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Lott Interviewed Again (April) by National Review Online

Yale's John Lott Says...

ďThe bottom line should be not whether we strike a blow against the gun industry, but what impact we are going to be having on peopleís safety.Ē

By: Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR associate

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

4/03/00 6:45 p.m

National Review: To a New York Times reporter, one official from the Massachusetts attorney generalís office said the new rules that went into effect in Massachusetts on Monday "mark the sharpest blow yet to the gun industry." How pernicious are these rules? Do you see states lining up to follow suit?

John Lott: Itís sad that they phrase it in that way, as a "blow to the gun industry." The bottom line should be not whether we strike a blow against the gun industry, but what impact we are going to be having on peopleís safety. I have real concerns about these rules in Massachusetts. When they decide to essentially ban so-called "Saturday Night Specials," inexpensive guns, like they have here, it is the poor people in high-crime urban areas who arenít going to be able to defend themselves.

As for the impact this might have on other states, itís interesting to note that these restrictions werenít part of a law that was passed. It was, rather, an attorney general who issued these rules unilaterally. I donít think they could pass. In fact, there have been attempts to pass similar types of safety rules in Massachusetts--and they havenít been successful.

These rules generally ó whether they be effectively banning certain types of guns or mandating "childproof locks" ó will create future problems. Thereís no such thing as a lock thatís impossible to tamper with. Iím concerned that there will be a mandatory "tamper-proof" lock. Then, at some point in the future, someone will discover that the lock can be tampered with, so there will be legal action against companies that are selling the guns with the locks. The [government] will say, "Did you realize that this lock was not tamper-proof?" And the gun manufacturers will say, "Yes." But theyíll face violations of the law for having sold the guns even though they knew that their guns were not able to stand up to this "tamper-proof" standard. I think that whatís largely going on here is an effort to raise the price of guns, make it impossible to sell many types of guns ó if not handguns completely ó and make it so that over time the number of law-abiding citizens who own guns will decline, and make it easier for more stringent rules to pass in the future.

NR In one news story, the author ends the article by explaining that "less than ľ of all handguns models have load indicators or magazine disconnects." And then it says that a "GAO study of accidental shootings found that 30 percent of them could have been prevented with the devices." Is it disingenuous to throw out numbers like that?

Lott: The author is referring to a GAO study that was done during the early í90s when the Democrats were in control of Congress. Youíve got to multiply these percentages by the numbers that are involved. Letís say even if I accept 30 percent ó which, to be honest, I have a hard time believing--there are two things to bear in mind: First of all, the GAO study said that gun locks were only reliable in stopping accidental shootings for children under the age of seven. Now, the number of accidental gun deaths for children under the age of seven is actually very small. Thereís no direct breakdown for six-year-olds and under, but there is a breakdown for under age five. And for children under age five in 1996, there were 17 accidental gun deaths in the United States. So, letís say 30 percent of those 17 would have been eliminated, well then youíre talking about something like six. Thatís important. It would be nice to eliminate those. When youíre talking about handguns, youíre only talking about a couple that are identified as involving handguns. So, itís not even clear how many of those you can get rid of. Secondly, I donít really think the GAO study went into whoís firing these guns. Even when youíre talking about young children dying, itís rarely a young child who is firing the gun. Itís almost always somebody who is in their twenties or who is an alcoholic or a drug addict or somebody who has a history of arrest for violent crimes. I have a hard time understanding how if you impose these rules--if I have a lock on the gun ó how itís going to stop somebody who is in their twenties ó who is an adult ó from firing his own gun. Surely they are going to be the ones who are going to be able to unlock them.

Finally, the studies out there that have looked at either the accessibility of guns or storage rules for guns donít find an impact on accidental gun deaths. The main reason for that ó in particular with regard to the storage law--is that the type of people that these laws would affect, law-abiding citizens, are the ones for whom the risk of an accidental gunshot involving a child is essentially zero to begin with. The types of families where you are likely to see something bad occur are the ones which have drug problems or other criminal activities going on. I donít really think you are going to be able to affect their behavior very much by passing these laws. When you look at the safe-storage laws you have in 17 states now in the United States, they had increases in violent crime occurring after the passage of those laws--because they made it more difficult for people to be able to defend themselves. It seemed to be of no benefit in terms of reducing accidental gun deaths. My concern is, what is the net effect on deaths? Even if one believes there might be some small impact ó the people that keep on arguing that are talking about just a few deaths a year.

NR: At last weekís annual Childrenís Defense Fund conference, just about every main event was prefaced with the same rallying cry to "stop the violence." It became chant-like by the end of the weekend that 12 kids die every day because of guns. How dangerous is this kind of talk?

Lott: Itís very dangerous, because it causes people to think that having guns around the home is much more dangerous than it actually is. I think that causes people to make mistakes that endanger their safety.

President Clinton has mentioned this claim over and over in the last month after the Kayla Rowland death in Michigan, essentially using the number of deaths per day as a justification for trigger locks. What he doesnít point out, and what is misleading about this, is that when you look at the public-service ads that the Clinton administration has put out within the last couple of years they have pictures or voices of young children, who are under ten always, usually seven or eight years old. Thatís the impression that people get ó that these are these young kids that are dying when they talk about these 11 or 12 deaths per day. The problem is that that is a complete misrepresentation, because about 70 percent of those deaths involve 17,- 18-, and 19-year-olds. The deaths that they have are for people under the age of 20. The 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds are primarily homicides in high-crime urban areas, primarily involving gangs. To go and argue that trigger locks are going to be relevant in stopping 19-year-old gang members from getting into a gang fight in an urban area seems bizarre to me. When you break down the numbers to correspond to the images that people are trying to make, you find that just a little bit over 2 percent of the deaths involve children under the age of 10. Thatís a significant 2 percent, but itís probably a lot smaller than people are getting the impression of when they hear these claims bandied about. I think itís sad that they have to go and distort these numbers.

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

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