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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
data sets that cover the more recent time period not included in the original analysis.2
Because the right-to-carry issue is highly controversial, has received much public attention, and has generated a large volume of research, the committee has given it special attention in its deliberations. This chapter reviews the existing empirical evidence on the issue. We also report the results of our own analyses of the data. We conclude that, in light of (a) the sensitivity of the empirical results to seemingly minor changes in model specification, (b) a lack of robustness of the results to the inclusion of more recent years of data (during which there are many more law changes than in the earlier period), and (c) the imprecision of some results, it is impossible to draw strong conclusions from the existing literature on the causal impact of these laws. Committee member James Q. Wilson has written a dissent that applies to Chapter 6 only (Appendix A), and the committee has written a response (Appendix B).
DESCRIPTION OF THE DATA AND METHODS
Researchers studying the effects of right-to-carry laws have used many different models. However, all of the analyses rely on similar data and methodologies. Accordingly, we do not attempt to review and evaluate each of the models used in this literature. Instead, we describe the common data used and
Two other general responses to Lott’s analysis deserve brief mention. First, some critics have attempted to discredit Lott’s findings on grounds of the source of some of his funding (the Olin Foundation), the methods by which some of his results were disseminated (e.g., some critics have claimed, erroneously, that Lott and Mustard, 1997, was published in a student-edited journal that is not peer reviewed), and positions that he has taken on other public policy issues related to crime control. Much of this criticism is summarized and responded to in Chapter 7 of Lott (2000). The committee’s view is that these criticisms are not helpful for evaluating Lott’s data, methods, or conclusions. Lott provides his data and computer programs to all who request them, so it is possible to evaluate his methods and results directly. In the committee’s view, Lott’s funding sources, methods of disseminating his results, and opinions on other issues do not provide further information about the quality of his research on right-to-carry laws.
A second group of critics have argued that Lott’s results lack credibility because they are inconsistent with various strongly held a priori beliefs or expectations. For example, Zimring and Hawkins (1997:59) argue that “large reductions in violence [due to right-to-carry laws] are quite unlikely because they would be out of proportion to the small scale of the change in carrying firearms that the legislation produced.” The committee agrees that it is important for statistical evidence to be consistent with established facts, but there are no such facts about whether right-to-carry laws can have effects of the magnitudes that Lott claims. The beliefs or expectations of Lott’s second group of critics are, at best, hypotheses whose truth or falsehood can only be determined empirically. Moreover, Lott (2000) has argued that there are ways to reconcile his results with the beliefs and expectations of the critics. This does not necessarily imply that Lott is correct and his critics are wrong. The correctness of Lott’s arguments is also an empirical question about which there is little evidence. Rather, it shows that little can be decided through argumentation over a priori beliefs and expectations.