John Lott
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Americans’ right to keep and bear arms does not depend on arguments of social utility. Attacking gun control laws on the basis that society would be better off without them is a bad landing at the wrong airport. Don’t get me wrong. I understand why academic John “More Stats, Less Readers” Lott went down the road in his New York Times editorial Background Checks Are Not the Answer to Gun ViolenceBut his arguments are far from convincing. For example . . .

The background check measures before Congress aim to improve enforcement of existing law and increase such reporting by imposing financial penalties on government officials whose agencies fail to provide required information. That’s a good goal, but any proposal should also fix another major problem with the background check system: false positives that stop law-abiding people from getting weapons that they might need to protect themselves and their families.

The background check system confuses the names of law-abiding individuals with those of criminals, resulting in thousands of “false positives” every year. Relying on phonetically similar names along with birth dates just doesn’t allow for much accuracy.

See what I mean? By reaffirming the FBI’s mandatory background check system for firearms purchases from a federally licensed gun dealer, Lott is giving aid and comfort to gun control advocates.

Lott’s not saying the NICS protocol’s a joke, nothing more than expensive security theater. A fact that he, of all people, should know. He’s saying it should be better. Which opens the door to “common sense” comments like this (from a NYT reader named Howard in LA):

All processes of checking are subject to “false positives.” Mr. Lott’s argument would mean that no doctor could ever test for any disease or injury, no police force could ever check for outstanding warrants, no mechanic could ever put your car on the computer to see why its engine is losing power, and no terrorists would ever be identified by any agency whatsoever.

Checking Americans to see if they “qualify” to exercise their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms is a violation of the Seocnd Amendment. Chew on that Howard. Instead, Lott offers the idea that background checks discriminate against the poor.

To get some idea of what background checks add to the price of a weapon, look at the fees for checks on private transfers in states that already impose checks. In New York City and Washington, those fees cost at least $125 for private gun sales.

If people believe that background checks reduce crime and benefit everyone, everyone should pay for it, out of general government revenue. Pushing background checks on private transfers as proposed during the hearing disarms many law-abiding poor people.

True but — not convincing. Certainly not to The Times’ well-heeled, over-educated readers. Who must wonder what, exactly, Mr. Lott wants the government to do to “fix” NICS — other than a general admonition to do what they shouldn’t be doing in the first place, better.

We do need to fix the background check system. But let’s really fix it. Let’s make sure that rare cases like Devin Kelley can’t slip through the cracks, but let’s also make sure that the government stops preventing millions of law-abiding citizens from buying guns for protection. Adding more names without fixing these problems will only disarm law-abiding Americans.

What was it Sun Tzu said? When invading hostile territory penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion.

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  1. (mulls this over…)
    It isn’t capitulation until we actually give ground. I choose to see this as “sounding reasonable” on John’s part to get some non-POTG fence sitters into our camp… and then when our opponents step up to make a counter offer we do like they do and move the goalpost further to the right and then accuse them of being unreasonable when they squeal.
    Yeah. That sounds good.

  2. It looks like there has been a collective decision among pundits on The Left to sound more “reasonable” to conservatives. We’re being played.

  3. So we’re pissed at John Lott for being too soft and pissed at the NRA (see a previous post) for being too hard.

    Got it.

    • The pro gun side is it’s own worst enemy. Turn on eachother at your peril. Personally, I think any legitimate ammo we can use against the anti’s should be used to its fullest extent. That’s how they fight us. Even our weaker arguments are valid against them because it weakens the Anti’s position overrall.

      • Exactly correct. That is how they fight us. We can fight back in a similar fashion, but we can use facts. The thing is that the left and their media talking heads are pretty good about exploiting any inconsistency we have no matter how small. I think if you want to take down mecha-alinsky, you have to fight like mecha-alinsky fights. Read that guys work and use it against his purveyors.

        • Sam I Am has a point here that shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s a significant portion of the population that is not convinced by facts. They must be won with convincing emotional arguments that are *consistent* with the facts.

        • You could always take Lott’s work, lay it out all logically, and then start screaming “why do hate black people,” “why do hate the poor,” “why do you hate women,” or “why do you support rape.” Logic and emotion.

          P.S. the NYT wouldn’t let Lott mention that the laws disproportionately affect minorities (because that is liberal dog whistle for racist).

    • How are we defining “hard” here? If I remember correctly, people were rightfully angry at the NRA for caving on the whole “bump stock” kerfluffle.

      • Nope, just their same old hard line (since the beginning) against machineguns, and now, anything remotely resembling them.

