Edited letter run in New Scientist: "Liberal road rage New Scientist February 25, 2006"

Edited letter in New Scientist

Liberal road rage New Scientist February 25, 2006

BYLINE: John Lott, Washington DC, US.
American Enterprise Institute


Your magazine did a poor job discussing a recent survey that relates gun possession to road rage (4 February, p 7). The survey asked whether respondents had a gun at least once in their car over the past year and whether they made anobscene gesture or drove aggressively sometime over the same year. But their questions made no attempt to ask whether a gun was in the car at the time the road rage incident occurred. Nor did they attempt to differentiate law-abiding permit holders from those who illegally possessed guns, for example by asking respondents if they have a permit to carry a gun.

Also a single cross-sectional survey tells us nothing about causation. Ironically, the researchers' regression results also show that liberals are much more likely to engage in road rage (both making obscene gestures and driving aggressively) than conservatives, and that the difference is larger than the difference for whether one had carried a gun in the car at least once. This variable is apparently never investigated, but presumably the researchers are also concerned about liberals being allowed to drive cars.

The rest of my letter that wasn't published noted:

Surveys can be a useful first approximation, but there is in fact much more direct evidence available on the behavior of concealed handgun permit holders. Despite almost four million Americans currently having permits to carry concealed handguns and some states having these laws for as long as eighty years, there is only one case in Alabama where a permitted concealed handgun was used to commit road rage.

There is also direct evidence on how law-abiding permit holders are. Many states have kept detailed records on whether and why permits are revoked, and concealed permit holders tend to be extremely law-abiding. They do not harm others with their guns in anyway. In Florida, where 1,114,727 permits were issued between October 1, 1987 and January 31, 2006, 157 permits were revoked for any type of firearms violation, and the vast majority of these involved permit holders accidentally carrying a gun into a restricted area such as an airport. 2,955 permits were revoked for any type of misdemeanor or felony. While the violent and property crime rate in Florida is 4,893 per 100,000 people, the rate at which permit holders lose their permits crimes after licensure is 265 per 100,000 people. Similar low rates exist in state after state.

Finally, it is very disappointing that the authors of this study (David Hemenway, Mary Vriniotis, and Matthew Miller) are unwilling to provide other researchers with their data, even when the authors have been promised that the data will only be used to evaluate the research that the authors have already published. Once a paper is published and the researchers are discussing their published results in the media, it seems incumbent upon them to make their data public so that a meaningful discussion can take place.

I was disappointed that the letter editor cut out the part of the letter stating that the authors were unwilling to release their data, but I guess that it was just getting too long. The version on Nexis (shown above) was slightly different than the version on their website.


Anonymous Richard Letaw said...

John, I share your disappointment and well concealed anger at the treatment too often afforded thoughtful, well informed letters to publications or directly to authors. (I have appreciated that you at least acknowledge my communications, usually with comments indicating you have read them.)

Your letter to "New Scientist" on its road-rage article, and your comments on the editing and the negative response of the survey team, led me to conclude that surveys--whether or not their design or sample populations are valid--very likely serve best as points of departure for analysis of the events and conditions underlying their findings. The present survey could be a goldmine.

Departure from the main topic: As a superannuated, educated, troglodyte conservative I have been conditioned to have a healthy suspicion of journals, periodicals, and organizations the names of which begin with "New." I am rarely mistaken as to their political/social slants.

3/01/2006 5:44 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thanks, Richard. Surveys have very limited usefulness and I agree they should only be treated as a starting point and to fill in information sometimes when nothing else is available.

3/25/2006 11:39 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home