007 where permit holders committed crimes.  Neither story shows any failure by police to record the incidents.  The study never mentions how large the police error rate would have to be in order to for their results to hold.

Take Michigan, where Donohue claims that right-to-carry laws increased the violent crime rate by 8.8 percent.  During 2015, 22 of Michigan's roughly 600,000 permit holders were convicted of violent crimes, and many of those had nothing to do with guns. Permit holders accounted for 0.053 percent of violent crime in the state.  Therefore, Michigan experienced an increase in crime that was 166 times greater than permit holder’s share of violent crimes.  And all this assumes that permit holders didn’t stop or deter any crimes.

For these results to be plausible, Michigan police departments would have to be missing 99.4 percent of cases where permit holders have committed violent crimes. 

Other states with detailed data show similar results: Louisiana police would have to miss 99.5 percent of crimes committed by permit holders, Oklahoma 99.93 percent, Tennessee 99.98 percent, and Texas 99.54 percent.

But police certainly aren't making these kinds of errors.

Permit holders are simply incredibly law-abiding.  In Florida and Texas, about one in 42,000 are convicted of weapons violations.  Most of these violations are fairly trivial, such as carrying a gun without a permit or accidentally carrying a firearm into a gun-free zone.  By comparison, one out of every 6,000 police officers are convicted of weapons violations.

The authors also rely on statistical tricks to come up with the claim that violent crime has gone up.  These are issues that have long been pointed out, but that the authors choose to ignore.

There is a reason that over two-thirds of published, peer-reviewed studies find that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime rates in the U.S.  All but one other paper, another by these authors, has claimed that right-to-carry laws exert no bad influence on any violent crime rates.

With 16 million permit holders across 50 states, it is telling that not one state has ever held a legislative hearing to consider rescinding right-to-carry laws.  Surveys of police show that over 90 percent of officers consistently support such laws.

People who go through the process of obtaining a concealed handgun permit tend to be extremely law-abiding.  If the authors can’t actually find the permit holder crimes needed to support their statistical tests, then perhaps the problem is with their tests.  But someone isn’t looking for the truth if he would rely almost exclusively on Hawaii to predict changes in Idaho’s violent crime rate.

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 and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of nine books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies (August 1, 2016). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.