  4. I see no problem with making the Utilitarian argument and the Constitutional argument at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    • There ya go, Doc.
      This is a rhetorical war – and anything that moves the public opinion to our side (however small) is a win. And then the next day we say something else and move the needle again… baby steps y’all.
      The bigots have only one effective argument against us: emotional pleas. They can’t argue the facts, they have none. They can’t argue positive results, there haven’t been any. All they have is to play on the fear and ignorance of the general, non-POTG public… so our most effective weapon is to use their only weapon right back at them: “You’re against our civil rights because you’re a bigot and you hate us”.
      I love watching their heads explode at that.

      • We are at stasis in the argument. That is, just about evenly split, with neither position dominate, nor likely to be so. The middle ground (wherever that is) is populated by a mysterious number of hobbits who can be persuaded to support “gun rights”. Yet, even if all the hobbits break our way, we remain effectively in stasis.

        The locus of the battle seems to be moving to the states. We seem to focus on national solutions, while the opposition is finding smaller, but seemingly more frequent victories (even one restriction is a victory). The opposition is completely focused on elimination of guns from lawful owners. We are fractured like moslem sects, destroying each other.

  5. Mr. Lott probably wasted his effort just by having it published in Pravda-on-the-Hudson. The NYT’s readers are completely hostile to anything he (or anyone) might say that favors more guns/less crime or anything less than a complete incremental ban of private gun ownership.

  6. He would have done better to point out that the names that are “confused” are most often hispanic, because over 50% of the names in the database are there for unlawful illegal immigration. NICS in fact discriminates against law abiding hispanics who wish to defend themselves.

      • CA can keep the laws as they are because they already know that illegal aliens get guns illegally with little trouble. Its the law abiding citizens who they want to keep disarmed. What they are truly after is making sure that illegals can vote unimpeded.

  7. There’s nothing wrong with a utilitilarian argument provided it doesn’t outshine the original argument. Simply yelling as hard as we can about the god given right to keep and bear arms isn’t going to work when our opponents:

    1. Don’t believe in God. And won’t be convinced otherwise.

    2. Don’t believe in rights, natural or otherwise. And won’t be convinced otherwise.

    3. Have a racist like attitude towards gun owners, conservatives, rural folks, and anyone not like them.

    4. Only believe in arguments of social utility.

    5. Deep down inside, are nihilists.

    A social utility argument can take wind out of the sails of these types of people, because you’re speaking their language. It’s like explaining the notion of a free republic to someone from North Korea or Saudi Arabia. They simply don’t, or won’t grasp the idealistic arguments that we believe in and favor.

  8. Perfect is the enemy of good.

    Keep holding out for perfection Robert! 😉

    ps: Was he driving that Ford Escape on the freeway that has something wrong with it that you refuse to tell us?

  9. what lott did here wasnt anywhere near as bad as what the nra did in the aftermath of the las vegas massacre

    not even close

    it wasnt KNEE JERK

    it wasnt a CAPITULATION

    it wasnt based in COWARDICE and EXPEDIENCE

    having established that:

    lets dispense with the irrational and intellectually dishonest rantings against a guy that has done journeyman work in the realm of the 2nd amendment

    pro tip: background checks are not going away ever

    he makes a legitimate and well reasoned case based on the realities of the situation in favor of fixing something were stuck with

    the nra did what it did before ANY of underlying facts had been presented and processed

    they are in fact the ones that set a precedent that wont soon be corrected or overturned

  10. If Lott thinks discrimination against the poor, or even discrimination against the not-wealthy, actually bothers the gun control crowd, he hasn’t been paying attention. That’s the point, has been since back when it was still “sword control”.

  11. The entire idea of curbing or taking away of rights is an absolute affront to our Constitution. Either you are a citizen or you are not. These are the same people who have summarily taken away the rights of people under 21. One can sign a legally binding contract and volunteer to put their life at risk in the military and yet cannot have a beer or buy a pistol. If one commits a crime then they should pay for it and when deemed fit to re-enter society all rights should be restored, including the right to keep and bear arms. If one commits a crime we think is so heinous that they should never be allowed to keep and bear arms again then that person does not belong amongst the rest of us, ever.

  12. I know a lot of gun owners are “purists” but the Supreme Court has made decisions that don’t follow that. We need to strike back at all attempts but keep in mind, there is no way “background checks” are going away. Legislation is going nowhere at this time on reciprocity, suppressors, etc….Fight back on everything, but be realistic.

