The opinion piece that John Lott with Kesten Green, a professor at the University of South Australia, appeared in the Adelaide newspaper The Advertiser. We will try to add a link to the original article later.
(Click on figure to enlarge copy of the op-ed.)
John Lott’s newest piece at Fox News starts this way:
Tensions are still high in Ferguson, Mo., after the Aug. 8 police shooting of Michael Brown. On Friday, it was reported forensics showed Brown’s blood was on both the inside of police officer Darren Wilson’s car as well as Wilson’s gun. The gun had also been fired twice within the car. This evidence hardly squares with early witness accounts that Brown was shot with his hands in the air while he was surrendering.
With forensic evidence finally coming in, Officer Wilson’s shooting Brown is looking as if it were justifiable self-defense. But that hasn’t stopped people from making it a racial issue.
Over the weekend, the New York Times noted some black leaders, such as Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland, “often invoke voting rights and the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., as a way to mobilize black voters.”
About a week ago journalists at ProPublica and Slate further fueled the anger many blacks felt about the shooting. Slate’s headline read: “Black Teens Vastly More Likely to Be Killed by Police Than Whites Even After Adjusting for Crime Rates.”
The incendiary finding got massive uncritical news coverage . . . .
This quote is part of a long piece that Thinkprogress.org had on the risks of lead poisoning.
. . . John R. Lott is founder and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, a tax-exempt organization that works to “advance the scientific understanding of the relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime, and public safety.” His works include “More Guns, Less Crime” and “The Bias Against Guns,” and he has written several opinion pieces to the conservative Daily Caller. Lott told ThinkProgress that he does not believe lead bullets pose real safety threats. “The only possible claims that I have seen with respect to lead poisoning is if people actually eat the lead pellets from shotgun shells. Even then,” he argued, the levels would be “so far below any plausible health standards that it is hard to see anyone taking them as credible risks.”
Lott also claimed that “even the Clinton administration dismissed concerns about lead poisoning from bullets.” He pointed to a pair of letters written in 1999 and 2000 by Dr. William L. Marcus, then-senior science adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water. In those letters, Marcus wrote that the “assertion that the use of lead based ammunition is hazardous is in error,” as studies of adult shooters at outdoor ranges have not shown increased blood lead levels and those shooting at “indoor properly ventilated firing ranges have shown no increases in blood lead levels.” He also wrote that “Indoor ranges when cleaned using prescribed protocols have shown no increases in the blood lead levels of range personnel,” and claimed lead “does not pose an environmental threat when used in ammunition.” Subsequent EPA documents do not take that view and a CDC examination of shooting range employees, their families, and range customers found unsafe elevations in lead levels in their blood.
Given this skepticism of the underlying safety risks of lead, Lott worries that OSHA’s regulations are just “another excuse to restrict gun ownership.” “I find the claims that OSHA regulations are being used to put gun ranges out of business credible,” he added. . . .
As noted in the above quote, one claim made in a 2008 CDC study concerns the risks of lead poisoning from meat obtained through hunting. An Associated Press story noted:
A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and the North Dakota Department of Public Health concluded with a recommendation that lead is so prevalent in meat harvested through hunting that pregnant women and children should never eat it. Gun supporters say that those studies have never conclusively linked consumption with illness in humans. . . .
But if you look at the North Dakota study, you will find this:
No attempt was made to account for other sources of lead poisoning and obviously there are multiple sources of lead in the environment (the mean level of lead in the blood in the US is 3 micrograms, not zero). In addition, the highest level of lead in the blood for one of the 738 people sampled in the North Dakota study was less that what the government defines as elevated even for children.
Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. An elevated blood lead level in a child is defined as 10 or more micrograms of lead in a deciliter (μg/dL) of blood. . . . Children are more vulnerable to lead than adults. While all children are at risk from lead, children living in older housing and in poverty are at the greatest risk. Children who eat paint chips or breathe dust from flaking or peeling lead-based paint are the most likely to develop a problem. Children may also develop high blood lead levels by drinking water contaminated with lead that may be in the plumbing system or by being exposed to contaminated soil or other lead hazards. . . . .
From the New York Health Department these are the numbers for adults.
- At levels above 80 µg/dL, serious, permanent health damage may occur (extremely dangerous).
