When you receive glowing media attention and have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend, you don’t really have to debate. Michael Bloomberg just announced last week that he would be putting $25 million into next year’s House and Senate races. From 2013 to 2016, he donated $48 million toward congressional races. By contrast, the NRA contributed a measly $2.1 million. And Mr. Bloomberg spent about 85 percent more on lobbying, more on television advertising, and much more for state and local political races.
Mr. Bloomberg’s groups, like other gun control organizations, usually have control over whom they debate on TV and radio. I know this from personal experience. On a half dozen occasions, I have been asked to appear on CNN or elsewhere, only to be canceled on because the representative from Mr. Bloomberg’s group didn’t want to appear with me on the show. I have even been told this as I was driving to the studio. All that the producers could give me was their sympathy. A couple of them even asked me if I could recommend someone to replace me.
In April 2015, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal invited me to participate in a one-hour debate with Ted Alcorn, research director at Mr. Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Mr. Alcorn had already agreed to appear, but said he was unavailable as soon as the C-SPAN producer informed him of my participation. He said something had come up. When the producer suggested that the two of us could appear in separate, half-hour segments, his availability changed once again. However, he was only available for the half-hour segment after mine. Conveniently, that prevented me from responding to his points.
I learned all of this from the C-SPAN producer, who encouraged me to let viewers know about Mr. Alcorn’s unwillingness to debate me. From the show transcript:
Lott: “I was really disappointed that the people from Everytown — your producer said that I should mention this — weren’t willing to go on with me right now to discuss this. I think that the audience would gain a lot more from the give and take, where someone could make a claim, and the other person could rebut it. I am disappointed that they have continually refused to appear at the same time.”
When Mr. Alcorn finally appeared on “Washington Journal,” the first caller asked him about his unwillingness to debate.
Caller: “my first comment is that I think it is quite telling that the people who are opposed to gun rights refuse to appear on screen with Dr. Lott or other economists or criminologists … why is that?”
After responding with a long discussion about how we “live in a moment when gun rights in the U.S. have an unprecedented level of protection,” Mr. Alcorn eventually got to his point.
Alcorn: “When there’s a credible scientist — somebody who wants to have a real constructive conversation about this, we’re going to be there. But folks who seek to minimize the issue of gun violence, the grave issue of gun violence in this country or to draw attention away from the real issues to themselves — that’s not a conversation that I think is productive to be a part of.”
I don’t minimize the issue of gun violence. I just disagree about what policies will effectively combat that violence.
But Everytown can afford to make excuses and miss opportunities for debate. After all, they have massive resources and can count on the mainstream media to push their agenda.
In my experience, only Fox News has stood its ground. Once more, Everytown refused to participate as soon as they learned that I would be appearing at the same time. But the show went on, and host John Stossel pointedly mentioned their unwillingness to participate.
On literally hundreds of occasions, however, gun control advocates have refused to have a straight-up debate. Last November, popular Las Vegas talk show host Alan Stock tried to set up a debate about Mr. Bloomberg’s ballot initiative in Nevada on gun background checks. But a person working on the campaign reportedly told Mr. Stock that they would “only debate a local person who didn’t know as much about the issue.”
Last month, the prestigious, bipartisan Texas Lyceum invited me to debate gun control issues. They asked Everytown, the Brady Campaign and the Violence Policy Center if they would participate. Once again, they refused.
Mr. Bloomberg and his groups are unwilling because they don’t want viewers to see their inaccurate information being challenged. They would rather people just take their falsehoods at face value.
• John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of “Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench” (Bascom Hill Publishing Group, 2013).