A call to arms from local GOP

Republicans invite crime researcher to speak at gun raffle

`Additional deterrence'

Violent crime rate falls as law-abiders arm themselves, he says

February 20, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Perhaps more guns mean less crime.

Perhaps if larger numbers of law-abiding citizens were armed, criminals would be persuaded to lay down their weapons.

That is the message Yale University scholar John R. Lott Jr. will deliver Saturdayin Westminster, when the Carroll County Republican Central Committee draws the winning ticket in a gun raffle that has attracted national attention and raised the ire of Democrats and some Republicans.

"As citizens arm themselves, what you'll see is an increased drop in the crime rate over time because of the additional deterrence," Lott said in summarizing his research in a telephone interview. He is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime," published in 1998 by the University of Chicago Press.

Lott's stance has made him one of the most cited -- and most criticized -- scholars in the gun control debate, and he has testified against proposed gun control legislation in several states, including Maryland.

Carroll County Republicans have sold more than 2,000 raffle tickets at $5 each for a chance to win a Beretta 9 mm pistol or $500. Organizers said they expect brisk sales to continue. The raffle has also caught the attention of Republican Party leaders in Kentucky and Missouri, who say they, too, might organize gun raffles.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, reacted to plans for the Carroll raffle by proposing legislation to ban the use of handguns as prizes in such drawings. In response to Hoffman, a Baltimore gun owners group has said it will raffle a semiautomatic pistol in summer.

"The bottom line is, guns save more lives than they take," said Del. Carmen Amedori, who opposes gun control efforts. Amedori, a Carroll Republican, invited Lott to attend the drawing and asked him to testify against Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "Smart Gun" legislation in Annapolis. Lott testified Wednesday against the governor's proposal to offer citizens tax credits for buying gun safety devices.

"I understand the desire to do good with a lot of the gun legislation, but if you don't try your best to figure out both the cost and benefit of the legislation, you may end up doing the opposite of what you intend," Lott said of Glendening's proposals.

High-tech gun control

The governor's bill, scheduled for a hearing March 15 in the Senate, would require handguns sold in Maryland to be equipped with safety locks and, eventually, high-tech devices that would prevent anyone but an authorized user from firing them.

"I think people will die because of this legislation," Lott said of the proposal. "The people who will be most harmed by it will be poor people who live in high-crime urban areas, like Baltimore. These locks will add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a gun, making the price of protection too high for those who are most vulnerable."

Glendening is asking the General Assembly to approve spending $3 million over three years on gun safety research, and President Clinton has asked Congress to spend $10 million on similar efforts.

Gathering data

Lott has based his arguments on crime statistics from more than 3,000 counties over 18 years. The 41-year-old economist compared the rape, robbery and murder rates of counties that allow residents to carry concealed weapons with counties that do not, and concluded that when gun permits are issued to everyone who meets certain criteria, the rate of violent crime drops dramatically.

The National Rifle Association says Lott's book provides the most comprehensive study to date on guns and crime. "Lott's study is singular in its scope," said Jim Manown, an NRA spokesman. "The largest previous study looked at just 170 cities within a single year."

The NRA often mentions Lott's work, but stops short of embracing his theory. "Lott argues that if more law-abiding citizens had guns, the crime rate would drop. We believe when law-abiding citizens have the choice to carry weapons, the choice deters criminals," Manown said.

Lott, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, wrote "More Guns, Less Crime" at the University of Chicago, where he was the John M. Olin Law and Economics Fellow. That position was underwritten by a foundation established through the fortune of the late John M. Olin, former chairman of the Olin Corp. The company manufactures Winchester ammunition.

"I don't think how John Lott was funded has anything to do with what he wrote and what his findings were," said Daniel Webster, a professor with the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and one of Lott's most vocal critics.

`Common-sense test'

Webster asserts that Lott's conclusions were flawed because Lott was unable to prove that barriers to gun ownership cause people to become more vulnerable to violent crime.

"What he's arguing doesn't add up; it doesn't meet the common-sense test," Webster said. "He argues that as you arm more citizens, the logical response by a rational criminal is, `I don't think I'm going to engage in crime anymore.' It's absurd. Another rational response would be for the criminal to arm himself -- to shoot first and ask questions later."

The bottom line, Webster said, is "more guns means more death."

Lott's work is unlikely to settle the gun control debate, but it could have a lasting impact on lawsuits filed against the gun industry, legal analysts said.

"In the past, people who filed suits against the gun industry have relied on attempts to show the risk of owning a weapon outweighs the benefits," said Timothy Lytton, professor at New York Law School. "Lott's work has been the primary piece of evidence that guns have a great deal of social value as a deterrent, as a means of self-defense."

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