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Speakers spell out opposing views on gun control

by JEREMY HARTLEY jhartley@indianagazette.net on April 10, 2013 11:00 AM

The hot-button issue of firearms control was brought to Indiana Tuesday when The Entertainment Network hosted The Great Gun Control Debate in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Hadley Union Building. Squaring off in the debate were two intellectual heavyweights — Dr. John Lott and Dr. Michael Shermer.

Lott is an economist, political commentator, Fox News opinion contributor and one of the most vocal proponents for fewer gun restrictions in the U.S. He is the author of the book “More Guns, Less Crime.”

Shermer is an author, historian, founder of The Skeptics Society and editor in chief of Skeptic magazine. A lifelong libertarian, he favors additional gun control measures.

The event was closed to the general public and open only to students; approximately 80 attended.

The debate opened with a short video by Scott Wolfman, an IUP graduate who now organizes speaking events and booked the debate for IUP. Wolfman told the audience he has lived in Newtown, Conn., the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, for the last 17 years.

“I’m here to bear witness to the fact that gun violence does in fact destroy families and communities,” he said. “Regardless of where you, tonight, might stand on this issue of gun control, please give tonight’s presenters, Dr. Lott and Dr. Shermer, your full attention and your full respect.”

Both speakers were given 25 minutes each to state their case. The debate was moderated by David Surtasky, technical adviser for IUP’s college of fine arts.

Lott opened by stating that people need to defend themselves. Banning guns does not equal fewer crimes.

“I suppose one way to begin to think about this is just to ask yourself a question,” he said. “That is, can you think of one place, any place in the world, where we banned guns and murder rates have gone down? Because I can’t find any.”

Lott mentioned cities such as Washington, D.C., and Chicago where crime rates apparently rose following a ban. The same pattern could be seen in any nation in the world where a gun ban had been put into effect, he said.

Lott explained the use of different types of data to come to these conclusions. Data can be gathered and interpreted three ways — by watching a place over a period of time, by using cross-sectional data comparing separate places, and by using panel data that combines the two. Most academic studies use panel data, he said. By using strictly time or cross-sectional data, it’s very easy to manipulate numbers to make them say what you want them to say.

Lott presented graphs and data showing that crime rates in cities and countries that enacted gun bans or bans on concealed carry experienced a dramatic increase in crime after those bans were put in place. Crime rates eventually trickled down, but were never lower than they were prior to the ban, he said.

Lott also pointed out that shooters will often go where they know guns are banned. James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, bypassed the closest theater to his home to attack a theater that specifically banned guns on the premises, he said.

Shermer’s side of the debate was based around debunking several myths commonly held by the gun community.

“I will tell you, having produced the latest issue (of Skeptic magazine) here that just came out last week on gun control, there’s a lot of nonsense on both sides of this issue,” he said.

The first myth is that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” If a good guy is defined as law enforcement or the military, that is a good idea; if it is defined as the average citizen, that is a bad idea, he said. History has shown that a monopoly on the use of force creates a more civil society where justice is delivered by the state, not out of vengeance, Shermer said.

Shermer explained that the crime rate in the U.S. is comparable to other developed Western countries, yet the murder rate involving guns is off the charts. In the U.S., an individual is 13 times more likely to die by a gun than in any other country, almost eight times more likely to commit suicide with a gun and 10 times more likely to die an accidental death by a gun, he said.

He simplified his point by stating more guns equal more gun deaths.

The data Shermer presented showed that murder and rape rates went up following the passage of gun carry laws, explaining that it is easy to “cherry pick” what data you want to get the results you like.

Shermer also explained that a culture of violence in television, movies and video games can’t explain gun violence, as other Western countries consume the same entertainment we do, yet their gun violence statistics are lower.

The debate was followed by a brief question-and-answer session with the students attending.

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