Mike D'Antoni and the Difference Between a Concealed Handgun and LoJack

John Donohue and I have weighed in again on the concealed-handgun debate. (You can read previous writings on this subject here, here, and here.) This time we have responded to an empirical article by Carlisle Moody and Thomas Marvell, who claim they are “confident” that “the evidence, such as it is, seems to support the hypothesis that the shall-issue law is generally beneficial with respect to its overall long-run effect on crime.”

We point out in our response that the M&M article might have been more credible if

1) The authors had interpreted the sign of the coefficients correctly:

They state that “14 states experienced cumulative benefits while 10 states experienced cumulative costs.” Unfortunately, they have the numbers backwards: 14 of the 24 states are shown in Moody and Marvell’s Table 10 to have cumulative costs; that is, according to their own estimates, RTC laws lead to higher crime costs for the majority of states!

2) The authors had not found an implausibly high crime reduction in Florida:

Specifically, Moody and Marvell’s analysis indicates that the overall impact of RTC laws on crime through 2000 has been to lower crime by $28 billion nationally. But the same table reveals that Florida’s RTC laws alone experienced a crime cost reduction through 2000 of almost $31 billion. In other words, across the 24 states that they analyze, they attribute a benefit of almost $31 billion to the Florida RTC law and estimate an overall harmful effect of about $3 billion of RTC laws across the other 23 jurisdictions. So much for “generally beneficial.”

Now let us pause to reflect on this finding for a moment. If you had an intervention that had a net harmful effect in 23 out of 24 jurisdictions, while at the same time you estimated a massive benefit from the same intervention in only one state, would you assert that the intervention was “generally beneficial”?

3) The authors had coded the underlying data correctly (see p. 51 of our response).

As for now, the best empirical evidence still does not support the “more guns, less crime hypothesis.”

I’m often asked to reconcile this conclusion with the results of my LoJack article. You see, in an article with Steve Levitt, we showed that LoJack seemed to have a large deterrence effect on auto theft. Thieves (especially pros relative to joy riders) are less likely to take cars in a city like Boston, where a sizable fraction of the cars have LoJack. Unobservable precautions, like LoJack and silent alarms, can deter crime generally because potential criminals don’t know at the point of committing the crime whether their particular victim is protected or not. In contrast, a precaution like the Club, which is observable to the potential thief, probably just shifts crime to other victims.

But if our LoJack paper is correct, why wouldn’t we expect to see a similar crime-reducing effect from concealed handguns? Concealed weapons can also be a type of unobservable precaution that can deter potential criminals from committing crimes. Why doesn’t my concealed-handgun empiricism find similar reductions in crime when state laws make it easier to carry concealed handguns?

A powerful answer to this question comes from none other than the New York Knicks basketball coach Mike D’Antoni. As reported in last week’s New York Times:

Mike D’Antoni was thrilled to see Nate Robinson break out of his shooting slump Wednesday, but not so pleased with his behavior. Robinson — who was on the bench at the time — celebrated a second-quarter David Lee dunk by skipping down the baseline and bumping the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire, who had fouled Lee on the play. Robinson was assessed a technical foul, his sixth of the season. “To be honest with you, that’s why you don’t have concealed weapons, because I’d have shot him at that point,” D’Antoni said wryly. “I do like his feistiness, but he just needs to channel it in the right way. And he knows that.”

D’Antoni knows that the problem with a concealed weapon is that it can easily change from a defensive “unobservable precaution” to an offensive weapon to commit crimes. People are not as likely to get angry and rip a LoJack out of their car to beat someone with it.

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  1. Craig says:

    So, what you are saying is that guns won’t be as popular as Lojack, not that they wouldn;t deter crime if they were popular.

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  2. P says:

    People are not as likely to get angry and rip a LoJack out of their car to beat someone with it.

    Yes, clearly. We should ban all knives and baseball bats while we’re at it, because while these things are merely tools, people may get angry and use them to commit bodily harm.

    Won’t somebody please think of the children?

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  3. Matt H says:

    “D’Antoni knows that the problem with a concealed weapon is that it can easily change from a defensive “unobservable precaution” to an offensive weapon to commit crimes.”

    …Or maybe D’Antoni should never be allowed to carry a weapon because he has anger issues.

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  4. Brian says:

    Isn’t the difference that few potential criminals are actually harmed by defensive use of handguns?

    LoJack presumably increases the probability of apprehension of car thieves. A criminal confronted with a handgun almost certainly walks away, free to attempt further crimes almost immediately.

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  5. David S. says:

    What I’ve read in the “pro-gun” literature is that the rate of gun crime by concealed carry permit holders is very low. This following the passage of “shall issue” permit laws. Seems to me that if it were otherwise, the anti-gun groups would be publicizing that information quite loudly.

    Are there any publicly accessible studies comparing the gun crimes by concealed carry permit holders vs. the population at large?

    And do you really think that there are that many people who would use a gun if they got angry, amongst the general, non-criminal, population? I don’t know anyone that I would have such a concern about.

    Dave

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  6. Billy says:

    I agree with Craig somewhat. All this proves is that guns are less popular than Lojack. This is probably due to the fact that no one will bat an eye upon telling them you have lojack, but tell them you have a concealed weapon and the repsonse will be markedly different,a nd probably not in a good way.

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  7. MartyA says:

    I think you miss the point, Ian, and although the D’Antoni quote is fun to include, it doesn’t advance the argument. I think the real issue is how common the unknowable deterrent is – concealed carry is still quite rare, even in locations where it is allowed (or even encouraged). An interesting related study would be to find out if cars with visible external “LoJack Equipped” identifier are stolen as often as unidentified vehicles in those particular areas where LoJack is common.

    And finally, the idea that having MORE weapons on the street, concealed or not, would REDUCE the level of violence is a wishful fantasy (a state of mind conservatives seem to have a vested interest in). That’s where the “D’Antoni Effect” would come to the surface.

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  8. Some Random Economist says:

    How many crimes are committed by concealed carry permit holders? Is that number actually large enough to counteract any deterent effect of concealed carry laws, or are other crimes responsible for the failure of the “more guns, less crime” hypothesis?

    These other crimes strike me as a more plausible difference. I’ll bet there are more burglaries in which the theif hopes to steal a gun than there are cars broken into in order to steal the LoJack.

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