Mass shootings are a policy choice!

As always on these horrible issues, great stuff from German Lopez:

In every country, people get into arguments, hold racist views or suffer from mental health issues. But in the U.S., it is easier for those people to pick up a gun and shoot someone.

That reality is what allowed an 18-year-old to obtain an assault rifle and kill 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. And it is what makes the U.S. a global outlier when it comes to gun violence, with more gun deaths than any of its peers.

This chart, looking at public shootings in which four or more people were killed, shows how much the U.S. stands out:

Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Studies have found this to be true at the state and national level. It is true for homicides, suicides, mass shootings and even police shootings.

It is an intuitive idea: If guns are more available, people will use them more often. If you replaced “guns” in that sentence with another noun, it would be so obvious as to be banal.

Stricter gun laws appear to help. They are associated with fewer gun deaths, in both a domestic and global context, while looser gun laws are linked with more gun deaths…

The U.S. is always going to have more guns, and consequently more deaths, than other rich countries. Given the Second Amendment, mixed public opinion and a closely divided federal government, lawmakers face sharp limits on how far they can go…

But since America’s gun laws are so weak, there is a lot of room to improve — and at least cut some gun deaths.

To reduce mass shootings, experts have several ideas:

  • More thorough background checks might stop some gunmen, like those in the church shootings in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017.

  • “Red flag” laws allow law enforcement officials to confiscate guns from people who display warning signs of violence, like threatening their peers or family members. The laws might have applied to the gunman in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018.

  • Assault weapon bans would restrict or prohibit access to the kinds of rifles shooters often use. A ban could at least make mass shootings less deadly by pushing gunmen toward less effective weapons, some experts argue

Most shootings in America never appear in national headlines. The majority of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides. Nearly half were homicides that occurred outside mass shootings; they are more typical acts of violence on streets and in homes (and most involve handguns). Mass shootings were responsible for less than 2 percent of last year’s gun deaths.

Stricter gun laws could also reduce the more common gun deaths. It all comes down to the same problem: More guns equal more gun deaths, whether a gang shootout in California, a suicide in Wyoming or a school shooting in Texas.

I also came across this substack from political science professor, Brian Klass, on the issue and it’s terrific, “It’s the Guns.: America is the only rich democracy that features the routine mass slaughter of its citizens with guns. Why does this happen? The data show a really clear picture: It’s the guns. Yes, it’s that simple.”

It’s got a series of false claims and then the reality.  I strongly recommend the whole thing:

Licensing, Training, and Safety Regulation

Most of the gun debate in the United States focuses on gun purchasing and background checks. But what’s often lost in the mix is the standard array of regulations around gun ownership that exist in almost every other country on the planet.

Just to take one example, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require gun owners to have a license in order to own a gun. This graphic is from Politico:

The New York Times has put together a fantastic guide that compares how easy it is to buy a gun in the United States compared to other peer countries. It’s really worth a look to see just how much of an outlier America is—which matters, because it’s not just about gun laws, but also about regulation, licensing, and responsible gun ownership training…

Moreover, the gun lobby and elected Republicans have made a policy choice that they are willing to tolerate tens of thousands of gun murders each year—including in terrifying mass shootings, even in schools. As a result, most sensible gun laws are dead on arrival in Congress, and until the balance of power tips substantially more toward the Democrats, the odds are low that any meaningful gun legislation will pass.

State legislation is crucial, even if it won’t solve the problem (due to what I described as the Chicago Problem above). But it’s going to be a generational battle, to shift America’s gun culture and bring it substantially more in line with other countries.

My message, though, is this: America’s gun violence is not inevitable. It’s a choice.

Parents in the United States are buying bulletproof backpacks, children are being traumatized by mass shooting drills, and an increasing number of people stay away from crowded events because they’re worried they’re going to be shot.

I’ve lived in the United States and I’ve lived in the United Kingdom. In the UK, there’s a key difference: I never think about guns. I never think about mass shootings. Never. It’s just not part of life. It’s not a problem that exists.

Every other rich democracy has solved this problem. The United States can solve it too. But it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of persuasion, and a lot of hard-fought election victories. It’s worth it, because nobody wants to live in a broken, violent society in which you have to look for the nearest exits when you go to a concert, a movie theater, or a school.

