At National Review, criminologist John Lott critiqued PolitiFact's recent analysis of Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) statement on guns and crime:
Ted Cruz Sets the Record Straight on Guns
By John R. Lott Jr.February 22, 2013 4:05 P.M.Newly elected senator Ted Cruz has jumped right into the fray. So far he is the only senator who has dared challenge the many blatant falsehoods President Obama and many congressional Democrats have been pushing regarding guns, in particular the bogus claim that 40 percent of gun sales are done without background checks.
Unsurprisingly, his willingness to speak out has recently made Cruz a target of the media. While he has come in for a range of attacks from the New York Times, recently Politifact has focused on his statement: “the jurisdictions with the strictest gun-control laws, almost without exception . . . have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.” In the last case, they labeled his statement “false.”
Is the “false” rating deserved? In Politifact’s explanation, it becomes more than a little bit obvious that their verdict is seriously strained, not least because they do acknowledge that context clarifies Cruz’s point. When using the term “strictest gun-control laws,” the senator was referring to gun bans (either a ban on handguns or all guns), and he was referring to so-called panel data as the evidence.
This makes a considerable difference — the media’s reliance on merely cross-sectional data leads to many incorrect
comparisons. With cross-sectional data, as the word suggests, you look across many different geographic areas within the same year. In other words, it does not deal with comparisons acros stime at all, and cannot evaluate such things as what happens after a policy is put into effect.
Take a typical example of how misleading this can be. Gun-control advocates frequently point out that the murder rate in the U.K. is about a third that in the U.S. and that there are many fewer guns there. Those statistics are correct, but the interpretation is based on the false assumption that the low murder rate must be related to strict gun control. Because they fail to consider what happens over time, they leave out a very crucial fact: The U.K.’s murder rate was lower before gun control than it was after.
This type of overly simplified analysis pervades the gun-control debate and, again and again, advocates cherry-pick some geographical areas that happen to haveboth few guns and a low murder rate and believe that this provides strong evidence for their point of view. However, if you look across either all countries around the world or all counties in the United States, tough gun controls are associated with extremely high crime rates.
But regardless, the appropriate statistical solution is to compare what happens over time in the various cities, counties, states, or nations that have passed gun control, relative to the places that haven’t changed their laws, in other words, to use “panel data.” In fact, this is exactly what Cruz was referring to. And that is why his statement should be labelled as “true.” Alas, the Politifact reporter, Sue Owen, correctly acknowledged that her cross-sectional “method here is flawed,” but it didn’t stop her from using only that cross-sectional data to rate his claim as “false.”
Studies using such panel data have revealed a very strong pattern, and those places that have instituted either a ban on all handguns or on all guns have experienced very similar results: They have seen an increase in murder and violent-crime rates. The British story is typical: The institution of its handgun ban in 1997 caused what had been a very low murder rate to go up dramatically, though the rate was still low by comparison to the U.S., and has decreased since thanks to more policing.
The city of Chicago and the District of Columbia have never really enjoyed low crime rates, but after their gun bans were instituted, crime soared dramatically, going from bad to worse.
Indeed, the panel-data studies have yielded extremely strong results: Every single place in the world that has instituted a gun ban has ended up suffering more murders after the ban.
Gun-control proponents would often claim that the Washington, D.C., and Chicago experiments really weren’t fair because criminals continued to get guns, from nearby Maryland or Virginia or rural Illinois. But they simply cannot explain away the fact that murder rates soared.
Why has gun control failed? The answer is very simple: Law-abiding citizens, not criminals, obey the bans. And when you disarm law-abiding citizens relative to criminals, it becomes easier for criminals to commit crime.
Ted Cruz is a very smart guy. How a Politifact reporter could acknowledge that a “method is flawed” and then use only that method to evaluate Cruz’s accuracy is sloppiness at best. But it is nice to finally have a politician who actually understands sophisticated statistics a lot better than your typical reporter.
— John Lott is a former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission and the author of the just released book At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge.