Friday, February 4, 2011

John Lott, Mayor Daley, and Thugocracy

Mayor Richard M. Daley does not like guns unless they are in the hands of his bodyguards. It appears that he also doesn't like scholars who challenge his cherished beliefs about the efficacy of gun control.

Heading that list is Dr. John Lott whose book, More Guns, Less Crime, attacked some of the most cherished assumptions of the gun control movement. In 1998, Lott was an Olin Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. It should be noted here that the University of Chicago is a private university and has no formal links with the City of Chicago.

Lott ran afoul of Daley back in 1998 and is only now telling the story. With Daley about to leave office, he felt it was time that the real story be told.

In December 1998, Daley held a conference with other anti-gun mayors to discuss suing gun manufacturers. To get an opposing view, Lott was asked by local Chicago TV reporters to meet and talk with them about the lawsuits. Scheduled to arrive at the venue after the mayors had finished, he arrived to find them running behind schedule. At the suggestion of a reporter, he went in to listen to the mayors' presentations. Here is where it gets interesting as Lott describes it in an opinion piece for FoxNews.
When the audience started yelling questions, I raised my hand in an attempt to get called on. At that point a woman walked over to me and asked me if I was John Lott from the University of Chicago. I said that I was, and she informed me that I was not allowed to ask any questions -- no additional explanation was offered.

This appeared awfully strange, and it bothered me that someone would be singled out in the entire crowd. So after about 10 minutes, I decided to raise my hand again to ask a question. The same woman reappeared, this time signaling to two plainclothes men to come up behind me where I was seated. The woman stated that only the press were allowed to ask questions and that I would have to leave. While she was speaking to me, one of the men gave me a couple of solid hits in my back and then pushed me hard on my shoulder, almost knocking me out of my chair. I told her that I wasn't leaving, but that I wouldn't raise my hand again.

Some in the audience noticed. A reporter from the Baltimore Sun (Joe Mathews) had been seated next to me and gave me his card, stating that he thought the whole thing looked surprising.
Not satisfied with having Lott roughed up, Daley went further a few days later.
On December 15, 1998, I learned from Dan Fischel, the law school's Dean, that Mayor Daley had called up the president of the University of Chicago, Hugo Sonnenschein. Mayor Daley reportedly had told Sonnenschein that he had great plans for the relationship between the city and the school but that my continued presence at the university was going to do “irreparable harm” to that relationship.

I was then faced with two different termination options: immediately resign from the university or stay until July and promise not to talk to the press any more while I was there.
Lott went with Option 2 and kept away from the press until his appointment was to expire. In retrospect, Lott feels he should have resigned and gone to the press. However, at the time, as a young scholar, he was concerned about the impact on his career if he was ousted. Given that he had four kids at home, this was understandable.

As reported in the Illinois Review, a conservative journal, Lott withheld describing this incident in his 3rd. Editon of More Guns, Less Crime because the book is published by the University of Chicago Press. He felt it would have just been edited out. The Illinois Review has audio of his interview with Teri O'Brien here.

There are two issues in this story. First, that Mayor Daley would make threats to the president of a great university such as the University of Chicago and do so knowing he was immune from any backlash. Second, that the president of any university would kow-tow to a thug like Daley on an issue of academic freedom.

That Daley would threaten the president of a university just as if he were some corrupt land developer seeking the city's approval for a project is not that surprising. It is the Chicago Way and I anticipate it will continue if, as seems likely, Rahm Emanuel is elected the next Mayor of Chicago. However, it is surprising that the president of a great university would roll over on Lott after threats from Daley. Chicago has long had a reputation for academic rigor, for innovative research, and great scholars. Its list of Nobel Laureates who have either attended or taught there is quite long.

The story reminds me of King Henry II and Thomas a' Becket. When King Henry reportedly said "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest", four knights of the royal court took that as the command to kill Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, unlike the murder of Beckett which outraged England, no one in Chicago seems to be outraged that John Lott was to be sacrificed to satisfy Richard Daley's pique.

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