John Lott is a darling of the Gun Right. They have called out their champion to defend the honor of the cause against the suggestion that white racial resentment is related to attitudes about guns. Although Lott's research on guns and crime has been thoroughly refuted, and his falsifying of data called out many times, he remains a hero for those who make the erroneous argument that "more guns equals less crime".
At first, I found it puzzling that a person whose research has been debunked would be chosen as the flag bearer for a cause. Then I remembered that contemporary conservatism also embraces pseudo historian David Barton, supports Birtherism and other conspiranoid thinking, believes in creationism, and that global warming is a myth. From that perspective, John Lott is in good company.
He is a very accomplished and highly skilled quantitatively trained social scientist who had a starred career until his questionable statistics and data were exposed. This gives Lott the ability to use quantitative tools as a means of presenting truth claims in a disingenuous manner.
For example, on his own website, Lott runs some models that would seem to directly contradict the findings in "Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions".
[We have a wide readership here on WARN. Hopefully, some of you with the necessary bonafides will take a look at Lott's math and see if it passes muster. To my eyes, there are some curious assumptions being made about how symbolic racism on the part of non-whites would relate to their gun attitudes. Lott also seems to be misrepresenting Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly's arguments.
There is also a theoretical puzzle too: if one is misrepresenting the concept known as symbolic racism, then could the same person also be discounting how yes, there are people of color who have internalized white racism? And that they are going to be even more "racist" against blacks than whites who also exhibit symbolic racism?]
Lott has taken this data as the core for an opinion piece on the Fox News website. While "Are you a racist if you own a gun?" is ostensibly about the aforementioned research on gun policy and white racial attitudes, it quickly veers into an object lesson in symbolic racism.
The irony is wonderful.
In an editorial which suggests that the research on the relationship between white racism and attitudes about guns is "piss poor research", John Lott uses the very logic of white racial resentment and white victimology to make his claims.
So how is racism measured? Well, you are apparently “racist” if you don't agree that the legacy of slavery still has a great impact on how blacks are faring today. After all, slavery was abolished 158 years ago.
Besides, blacks were doing relatively better on many dimensions, such as family stability, during the early 1960s than today.
Of course, people might disagree with these points, but that doesn’t mean that they are racist.
OK, so conservatives are more likely to own guns than liberals (big surprise there), and they are more likely to believe that people are more responsible for how well they do in life than something that happened to their ancestors over a century and a half ago.These attitudes and beliefs which minimize black suffering, the connections between slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, and life chances in the present, and advance the "blacks fail because of bad culture" thesis are standard measures for modern racism.
Lott also manages to include some standard Right-wing talking points about the evils of "big government" and those "lazy" "liberal" academics:
"Ironically, O’Brien told an Australian newspaper: “the freezing of government funding for any social research associated with guns since the late 1990s had effectively ‘suppressed’ information on the subject.”
If his own study is an example of the quality of the academic research the government would fund, we are indeed better served not wasting taxpayer dollars on it.
But a more serious answer is that I was able to put together the data used in their paper in a couple hours. Academics across the world are being paid to do research. It is part of their job.
If someone teaches only six hours a week during the school year, how hard is it to find time for research?
I have done the largest studies on crime and I never had to receive a grant from the federal government to do my research.
There is another problem with the federal government doling out funds for research. Politicians just cannot separate politics from the money hand out. They aren’t bribing researchers, but they favor researchers who are likely to agree with them.
Disappointingly, none of the media coverage on this paper even bothered asking other academics to critique these claims.
The notion that gun owners must be racist appears to fit journalists’ worldview so well it probably never dawned on them that this research was fatally flawed."
Symbolic racism is the air that contemporary conservatism lives and breathes in; this is so normalized that white racial resentment has become the de facto Lingua Franca for the Right.
John Lott's editorial at Fox News is one more example of this phenomena.