- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

A scholar whose research supports private gun ownership has come under fire from critics who question whether he actually conducted a 1997 survey cited in his work.

John R. Lott Jr. strongly denies the accusations about his 1998 book, "More Guns, Less Crime."

Australian gun-control advocate Tim Lambert, a professor at the University of New South Wales, challenged Mr. Lott to produce records or witnesses to document the survey.

"It seems increasingly likely that the survey is fictional," Mr. Lambert wrote.

The dispute stems from a single sentence in Mr. Lott's book: "If national surveys are correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack."

Questions were first raised by Otis Dudley Duncan, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California-Santa Barbara. In a 2000 article in a professional journal, Mr. Duncan suggested that Mr. Lott's estimate came from a 1988 article by Florida State University professor Gary Kleck.

Mr. Lott cited no source for that statistic in the first edition of "More Guns, Less Crime," but in the second edition he wrote that he had conducted his own survey. In 2000, he responded to Mr. Duncan's article, describing a survey of "2,424 people from across the United States conducted over three months during 1997."

"I had planned on including a discussion of [the survey] in my book, but did not do so because an unfortunate computer crash lost my hard disk right before the final draft of the book had to be turned in," Mr. Lott wrote.

Questions about Mr. Lott's survey were revived in the wake of an academic scandal that saw author Michael Bellesilles resign from Emory University last year. An investigation found Mr. Bellesilles "willingly misrepresented the evidence" in his 2000 book, "Arming America."

There are similarities between the two cases. Both involve statistics about guns. Like Mr. Bellesiles who said a flood in his office destroyed his notes of probate records regarding early American gun ownership Mr. Lott said records of his survey had been destroyed.

Some scholars say the parallels between the cases are more than superficial, and that Mr. Lott is being targeted by pro-gun control academics angry about the treatment of Mr. Bellesiles, whose work claiming that guns were rare in early America was widely viewed as supportive of gun control.

"Ever since the Bellesiles affair, the gun-control crowd has wanted to collect a scalp on the other side, and John is very prominent and controversial," said Daniel Polsby, associate dean of George Mason University School of Law, a friend of Mr. Lott's who has examined the claims in the case.

Although others have confirmed that Mr. Lott's computer was wiped out in a literal crash a bookcase fell on it evidence of his 1997 survey has been harder to find.

"I lost essentially all my data for everything I'd written that wasn't co-authored," Mr. Lott said in a telephone interview. "So what happened was that I spent that summer and the next two years replacing all the data. The problem with the survey data is that you can't go back to a primary source and replace that."

Mr. Polsby says Mr. Lott was vindicated last week, when a Minnesota lawyer came forward to say he had participated in the 1997 survey.

Northwest University professor James Lindgren, who was one of Mr. Bellesiles' main critics, also became involved in the investigation of Mr. Lott's survey. But the question appears to be at least partly resolved, according to Mr. Lindgren.

"Happily, as the concerns became more widely discussed, David Gross, a Minnesota lawyer, came forward to say that he thought he'd been surveyed by Lott back in 1997. I interviewed [Mr. Gross] at length and found him credible," Mr. Lindgren said.


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