I have been meaning to post on several developments this spring relating to economist John Lott, which I am doing in two posts.
As some of you may be aware, there was a dispute over whether John Lott ever did a study of defensive gun uses in 1997, as he claimed to have done. Interested people can review most of the ins an outs of that dispute [by reading comments at Lott's site] and at Tim Lambert's Deltoid site (Lambert is Lott's most vigorous critic). In December 2002 and January 2003 I wrote a long, tediously detailed, and ultimately inconclusive report on whether Lott ever did a study in 1997, finding good evidence that Lott had a major data loss, but little evidence that Lott conducted a study in that year.
Immediately after that report appeared, Minnesota gun activist and former NRA board member David Gross came forward to say that he had been interviewed for a gun survey, and he thought that he was interviewed in the spring of 1997, probably by people working for Lott.
Here is what I later wrote to Instapundit about the Gross account:
As people may have heard, but may have not quite understood, I found Gross a credible witness. Unfortunately, that is a lawyer's term of art. It is possible to have credible witnesses on both sides of a case telling inconsistent stories. What I meant is my opinion that most people who heard him would give credence to his account (and that I found him generally believable), not that his account would necessarily trump any other evidence.
The part of Mr. Gross's written public statement that was slightly different from what he told me concerned who called him for the interview. When I asked him if he remembered anything about who called, he said that he "was beginning to think" that the call came from students in Chicago, perhaps at Northwestern or the University of Chicago, but he was very uncertain about whether the call came from a Chicago area source. In his public statement issued after he talked with me more than once, however, Gross's very uncertain memory became a bit more certain, suggesting that the call probably came from the University of Chicago. That and the timing (which he was also not certain about) were the only things that pointed to him having been called by Lott as opposed to another survey organization.
As I delved into the other studies being done in the 1996-97 period, I found that Gross's description of the questions that he was asked fit a 1996 Harvard study by Hemenway & Azrael better than Lott's account of his study questions. First, Gross said that the person who called him was interested in a defensive gun use that happened a few years before he was surveyed, but was not interested in a defensive use that occurred many years before that. This would not fit Lott's survey, since Lott [told me that he] asked only about DGUs in the prior year. It would fit the Harvard study perfectly, which asked about DGUs in the prior 5 years, but excluded events before that. Further, Gross said that he gave a narrative account of the event, which the caller was interested in. Lott's study had asked closed-end questions, which would make the narrative superfluous, while the Harvard study was one of the first to ask for a narrative account of DGUs. Last, Gross reported that there was a question about state gun laws, which Lott did not ask, but the Harvard study did.
Some weeks ago John Lott emailed me to report that the data for the 1996 Hemenway study had been released and that the demographics for each respondent from the state where Gross lived (Minnesota) did not fit Gross. I checked those data and also downloaded and checked the open-ended narrative accounts in the 1996 Hemenway study of defensive gun uses from Minnesota. Since neither the demographics nor the descriptive accounts matched Gross to any Minnesota respondent, it seems clear that Gross was not surveyed by Hemenway in 1996.
Interestingly, even in 2003 neither Tim Lambert nor David Hemenway thought it likely that Gross had been surveyed in the 1996 Harvard study. Since Gross's account of the questions asked fit Lott's claims about his 1997 study in some respects but not others, we are left with several possibilities. If Gross is not lying (and despite his strong pro-gun orientation and some minor changes in his story, I still think that it is more likely than not that Gross is basically telling the truth as he remembers it), then either Gross or Lott misremembered some of the questions asked or Gross was surveyed for yet another survey.
By the way, John Lott also wrote me that another survey participant came forward a year ago, but I have not interviewed him or her.
Last, it appears that Lott is no longer fulltime at AEI. Although his page there is still reachable from Google, it is no longer linked from the AEI scholars page. He is listed as "Former Resident Scholar."
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