For almost thirty years, John Lott, 64, who has a doctorate in economics from U.C.L.A., has provided the empirical backbone for the gun-rights movement. Virtually every statistical argument against regulation—made by lobbyists, Republican lawmakers, and National Rifle Association members alike—is based on his research, which reaches two conclusions: guns make people safer, and gun restrictions place them in danger, report The New Yorker and The Trace. He stands against droves of distinguished academics who have determined that the opposite is true. Tn the scientific debate over firearms, no one has had greater influence. Lott’s first and most famous book, “More Guns, Less Crime,” was published in 1998 by the University of Chicago Press, a prestigious academic publisher. The book has been republished multiple times, and offers one seemingly irrefutable statistic after another. It specifies that when states relaxed laws restricting the concealed carrying of handguns, counties saw a roughly eight-per-cent drop in murders, a five-per-cent reduction in rapes, and a seven-per-cent decrease in aggravated assaults.
The text is the basis for arguments blaming “gun-free zones” for mass shootings, and the notion, popularized by the National Rifle Association that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. “Overall,” Lott writes, “my conclusion is that criminals as a group tend to behave rationally—when crime becomes more difficult, less crime is committed.” Lott’s findings and methods have generated scathing criticism from prominent academics, who have questioned his veracity and exposed flaws in his work. The critiques have not diminished his stature. Instead, they have fed the conspiracy-oriented mentality of the gun-rights movement. In the eyes of its adherents, and in the messaging of the gun lobby and trade groups, attempts to discredit Lott are really attempts to suppress the truth. In 2013, Lott founded the Crime Prevention Research Center, a nonprofit to support his research.