In case you were wondering what “Bruno” Lacour will be doing a couple decades from now . . .
James Delaney pointed me to this CNN news article, “Connecticut’s strict gun law linked to large homicide drop” by Carina Storrs:
The rate of gun-related murders fell sharply in the 10 years after Connecticut implemented a law requiring people buying firearms to have a license, according to a study. . . . To assess the effect of this law, researchers identified states that had levels of gun-related homicide similar to Connecticut before 1995. These include Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maryland. When the researchers compared these states to Connecticut between 1995 and 2005, they found the level of gun-related homicide in Connecticut dropped below that of comparable states.
Based on the rates in these comparable states, the researchers estimated Connecticut would have had 740 gun murders if the law had not been enacted. Instead, the state had 444, representing a 40% decrease.
Wow—40%, that’s a lot! And, indeed, Storrs has a quote on it:
“I did expect a reduction [but] 40% is probably a little higher than I would have guessed,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research who led the study, which was published Friday in the American Journal of Public Health.
A legal expert named Daniel Webster, huh? And I guess it’s good they have someone named Storrs writing articles about Connecticut.
Anyway, that’s a funny quote from the leader of the study! Perhaps the reporter should push a bit, maybe ask something like: Do you really believe the effect is 40%?? Or do you think that 40% is an overestimate coming from the statistical significance filter and the garden of forking paths?
OK, this is all important stuff. But it’s not the subject of today’s post.
Here’s the deal. Storrs continues her article:
Ten states have laws similar to Connecticut’s, including background check requirements. It is hard to know what effect permit-to-purchase laws have without looking in these other states, said John R Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, a gun rights advocate and columnist for Fox News. “If 10 states passed a law, eight could increase and two could fall, and how do I know that it was because of the gun law?” he said.
Wha??? John Lott? CNN can’t find any real expert to interview? Why not just follow up with a quote from Mary Rosh, endorsing Lott as “the best professor I ever had”???
For those of you who don’t remember, John Lott shares with Michael LaCour the distinction of having announced, with great publicity, controversial data from a survey that he said he conducted, but then for which he could supply no evidence of its existence. Damn! I hate when that happens. As I wrote last month, Lott represents a possible role model for LaCour in that he seems to continue to be employed in some capacity doing research of an advocacy nature. And, like LaCour, Lott never admitted to fabrication nor did he apologize. (I guess that last part makes sense: if there’s nothing to admit, there’s nothing to apologize for.)
Ok, just on the statistics for a moment, Lott’s argument is terrible. First, “Ten states have laws similar to Connecticut’s” is not so relevant, given that the causal identification comes from the change in the law, not the existence of the law. Indeed, Storrs gets a good quote dismissing Lott’s argument:
Although Webster said he would like to study the effect of gun laws in other states, that research is not practical. Most states passed meaningful gun laws, such as laws requiring background checks, long ago, “frankly before I was born,” and it would be hard to know how those laws were enforced back then, and how society responded to them, he explained. In addition, information from death certificates was less readily available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before 1980, he said.
Second, Lott says, “If 10 states passed a law, eight could increase and two could fall.” But that’s just ridiculous. Why suppose that introducing this law, which the data indicated was associated with a drop in homicides, would lead to an increase in 8 states out of 10?
It’s not that the Webster et al. claims are airtight. I’ve already expressed my concern that the estimated effect is too high, also Storrs alludes to evidence from other states that send mixed messages. And Delaney has a point when he writes, “One concern about the construction of the synthetic control is Connecticut’s proximity to and interconnections with NYC, which experienced a dramatic decrease in overall homicides from 1177 in 1995 to 539 in 2005 (according to Wikipedia). Whereas, from what I can tell, homicide totals while decreasing across the nation during this period, happened to be closer to constant in this period in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maryland.”
But Lott’s criticisms are uninspiring. Let’s hope that Bruno Lacour can do better in his future career as an advocate and pundit, and let’s hope that news outlets can do better when looking for a quote. I heard John Yoo is available. . . .