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News and notes on guns in America

Smith & Wesson Touts Pseudoscience to Counter Shareholder Demands

Firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson’s parent company American Outdoor Brands Company (AOBC) is citing the debunked economist John Lott, Jr. in its fight against an activist-led shareholder campaign for transparency.

In a Monday filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, American Outdoor Brands explained why it opposes a shareholder proposal by a group of Catholic activists that would require the company to produce a report on the public safety risks associated with its products. The proposal is up for a vote at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on September 25.

In May, shareholders in Sturm, Ruger, which is AOBC’s main publicly traded competitor, approved an identical proposal submitted by the same group of activists. But AOBC argued in this latest filing that advocates of the shareholder proposal have relied on “faulty and misleading gun violence statistics.”

Instead, AOBC said, stockholders should look to the ample body of research produced by the Crime Prevention Research Center, a pro-gun think tank run by independent economist John Lott, Jr. Since the late 1990s, Lott has advanced what he calls the “More Guns, Less Crime” hypothesis, which posits that the decline in crime during the Clinton era was caused by more everyday citizens carrying concealed weapons, thus warding off potential criminals.

The AOBC filing was a response to separate reports by large shareholder advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and GlassLewis. Both companies endorsed the activist proposal, as they had with the successful Ruger initiative earlier this year.

Unfortunately for AOBC, Lott’s research has been debunked for years, and the man himself has engaged in unseemly and dishonest academic behavior.

Lott’s claim to fame, the “More Guns, Less Crime” argument, has been disputed for years. More recent research suggests that if anything, the opposite phenomenon is true: more guns are associated with more crime. According to one 2017 paper, in states that passed looser right-to-carry laws, violent crime fell at a far lower rate in the 1990s than it did in states like New York that tightly regulate guns in public. The paper found that trend held even with projections made using Lott’s own methods.

Lott has regularly responded to critics over the past two decades, sometimes with help: in 2003, The Washington Post reported that Lott had invented a persona called “Mary Rosh” to defend his pro-gun findings in internet forums and write favorable reviews of his book on Amazon. Lott fessed up to the practice when confronted. That same year, he was accused of fabricating survey data. More recently, he has falsely claimed that his papers were peer-reviewed by publications that in fact rejected his research.

That hasn’t stopped Lott. He still vociferously defends his work against any criticism and has continued to make dubious arguments in newspaper editorials. For all his effort, he hasn’t made any inroads in academia: he’s still working without a university job, and isn’t published in reputable scholarly journals. But he has made himself useful to organizations like AOBC and the National Rifle Association that oppose stricter gun laws. In the Trump era, Lott has even branched out and presented himself as an expert on voter fraud — another topic with which his opinion conveniently dovetails with right-wing policy goals.