Lott, Lambert, guns, and the Merced killings
The account was sufficiently striking that I thought it worth checking. I found the original story in the local paper. There was no mention of the locked family guns. I reported this to John, who I have known for many years, and was disappointed to later hear that he was still using the story.
Recently, the issue resurfaced on a blog, set off by a post by my son, with comments by both Tim Lambert, an online critic of John's work, John, and me. According to John he had sent me the information supporting his account, as well as webbing it on his site; while that may well be true, I never got it. Checking the information on John's site, along with the discussion of the case on Tim Lambert's site, I found:
There are indeed two stories in the Fresno Bee that mention gun control in the context of the killing, both cited and linked to on John Lott's web page. The earlier is on August 26th, three days after it happened, and quotes the children's great-uncle. It says that there was a gun, but it was "locked away and hidden." The later is August 31, and says that "Carpenter also said he had a gun at his house that he kept locked away from his children because he feared government laws." (Carpenter is the children' father)
I believe what I had found and reported to John about was the original story, probably from the day after the killing, which did not have the gun control references. However:
1. Neither later story is consistent with the most striking detail in Lott's version, in which Jessica ran for where the family guns were stored but they were locked up tight. Both refer to one gun, the earlier version says it was hidden, there is no evidence that Jessica either knew where it was or could get to it. A more detailed account by Richard Poe that I found while googling--he interviewed both the great uncle and the children's mother--makes it clear that the gun was at the other end of the house from the room Jessica locked herself into and from which she climbed out a window to get help. According to that version, the gun wasn't locked up, merely kept on a high shelf unloaded. My guess is that that version is correct; the August 31 story, which refers to the gun being locked up, gives only an indirect quote of the father.
2. The first mention of the existence of the gun that Lott cites, by the great-uncle, is in a story published in the local paper on the 26th. The one account of the killing I could find that was based on a wire service version was from the 25th. So when John objected that the national media were cutting out the anti-gun control element of the story in the local paper, he was apparently objecting to the AP not citing a local story that had not yet been published.
Putting it all together, I conclude that the Merced murders provide evidence against gun control laws, but weaker evidence than John Lott (and Vin Suprynowicz, from whom I think John got the original story) claim. Even without safe storage laws, the parents of small children--one of them was nine, I don't know if she was the youngest--would be likely to keep firearms unloaded and on a high shelf or otherwise out of easy reach. Even if the Carpenter gun had been kept loaded and in easy reach, it isn't clear whether Jessica could have gotten to it.
The case does not, contrary to John's claim, provide clear evidence of media bias. The AP story did not remove evidence of the evils of gun control from the local story that was presumably its source, because the evidence wasn't in the local paper until after the AP story went out. That conclusion might change if it turns out that there are later stories in the national media, based on later wire service versions, but I didn't find any and would be mildly surprised to find national stories on a local killing still appearing three or four days after the event.
Interested readers should check out (at least) John's version and Tim Lambert's, both linked to above--and should be glad to live at a time when one can actually get both sides of such a controversy, and a good deal of the relevant evidence, with a few clicks.
Labels: lott guns media bias