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National Review: Interrogatory
Conversations with analysts and newsmakers

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Ms. Lopez can be reached at

John Lott says: “Despite good intentions, gun-control advocates are going to end up risking more lives than they’re going to save.”

John R. Lott Jr. is a senior research scholar at the Yale University Law School and the Author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

March 20, 2000

NR: In the wake of the horrible first-grade shooting in Michigan three weeks ago, the president is campaigning for Congress to quickly pass a slew of gun-control measures before them. What exactly are we looking at in Congress?

John R. Lott Jr.: Congress is looking at laws ranging from requiring trigger locks to imposing a waiting period at gun shows, and raising the minimum owner’s to 21. Most of these have been on the table for a year or two. Any time there’s a tragedy in the news it’s used as an opportunity to push for these things. My concern is that there is little discussion of the costs of these laws. Despite good intentions, gun-control advocates are going to end up risking more lives than they’re going to save.

President Clinton has been arguing that if Congress had only passed a mandatory trigger-lock law when he first wanted them to, this tragic Michigan shooting wouldn’t have occurred. I find the reasoning bizarre. This child was living in a crack house. The uncle has arrest warrants out for his arrest. The father is in jail. The mother is a drug addict and missing from the scene. The guns in the home were stolen guns. But yet Clinton claims that somehow this death is to be blamed on the Republicans for not passing the gun-lock law — as if these criminals would have rushed out and bought trigger locks for the stolen guns they had around the house.

NR: What do you think accounts for the lack of critical reporting by the press on guns?

Lott: It’s hard to understand. You have two different types of news stories — in one case there’s a dead body on the ground, a victim, and in the other case there’s a woman with a gun and a would-be attacker has run away — no shots are fired, no dead body, no crime actually consummated. I can understand why the first story gets a lot more coverage than the second story does. But we need to understand that concentrating on tragedies like that and not the benefits of gun ownership, creates misimpressions about the costs and benefits of having guns around.

I don’t think it explains all the news coverage. Take, for example, accidental gun deaths in the home. After discussing the numbers with reporters, I’ve asked reporters why this one particular type of death gets so much news coverage as opposed to other things in the home. The answer I usually get is “Because it’s so rare.” “Dog bites man” isn’t a news story, but “Man bites dog” is. My response to them is twofold: 1) That’s surely not the impression that you give with the news coverage. Very few people perceive that it is rare. Secondly, I can list many other rare and gruesome ways that children die that don’t get anywhere near the type of news coverage that gun violence gets.

There’s something else that troubles me: the complete lack of coverage of defensive guns. When was the last time anyone could remember a news story on one of the major evening news networks which talked about defensive gun use?

NR: What do you make of the “war of words” between the president and the NRA executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, who famously remarked last week that the “couch’s blood was on the president’s hands?”

Lott: I think LaPierre went too far. But extreme statements have been made on both sides. Clinton basically blamed the NRA and the Republican Congress for the death of the six-year-old in Michigan, saying that if Congress had passed the trigger-lock law last year, these types of tragedies wouldn’t occur. He has also said that the NRA is against anything that makes society safer. Clinton’s been making these demonizing statements for years, but the only side that gets questioned is the NRA. To me, they’re both out of bounds. But it’s surprising that the NRA waited as long as they did to respond in kind to the president’s demagoging.

The NRA is completely on target addressing the constant lies that the president makes about numbers involving guns. They are all lies: from the claims he constantly makes in favor of gun locks, to the claim that 13 children die every day from guns, or the most recent statistic that American children are much more likely to die from gun fire than the combined total of juveniles in the next 25 industrial nations. These are never critically evaluated by the press.

Take, for example, the claim about juvenile deaths in the United States from guns versus other top countries. Why doesn’t the press look at the list of these other countries that are included? Clinton includes Hong Kong. I don’t know when he’s going to inform the Chinese that Hong Kong is a separate nation. And Kuwait, which I don’t think most people would include on a list of top industrial countries. Countries that aren’t on the list include Russia and Brazil — nations that either completely banned guns or largely banned guns and now have murder rates four times higher than what we have in the U. S. If you look at murders involving juveniles they’re off the scales. Both of those countries have significantly smaller populations than the U. S., yet either one of them by itself has a juvenile death total much higher than ours. I don’t understand why when he makes these claims reporters never ask for critical comments. When they do, it’s often when the Clinton administration has just released a study and the people they’ve given a preview to are from Handgun Control or one of the other gun-control groups.

One other big lie is that 13 children a day die from guns — we’ve heard it everywhere during the past few weeks. The impression people get is that we are talking about young kids. In truth if you look at children under 10, there are fewer than about 0.4 deaths per day involving children. It would be nice if it were zero, but it’s a lot different than 13. About 70 percent of those 13-children-a-day numbers are made up of people who are 17, 18, 19 years of age, primarily involving gang-related homicides. It’s very difficult for me to understand why the president thinks that the trigger-lock bill is going to be relevant in these cases and why he thinks that citing those deaths provides a strong argument for why we need to lock up guns. It’s not obvious to me why the press doesn’t ask him why those numbers help make that argument.

NR: Guns almost always come up in interviews with Gore or Bush. Gore issues ridiculously disingenuous challenges like he did in Friday’s USA Today, saying: “Let’s take this out of the political context and make sure Congress passes trigger locks?” Is Bush handling the issue well? What would you advise him?

Lott: Gov. Bush is generally good on the gun-control issues. He was right this week in quickly responding to the comments that Wayne LaPierre had made that they were not proper.

It’s strange to listen to Gore talk about taking guns out of a political context. He sounds like Clinton. Clinton constantly talks about how he wants to make a deal and get everybody together. And then he goes and makes outrageous, demonizing comments about the intentions and beliefs about people on the other side of the debate as if somehow that’s going to be likely to entice them to try to seriously talk about these things.

I hope they don’t make a deal on trigger locks. Even though I’m sure there are enough votes in Congress to do it, these types of rules are bad. If they’re really concerned about saving lives and they’re really convinced that locks are the way to go, then I would say, fine. Pass a law that says anything that involves more than a certain number of children’s lives being lost each year requires a locking device. It won’t only apply to guns. Make it apply to bathtubs, water buckets, and tricycles. And then let the Democrats go and explain why they want to have it on this one particular type of product and not on all these other things that claim children's lives every year at much higher rates.

To Purchase: More Guns, Less Crime By: John Lott, Jr.

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As an individual, I believe, very strongly, that handguns should be banned and that there should be stringent, effective control of other firearms. However, as a judge, I know full well that the question of whether handguns can be sold is a political one, not an issue of products liability law, and that this is a matter for the legislatures, not the courts. The unconventional theories advanced in this case (and others) are totally without merit, a misuse of products liability laws. — Judge Buchmeyer, Patterson v. Gesellschaft, 1206 F.Supp. 1206, 1216 (N.D. Tex. 1985)

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