- Between 40 and 80 µg/dL, serious health damage may be occuring, even if there are no symptoms (seriously elevated).
- Between 25 and 40 µg/dL, regular exposure is occuring. There is some evidence of potential physiologic problems (elevated).
- Between 10 and 25 µg/dL, lead is building up in the body and some exposure is occurring.
It is hard to look at these numbers from the North Dakota study and view even the highest level of lead found as a danger, and there is no reason to believe that outlier is a result of hunting. It seems likely that in the US as a whole more than 1 out of every 738 people have lead levels equal to or above the highest person in this sample. Take Detroit. In 2012, apparently 2,900 children under age 18 had lead poisoning. With about 186,500 children under age 18, that implies a poisoning rate of 1.6% (down 70% from what it was just in 2004). Given that the North Dakota data doesn’t have anyone reaching the lead poisoning rates found in Detroit and that only 0.136% even reach 9.82 micrograms, Detroit has much more to be concerned about. (Note that I am making the assumption here that the Scientific American article on poisoning means those under age 18 when it mentions “kids.” If in fact that refers to younger ages, the poisoning rate would be substantially higher.)
A similar Minnesota study that was done at the same time found: “As a result, the Minnesota DNR conducted the first-of-its-kind lead fragmentation study to simulate how different types of bullets commonly used for deer hunting might fragment.”
See more on the general issue here.
[Correction to the Thinkprogress.org piece: Thinkprogress.org should have noted that one of the links above actually shows three letters by Dr. Marcus.]
The Supreme Court agrees to hear case on whether a conviction for a crime terminates all gun ownership rights. Reuters has this discussion of the case:
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether a Florida man convicted on drug charges and forced to give up his firearms under federal law could sell the guns or transfer ownership to his wife or a friend.
The court agreed to hear an appeal filed by Tony Henderson, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who was convicted of distributing marijuana and other drug offenses in 2007 and sentenced to six months in prison.
Upon his arrest, Henderson voluntarily gave the FBI his 19 firearms. As federal felons cannot possess firearms, Henderson later sought either to sell the guns to an interested buyer or to transfer ownership to his wife.
A federal judge refused his request, as did the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling this past January.
The legal question is whether the federal prohibition on felons possessing firearms terminates all ownership rights. Lower courts are divided on the issue. . . .
The history of felons’ rights to guns is an interesting one. In fact, the prohibition on felons having guns, while understandable, is a relatively new restriction. In a very provocative article, C. Kevin Marshall discusses this issue in “Why Can’t Martha Stewart Have a Gun?” in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.
The petition for Writ of Certiorari is available here.
A copy of the CPRC report that was discussed on Dana’s show is available here.
The story by Kristin Tate at Breitbart starts off this way:
A fresh report by the FBI would lead one to believe that mass shootings in the U.S. have dramatically increased during recent years. But according to economist John Lott — Founder and President of the Crime Prevention Research Center — the agency’s recent study is riddled with errors and may be nothing more than a bogus attempt to peddle a political agenda. . . .
On October 30th the Australian Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs will hold its final hearing on “The ability of Australian law enforcement authorities to eliminate gun-related violence in the community.” The CPRC will be testifying via teleconference on Thursday, October 30th, 2014 at 5:30 PM EDT. A copy of our testimony is available here. Other submissions to the Committee are here.
On Friday, the US Commission on Civil Rights will hold hearings on Stand Your Ground laws. CPRC’s president will testify before the commission between 1:30 to 3:30 PM EDT. (Some media coverage from the hearing is shown below.) In the run up to the hearings, Lott published the following op-ed piece in the Orlando Sentinel under the headline (“Right to stand your ground transcends race and politics”):
As the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hears testimony on Stand Your Ground laws in Orlando today, charges of racial discrimination will be the central focus. One mother, Jordan Davis’ mother, will testify that she lost her son to gunshots fired by a white man. Almost all the panelists invited by the Democratic dominated commission will also emphasize race.
The tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis motivated this debate. But neither had anything to do with Stand Your Ground laws. These laws allow people who face serious bodily harm or death to defend themselves without first having to retreat as far as possible. George Zimmerman was on his back and had no option to retreat, so the law was completely irrelevant.