    • That’s a good point about the courts. Lott’s work is the sort of thing that can make a big difference in appellate decisions. (Or be cited as the reason for the decision).

      “Look, this science shows that there is no government interest in this gun law. It doesn’t promote public safety. It only burdens a right. The law is unconstitutional under any level of review.” Or the courts are just going to do whatever they want.

  13. When will everyone finally say F-it to conversation. The bullsh_t POS leftist gun-grabbing MFs wont stop until you rise up and kill them, theirs, their goods/property/livestock, friends, supporters, apologists, tolerants, and waitstaff.

    Conversation kicks the can down the road until your great grand-kids piss on your grave because you abdicated the last-best position to fight from years ago.

    “Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? . . .
    Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”
    Patrick Henry’s speech to the Continental Congress, March 23, 1775.

    • “If gun owners were as violent and unstable as the liberals say they are – there would be no more liberals”

      (looks up at Joe R.)

    • Ok, there were others, but let’s begin with the most recent armed government assault on innocent Americans: Waco, 1993. What was the response of all the POTG in the nation? What was the response? If that didn’t do it, what do you think is the one government act that will ignite your revolution? Bundy 1? Nope, that didn’t do it. (Do you believe at your core that if the feds had opened fire, the countryside would have been aflame with equal retaliation on all government?)

      We are well beyond armed revolt. It is just a child’s fantasy. If we cannot win at the ballot box, there really is no other option other than compliance. Useful ideas of how to consolidate, co-join, and win the emotional battle would be good right about now. Rants about revolution are less than useless.

      • Why does everyone always immediately ‘stray’ to “attack(s) on the government. Is that how the left are attacking you? No, they are using the government to do it. Attacks on the government wouldn’t be a good start, [AS A MATTER OF HYPOTHETICAL DISCUSSION ON STRATEGIC DISCOURSE (a/k/a: ‘your not out to “get” our guns, why would we be out to get you?’)] direct attacks against the people attempting to hide behind it would be. Barring that, you could make it a territorial battle, and (IF YOU LACK SUFFICIENT CREATIVITY) you could start with the 2016 Red/Blue voting map –

        IF – you live in a blue state, you MAY, be part of the problem, if you have a (D) after your name, are a liberal, progressive, socialist, communist, globalist, global-warming-ist, or rino, the problem is part-of-you, you are permanently broken, and your mother owes us an abortion.

        • “Why does everyone always immediately ‘stray’ to “attack(s) on the government.”

          Guessing because (paraphrasing here), “A good idea will stand and succeed on its own; it is the bad idea that must rely on government coercion.”

        • We seem to forget that the original antigun laws were passed by the democrats, against BLACKS, after the Civil War!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • We are not “beyond” armed revolt, for the same reasons we are not “beyond” another Great Depression, “beyond” a nuclear war, “beyond” another large scale ground war in Europe, or “beyond” a water scarcity collapsing our civilization. History ebbs and flows in certain ways, but humanity doesn’t change much. We have not evolved passed certain behaviors, nor has government become so effective that it can easily mitigate such behaviors and nor has technology made any of the above occurrences “outdated”. No one before the last civil war thought a real full blown civil war was possible either. It is a very real possibility that could occur again, given certain circumstances. It doesn’t even need to arise from gun control or from the right, as is often imagined here and in other media. Violent leftists are certainly capable and may one day be willing to fight an insurgency campaign in America’s cities if they feel “fascists” have taken over the government. A popular armed revolt against a government confiscating guns is not only possible, but likley (if it were to occur in that manner) considering the heavy handed response many democrats want to see against gun rights. It’s one thing to simply ban the sale of an item, but when you actively kick in doors and kill American citizens wide scale, you’re going to start something. It won’t be like the last wars on American soil with large scale armies having at eachother, it’ll look more like Iraq. One big huge mess that’ll likely result in the Balkanization of the country.

        • I don’t know if I wholly agree with all of that either.

          It’s just, WTF people, NOT jumping to “end-game” state in the argument over anything is a disservice to the WHOLE conversation. ARE YOU (those opposed to my comment) SAYING YOU CANNOT THINK OF A SCENARIO THAT WOULD PUSH YOU TO GOING ARMAGEDDON ON SOMEONE ATTACKING YOUR RIGHTS (however incrementally)?

          You can stand there all you want and say that you’re ‘not interested in starting, planning on taking part in, a Civil War’, but what would you say if you were?

