Concealed-Carry Hearing Features Malcolm's Poor Gun Scholarship

September 13, 2011 3:28 pm ET — Matt Gertz

We noted earlier that a House subcommittee had called Joyce Lee Malcolm, a British historian, to testify on legislation that would require states to recognize the concealed-carry permits of all other states.

Malcolm testified that England had seen a doubling of gun crime over the past decade, but the source she cited said nothing of the sort and in fact reported that "gun crime is still falling" in much of the nation. Moreover, gun crime in 2009/10 actually fell nine percent from the previous year.

Much of Malcolm's testimony shows similarly poor scholarship, citing studies that actually undermine her point and referencing long-discredited sources.

John Lott

In her written testimony, Malcolm claims that "Studies have shown that some 98% of the time an armed citizen merely has to brandish his or her gun to stop an attack," citing John Lott. This is meant to demonstrate how simply having a concealed firearm can keep people safe. But even conservative blogger Michelle Malkin has noted that highly suspicious background of the study.

Lott first attributed the statistic to "national surveys," later changing the citation to "a national survey I conducted." When challenged to produce the survey, he claimed that a computer crash had destroyed it. He was also unable to produce financial records of the survey or any of the students who supposedly conducted it. Tim Lambert of recounted the affair and suggested that Lott "almost certainly" fabricated the study.

Lott's broader contention that allowing greater access to concealed firearms will reduce crime is at the heart of Malcolm's testimony. But due to the potentially fabricated study and several other instances of dubious scholarship and ethics, Lott's research can be considered unreliable at best. Indeed, a review by the National Research Council of the National Academies found "no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime." Other experts have found that passing right-to-carry laws actually increases violent crime.

Guns Used In Self-Defense

In her written testimony, Malcolm states:

The police do not keep track of defensive uses of a gun, but some fifteen national polls, including one by the Los Angeles Times, found between 700,000 and 3.6 million defensive uses of guns annually.

Malcolm cites this statement to the work of Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck. But such claims of defensive gun use may not be accurate. While many people will tell survey collectors of their defensive gun uses, in fact many of those gun uses may be illegal. A 2000 Harvard survey asked respondents about their experiences with gun victimization and gun use and submitted their stories to a panel of judges, finding:

Even after excluding many reported firearm victimizations, far more survey respondents report having been threatened or intimidated with a gun than having used a gun to protect themselves. A majority of the reported self defense gun uses were rated as probably illegal by a majority of judges. This was so even under the assumption that the respondent had a permit to own and carry the gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly.

The study concluded, "Guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense. Most self reported self defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society."

Moreover, a separate review found that the number of criminal gun uses reported to pollsters outnumbered poll-reported self-defense use with a gun by a factor of at least four to one.

Florida's Concealed-Carry Record

In her testimony, Malcolm states that "trust the good judgment of their citizens" with "shall issue" concealed-carry laws, citing Florida as an example:

For example Florida's concealed-carry law took effect on October 1, 1987.  From that date until the end of 1996 over 380,000 licenses were issued, only 72 of which were subsequently revoked because the holders had committed crimes, few of which involved the permitted guns.

Florida is perhaps not the best of examples. In 2007, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that in the first half of 2006, Florida had licensed more than 1,400 people who pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, 216 people with outstanding warrants, 28 who were under domestic violence injunctions, and six registered sex offenders.

Florida is not alone; media investigations in several other states have found crumbling, ineffective permitting regimes that allow those with violent histories gain or keep licenses.

Cherry-Picking U.K. Crime Statistics

Malcolm testified that "Britons also have experienced a 25% increase in contact theft in the latest yearly report, and have a 23% risk of becoming a crime victim." But a broader look at the data set she references actually undermines her point that a lack of access to guns has made Britons increasingly crime victims.

According to the data, violent crime in England and Wales has consistently dropped for years, including a five percent decrease from 2007/08 to 2008/09, the most recent year for which data is available. The violent crime rate is down 16 percent since 2006/07 and down 53 percent from 1995. Similarly, the personal crime rate, while experiencing a 3 percent rise from 2007/08 to 2008/09, is down 7 percent from 2006/07 and down 48 percent from 1995.