And at least according to Michael Dunn, Davis’ murderer, a young man in the car Davis was riding in supposedly pointed a shotgun at him and announced: “I’m going to kill you.” Again, retreat would then have been out of the question.
These two examples distract from who actually benefits from the law: since poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from Stand Your Ground laws. The laws make it easier for would be victims to protect themselves when the police can’t arrive fast enough. Therefore, rules that make self-defense more difficult disproportionately impact blacks.
Blacks make up 16.7% of Florida’s population but they account for 34% of the defendants invoking the Stand Your Ground defense. Black defendants who invoke this statute are actually acquitted 4 percentage points more frequently than whites.
Those claiming racism point to data compiled by the Tampa Bay Tribune. The Tribune collected 119 cases where people charged with murder relied on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, from the first cases in 2006 to October 1st of this year. The “shocking” claim: 67% of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 57% of those who killed a white.
But that misses that blacks are overwhelmingly killed by other blacks. Most of the people acquitted of killing a black person in self-defense were themselves black. About 64% of blacks raising the Stand Your Ground defense were not convicted compared to 60% of whites.
If blacks are supposedly being discriminated against because their killers rarely face any penalty, it must also follow that blacks are being discriminated in favor of when they are convicted at a lower rate than are whites. Claims of racism arise from cherry-picking numbers.
The simple averages used by the Tribune also missed important differences in these cases. The data actually shows that compared to whites, blacks killed in these confrontations were 26 percentage points more likely to be armed with a gun and 25 percentage points more likely to be committing a crime. This suggests that their killers reasonably believed they had little choice but to kill their attacker.
The Tampa Bay Tribune collected a lot of other useful information: whether the victim initiated the confrontation, whether the defendant was on his own property when the shooting occurred, whether a witness was present, whether there was physical evidence, whether the defendant pursued the victim, and the type of case (a drug deal gone bad, home invasion, etc.).
Surprisingly, no one had run regressions with this data to see if these factors might explain the different conviction rates for whites and blacks. Such analysis finds no evidence of discrimination. While the results are not statistically significant, the regressions suggest that any racial bias would go the other way — that killing a black rather than a white increases the defendant’s odds of being convicted and white defendants were also more likely to be convicted than black defendants.
Forgotten are the reasons that “Stand Your Ground” laws exist. Requiring people to retreat sometimes prevented people from defending themselves. Trying to define an “appropriate retreat” also added confusion. Overzealous prosecutors sometimes claimed that people who defended themselves could have retreated even farther.
Over 30 states have adopted laws to remove the requirement to retreat, with some having them since becoming states. In the case of Florida in 2005, the law was passed the state senate unanimously and the state house by a 94 to 20 vote.
Are all these Democrats who supported these laws racist? Hardly. Allowing people to protect themselves should be an issue that crosses both racial and political lines. Again, poor blacks are the ones who benefit the most.
* John Lott is the President of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a former chief economist at the US Sentencing Commission. He will testify today at the Commission hearing.
Comments on the piece can be found here.
UPDATE: The Orlando Sentinel also mentioned the CPRC in a news story after the commission hearing:
In a briefing he prepared for the panel, Lott wrote that race has been injected into the debate because of the Dunn and Zimmerman cases, which involved the deaths of black teens.
“Poor blacks who live in high-crime urban areas are not only the most likely victims of crime, they are also the ones who benefit the most from Stand Your Ground laws,” he reported.
He also argued Zimmerman, who said he fired while Trayvon was on top of him, and Dunn, who said he thought he saw a gun, relied on traditional self-defense at trial, not “stand your ground.” . . .
From WMFE, the NPR affiliate in Orlando (also Southwest Florida’s WGOU):
Reexamining the Data
John Lott is head of the Crime Prevention Research Center. He says Roman is extrapolating based on data from minority-heavy urban areas. “If I were to go and take data from like Liberty City in the Miami area and then compare that to the state averages, you could say, ‘That’s not a very useful comparison, John.’ I want to make sure that the two groups I’m comparing are the same.”
Lott says African-Americans disproportionally invoke Stand Your Ground in their defense – so it actually protects them. And, the people who most need a weapon to defend themselves are the most vulnerable. . . .