        • We, POTG are beyond armed revolt. Not addressing leftists. My point was that it is very comforting to tell ourselves it is time to rise up, but the precipitate cause (the current complaint) is well beyond that which ignited the first and second revolutions. So far beyond that we have yet seen anyone present the indisputable “red line”. The one government outrage that we all agree would put an end to this government through force.

          While I agree that privately held arms are the last resort to discipline government, I cannot agree that “government” actually fears our weapons (because we do not have the same level of firepower, and “government” knows it.

        • Again I have to disagree. I think we would all have an idea, when that line would be crossed. When the government started behaving in such a way as previous and current governments do when they suddenly faced armed resistance. Before the Arab spring a Syrian civil war (although that obviously has gone abysmal) was a non existent thought. Syria was under the firm control of Assad, and its people content subjects. After a certain level of abuse, the people stopped just taking it, and revolted. This occurred in the American colonies as well. After a long train of abused by the British government, the movement for independence gained enough momentum for action. If this were to occur these days, you are quite right in that the mere “passing of a bill” wouldn’t spur any action. It would be the events that would occur after such laws were enacted. The government wouldn’t just hop on the mass murder train right away. As history shows, there’s a series of events that lead the governments into falsely believing such slaughter is needed. In this case, it would likely be *after* the strict gun laws were in force- and then mass shootings and “gun violence” simply continued anyway. As we know it would. That’s the events that cause governments to panic, and do something stupid, like rounding people up. It’s that totalitarian behavior that would then lead to actual conflict. America now is not so advanced that these things could not happen. It’s just that America has been stable on the home front for so long; we’ve forgotten what such a conflict looks like. A hundred and fifty years of stability doesn’t garuntee continued stability into infinity. And, while “the government” may not fear our individual arms, they’d be wise to look at the past 50 years of military adventures that resulted in bitter endings.

        • “When the government started behaving in such a way . . .”

          I’m going to piss someone off by my repetition, but. . .

          Nowhere on this planet will you find humans governed by robots, animals or (space) aliens. If there is a form of ‘governance’ even by tyrants, it is “by people”. Those “people” are just your stupid ahole neighbors who needed a job. They eat/sh_t same as you, and they all sleep somewhere. IF EVER YOU SHOULD FIND A NEED TO, (and in America it’s codified in Para. 2nd, of the Declaration of Independence) Don’t ever bother throwing yourself at the nameless, faceless ‘they’ of ‘government’ go at its constituting members.

          • I think everyone here understands that “government” is the collective case for the individuals you describe.

            Notwithstanding the above it is obvious to anyone that there really is no “red line” for revolt. The collective will not drive into your neighborhood in armored vehicles, and assault every house. The collective will be more subtle and dispersed.

  14. You know *if* the checks actually did 1) identify barred persons reliably, and 2) did not flag innocent persons erroneously, they would be definition be much less of a joke of security theatre. That’s a really big *if*, but encouraging/forcing authorities to supply the necessary data is a part of that. Prosecuting those persons rightfully flagged as prohibited for trying to procure contraband is another aspect of that. Won’t stop unlawful sales, but will force them to go through alternate channels (whether that’s good or bad is another debate)

    Me? I think it’s all a wasteful and unnecessary use of energy spurred by magical thinking, but dang it, if we’re gonna do this gun control thing (and we obviously are for the foreseeable future) I just want it to make sense so we can all play along with the rules without fear of bureaucratic mistakes.

  15. Bobby, is anyone out there you like? Please tell us your suggestions to the problems we find ourselves in. Because it sure looks a lot better today than 30 years ago. Those were the pre-McDonald days when CCW was illegal in most of America and liberal forces were entrenched in every aspect of our life. You remember, when a switchblade would get you arrested and no one even considered a suppressor? At least today we argue with the left over an incorporated civil right and not a concept. Perhaps things just don’t come as quickly as you would like, but that’s the nature of the beast. BTW, how about interviewing Lott someday. Ask him about his experiences at the University of Chicago several decades ago after publishing his very first pro-gun academic research. Ask him how he was treated by the school. Find out about the political pressure applied to him to change his position.

  16. Thank John Lott for all your work supporting the second amendment. I know it’s not been easy.

  17. No doctor in his right mind would use a test that turned in 96 plus percent false positives, as our NICS system does. Annually we bar 22,000 plus folks who should have been allowed to purchase a gun or get a license. The number of those “caught and convicted” as a result of background checks is in single digits annually. That is, by any measure, a failed system. Dr. Lott isn’t a philosopher or political scientist, he’s an economist who now specializes in research on gun laws. He correctly pointed out that the NICS system doesn’t function as advertised, and should not be used “as is.” It’s up to “We, the people,” to do away with it or fix/replace it as we wish. I advocate doing away with background checks altogether, and I suspect Dr. Lott agrees. However, as a scientist, he would probably like to see some research showing that an effective background check system wouldn’t reduce gun related crime or accidents, before publicly advocating such action. And, as a scientist, that is exactly correct for his role.

