The New York Times Keeps Getting Its Gun Facts Shockingly Wrong

John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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Last week, a New York Times editorial shockingly claimed that American concealed handgun permit holders have been responsible for 763 non-self-defense deaths since 2007. The Times editorial cites these numbers as proof of the “myth of the vigilant citizen” and “foolhardy notion of quick-draw resistance.”  

But the numbers they rely on from the Violence Policy Center are fatally flawed, quadruple counting legitimate self-defense cases as criminal murders and blaming suicides on permits when the suicides don’t even involve guns. More disturbing, the Times has been called on using these same numbers before, but they keep on using the numbers and never acknowledge any of the problems.

Take Michigan, which is supposedly by far the worst with over a third of all claimed deaths — 278 of the 763. Of these 278 deaths in Michigan, 215 were suicides. But Michigan State Police reports don’t collect information on whether suicides were committed with their permitted concealed handgun — just that permit holders committed suicide. The police simply match their records on permit holders to the Michigan Department of Community Health’s records on suicides.

There is a simple response to the New York Times claim that permits cause suicides: Michigan permit holders committed suicide at less than 40% the rate of the general adult Michigan population.

The VPC analysis of murders assumes that permit holders are guilty of murder even if they haven’t yet been convicted. This more than triples the supposed number of murders. In fact, pending cases are often cases of legitimate self-defense.

The cases are often pending for years. Almost unbelievably, the VPC counts pending cases as murders each year that a case is pending, meaning the VPC often double or triple or quadruple counts these “murders” by permit holders, including cases where they were found not guilty because they acted in legitimate self-defense.  

Media stories on permit holders are also included, counting many cases yet another time.

The correct number of murders or accidental deaths is 15, or 1.76 per year. Michigan has 483,000 permit holders. Each year, 0.00037 percent of them will commit one of these killings.

Even if, for the sake of argument, the Violence Policy Center is accurate and there were 540 murders or accidental deaths over all those 8.5 years, one must bear in mind that there were an average of 9 million per year over this period. That means there was less than one thousandth of a percent (0.0007 percent) of concealed handgun permit holders who were responsible for a shooting death per year.

If you look at the 24 murders and accidents that they claim have occurred up through the end of September this year, the 13 million permit holders this year either purposefully or accidentally killed someone at 2 ten-thousandths of one percent (0.0002 percent).

Indeed, it is hard to find any other group of people who are as law-abiding as permit holders. For example, while police are extremely law-abiding, being convicted of firearm violations at about 0.02 percent per year, the data for permit holders show that their rate is about one-sixth that of police.

Since Monday, I have received over several hundred emails and a number of telephone calls asking about the New York Times claims. I received similar responses when the Times made these claims in February. Their claims obviously matter.

The Violence Policy Center has more than triple-counted the true number of murders committed by concealed-carry permit holders. The organization has a history of empirical dishonesty, as a quick Google search reveals. Why then would the Times take the VPC statistics at face value even after they have been called on these errors in the past? Even a perfunctory look should have raised questions about the numbers. The New York Times is once again making its biases painfully apparent.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition).