Oh, what an indictment, eh? Well, not exactly.
The Times, which on Dec. 5 ran a front-page editorial (the first since 1920 when it took Republicans to task for nominating Warren G. Harding for president) against guns, was citing a study by Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. But as gun scholar John Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, pointed out for me last week, “cherry picking” results tend to give you the results you're predisposed to seek.
As Mr. Lott found, in an exhaustive 2014 review of Mr. Webster's research, the results are more complicated than simply looking at what the average murder rates were before and after rescinding the Missouri law.
“While it is true that the murder rate in Missouri rose (about) 17 percent relative to the rest of the United States after the law was changed, it had actually increased by 32 percent during the five years prior to the change,” Lott then wrote.
Thus, the real question for researchers to consider, according to Lott, is why “the Missouri murder rate was increasing relative to the rest of the U.S. at a slower rate after the change in the law” — after the comprehensive background checks were scotched — “than it did prior to it.”
But the bottom line remains this: “Imposing the law raised murder and robbery rates,” Lott told me. “Removing the law lowered them.” . . .
The issue of cherry-picking is much broader
than this. The question is if you have 20 states that have had these expanded background checks, why pick only one state to look at? If Missouri enacts this law in 1981 and rescinds it in 2007, why only look at when it is rescinded? The proper way to examine this question is to look at it the way Lott did in the third edition of More Guns, Less Crime
as it examined all the states that have adopted or rescinded these types of laws between 1977 and 2005. Those estimate showed no benefit in expanded background checks reducing violent crime.