More guns lead to less crime. John Lott, Jr. became the darling of the gun lobby by supplying statistics that buttress that claim, He armed himself with a massive data set spanning three decades, ran the numbers through complex regressions, and reached a startling conclusion: Laws that permit citizens to carry concealed handguns reduce the number of violent crimes. 

Indeed, according to Lott, “About 1,500 murders and 4,000 rapes would have been avoided” from 1992 to 1997 if the entire country had right-to-carry laws. 

Many academics dismiss this research as hokum, but few have had the time and expertise to debunk it-until last fall when John Donohue III, William H. Neukom Professor of Law, and his Yale colleague, Ian Ayres, William K. Townsend Professor of Law, weighed in. They crunched Lott’s data, plus a few years, and determined that Lott’s results “collapse” under greater scrutiny. One of Donohue’s and Ayres’s regressions reveals that crime actually fell more sharply in the 1990s in states without right-to-carry laws than in states that enacted such laws. “No longer can any plausible case be made on statistical grounds that shall-issue laws are likely to reduce crime for all or even most states,” they write in an article in the April issue of Stanford Law Review. 

Donohue and Ayres note that Lott has made some important contributions, The data he has compiled benefit all researchers interested in examining the relationship between handguns and crime. And Lott deserves credit for making a convincing case that right-to-carry laws didn’t produce bloodbaths, as many gun control advocates had predicted. 

Lott, however, is not yielding any ground. In the same issue of Stanford Law Review, he dismisses the new criticism, “Ayres and Donohue have simply misread their own results,” he writes. 

The National Academy of Sciences recently convened a panel to review these and other conflicting studies on guns and crime. Its findings may not put an end to the debate, but it’s doubtful that Lott’s research is ever again going to carry the same clout.