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Do right-to-carry laws cut crime? Debate has raged at U. of C.

Updated: January 13, 2013 6:20AM



The debate over whether right-to-carry laws reduce crime has raged for more than a decade in academic circles — especially at the University of Chicago.

In 1998, then-University of Chicago economist John Lott heated up the debate with his book “More Guns, Less Crime.” His premise: Guns do more good than harm.

His controversial study of more than 3,000 U.S. counties from 1977 to 1992 found violent crime fell after states passed laws giving people the right to carry concealed handguns.

Lott also studied mass shooting deaths and injuries in 14 states that adopted right-to-carry laws between 1987 and 1995.

Before the states passed right-to-carry laws, their number of mass shootings per 100,000 people was .0136. After they passed right-to-carry legislation, that figure dropped to .002 per 100,000 people — an 84 percent drop, his study found.

“Freakonomics” author Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economics professor, was among those academics to challenge Lott’s findings.

In 2006, Lott filed a lawsuit in federal court saying Levitt defamed him in “Freakonomics” when he wrote that other scholars were unable to replicate Lott’s research linking lower crime rates with the right to bear arms.

In the best-selling book, Levitt called Lott a “lightning rod for gun controversy.”

The two scholars reached a settlement in 2009 when Levitt agreed to issue a statement acknowledging Lott’s work was peer-reviewed by other academics, including Levitt. Then, Lott tried to refile his lawsuit, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he wasn’t defamed.

David Hemenway, a Harvard professor of public health, has said he doesn’t think either side can prove the effect of concealed carry laws on crime.

Hemenway, a noted expert on gun violence, has pointed to a 2004 study by the National Research Council that found “no credible evidence that passage of right-to-carry laws increases or decreases violent crime.”



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