It’s a choice, it’s a choice, it’s a choice. It’s a democracy and we have a say.  We don’t have to live like this.  And we should reject politicians (yes, 99% Republicans) who tell us we do have to. 

Racial attitudes and abortion– maybe not what you think

Y’all know I love Thomas Edsall’s columns that do a great job summarizing the social science on a newsworthy topic.  In 2021, he had a really interesting one on race and abortion (gift link):

Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth and the author of a new book, “Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right,” looked at conservative strategizing in a recent op-ed in The Guardian. In his essay, Balmer recounted a 1990 meeting of conservatives in Washington at which Weyrich spoke:

Remember, Weyrich said animatedly, that the religious right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got the movement going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies, including a ban on interracial dating that the university maintained until 2000.

In an email, Balmer wrote, “Opposition to abortion became a convenient diversion — a godsend, really — to distract from what actually motivated their political activism: the defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions.”

The same is true, Ballmer continued, of many politicians who have become adamant foes of abortion:

At a time when open racism was becoming unfashionable, these politicians needed a more high-minded issue, one that would not compel them to surrender their fundamental political orientation. And of course the beauty of defending a fetus is that the fetus demands nothing in return — housing, health care, education — so it’s a fairly low-risk advocacy.

The reality in the 1970s was that the surging rights movements — rights for African Americans, women’s rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, rights for criminal defendants and for the mentally ill — had set the stage for what would become an explosive conservative reaction, a reaction that by the 1980 elections put Ronald Reagan in the White House for eight years, wrested control of the Senate from Democrats and elected a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats that wielded tremendous power in the House.

“There is a persistent association between abortion views and ethnoracial exclusion,” Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at N.Y.U., wrote in an email:

What has happened is that both issue positions have become increasingly sorted by party, so that being anti-choice or holding exclusionary beliefs is a clear marker of Republican affiliation, whereas being pro-choice or defining the nation in inclusive terms signals Democratic identity. The same has happened to a wide range of other issues, from health care and voting rights to mask-wearing and vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic — across all of these domains, policy views increasingly demarcate partisan identity.

David Leege, emeritus professor of political science at Notre Dame, has an additional explanation for the process linking racial animosity and abortion. In an email, he wrote:

For the target populations — evangelical Protestants — whom Viguerie, Weyrich, and Falwell sought to mobilize, racial animosity and abortion attitudes are related but mainly in an indirect way, through aversion toward intellectual elites. The people perceived to be pushing government’s role in equal opportunity and racial integration were now the same as those pushing permissive abortion laws, namely, the highly educated from New England, banking, universities, the Northern cities, and elsewhere.

In short, Leege wrote, “although the policy domain may differ, the hated people are the same.”

Very interesting stuff.  The history on this is undeniable, but my regular co-authors and I were actually struck by the complete lack of contemporary empirical analyses on this very issue.  So, we set out to do our own, and it just got published:


For many Americans, pro-life attitudes are directly attached to their religious beliefs, especially white evangelicals. Some have argued that evangelicals came to oppose abortion not simply because of their views on the sanctity of life, but out of a growing racial resentment as government policy and society moved towards greater racial equality.


This study explores the relationship of evangelicalism, racial attitudes, and views on the legality of abortion to explore whether racial resentment is behind evangelical opposition to abortion.


To carry out this exploration this study employs American National Election Studies data from 2000 to 2020 and the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) Values survey.


We find no support for the idea that racial attitudes are disproportionately correlated with the abortion views of white evangelicals. Rather, we find that racial attitudes are now correlated with views on abortion for all Americans. Where abortion attitudes are distinctive from attitudes on other policy issues is in having very strong religious determinants, suggesting that genuine religious beliefs do indeed underscore the pro-life views of white evangelicals.


This study provides a good baseline for understanding the relationship between racial attitudes, evangelicalism, and abortion attitudes at the cusp of the Dobbs decision overturning Constitutional protections for abortion, and should be revisited in the post Roe era.

Not what we expected, actually, which makes it all the more interesting.  Some key tables:


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