    • “No doctor in his right mind would use a test that turned in 96 plus percent false positives, as our NICS system does. Annually we bar 22,000 plus folks who should have been allowed to purchase a gun or get a license. ”

      I love to use statistics against anti-gunners, as much as anyone here. But what you reported seems very odd. The conclusion that must be drawn from sentence one is that only four in one hundred people successfully pass background checks. Sentence two declares that 22,000 false positives represents 96% of attempted gun purchases each year.

      I need some help, here.

      • Sorry, I see your confusion, and it’s because I phrased it badly. The statistic, which arises from my reading of Dr. Lott’s research into the effectiveness of background checks, is that more than 96 percent of those who FAIL a background check, which amounts to more than 22,000 a year, are false positives, that is, errors. They were denied their 2nd Amendment rights by mistake. Nonetheless, they will have to spend serious time and money going to federal court to get those rights reinstated. My point was that no competent MD would use a diagnostic test with such a level of false positives. Imagine if a cancer test were wrong more than 96 percent of the time when it showed the patient to have cancer!
        Further, the number of people who, after failing a background check (which should mean they are committing a crime, either perjury in their 4473 statements, by trying buy a gun when they are prohibited by law, etc.), actually get convicted of a crime, is in the single digits annually. Clearly the system does not achieve its supposed objective. On the other hand, if the law’s “true” objective is to reduce the ability of law abiding citizens to procure Guns or various type of licenses, then it is at least somewhat effective, which is probably why it remains a popular law with anti-gun folks.

  18. I usually am in complete agreement with the articles and positions JPFO presents, but not here. Furthermore, if this is the real opinion of JPFO, I`d have to rethink my support. Criminals carry weapons sans a background check, and law-abiding Americans ought not need a permission slip from government to exercise a right. At that point, it`s no longer a right, but a privilege granted by the state. The right of the people, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

  19. Re “false positives”, an unwarrantedly polite description for bureaucratic screw-ups, such things need to be considered carefully. I personally experienced one, fortunately no harm was done to innocents, a happy circumance that might not be repeated. Also, there is the possibility that the “bad guy”, whose acquisition of arms should have been blocked but wasn’t has to be considered. It seems to me that the people who need to avoid and or block such unfortunate circumstances can’t, which tells me one thing. The control types haven’t the proverbial clue, a situation or fact that they vociferously deny. So as the cartoon punch line asked, What’s Up Doc?

  20. I am astonished by both the article and the comments here totally missing the point:

    BACKGROUND CHECKS HAVE NEVER PREVENTED A CRIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE BRADY ACT AND WERE NEVER INTENDED TO. They were intended to sucker gun owners into asking government permission to exercise a right government has no lawful authority to issue or deny and waive their 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th and 10th Amendment-protected rights to obtain that bogus, illegally-issued, permission.

    The background check is a SEARCH WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE OF WRONGDOING, AND THUS VIOLATES OUR 4TH AMENDMENT, It TAKES our right to keep and bear arms AND our right to be secure from unwarranted search WITHOUT DUE PROCESS BY A COURT OF LAW and thus violates our 5th Amendment RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS. It deprives us of our longstanding right to be secure from being compelled to WAIVE A RIGHT (any right or rights) as a precondition to exercising a right in violation of our 9th Amendment and longstanding doctrine.

    AND background checks violate our 10th Amendment RIGHT to be secure from the federal exercise of authority NOT DELEGATED BY and State exercise of authority PROHIBITED BY THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AS AMENDED.

    The federal government has no authority over our right to keep and bear arms whatever, and while States have the Police Power to regulate the USE of arms in the interests of public safety, they have no lawful authority over the RIGHT to KEEP AND BEAR arms. They waived that right when they ratified the Bill of Rights.

    When a future Leninist (read “Democrat”) administration is in power, they will REVOKE the bogus permission issued at the point of transfer, and you will find yourself with no rights left to claim: You waived them. You not only waived them, you asserted your CIVIC DUTY to waive them. Ya reckon y might want to put a stop to this crap now, rather than wait until you’re in the middle of a firefight?

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