The impact of gun control policies

I’ve been meaning to share a bunch of stats and articles about gun control for a while, but it’s still a bit of a mess.  In the meanwhile, here’s a link/podcast roundup:

  • Vox’s Today, Explained podcast had an excellent recent episode in the wake of the latest California mass shooting entitled The simplest way to fix our gun laws. on what California is doing wrong (and right), and what Massachusetts is doing better.  Both states have among the strictest gun control in the US and among the lowest per capita rate of gun deaths, but California doesn’t enforce some of its laws as much as it should.  Massachusetts makes you do a test/interview in order to get a license to own a gun, which seems to help a lot.
  • Gimlet’s Science Vs. podcast had a recent two parter on guns, the second of which addressed gun control — among other things, looking into the effects of massive changes to gun policy in Australia and the UK.  They concluded that better background checks would have some impact, but not a lot — many gun buyers don’t have a criminal record and/or don’t buy from an official dealer.  Expanding mental health checks also wouldn’t catch too many more shooters, and it’s nigh impossible to predict who will be violent.  Gun buybacks on a small scale are insufficient to combat deaths; comprehensive national laws are more effective.  Forcing owners to register with the government seems to help as well.
  • The NY Times looked at What Explains Mass Shootings [and more], and concludes it’s the sheer number of guns that explains the rate of gun violence in the US (as opposed to factors like mental health, immigration, racial diversity, or violent video game consumption).  The fact that Americans have 42% of the world’s guns but only 4% of the population leads to a high rate of lethal crimes per capita:

…the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.

Rather, they found, in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed, that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.

  • A couple years back (following another California mass shooting), FiveThirtyEight found that mass shootings are indeed on the increase in the US; it’s not just an increase in media coverage.

A few points worth noting: mass shootings, while the primary focus of some of the above links and a lot of media attention, are a tiny fraction of gun deaths.  The much bigger category of homicide rates overall, as well as most types of crime, have dropped substantially in the US over the past couple decades.  However, as noted above, crimes like robberies are more likely to turn lethal when firearms are involved.

Far more frequent even than homicides – suicides make up 63% of gun deaths.  Waiting periods for guns reduce suicide rates.

Mass shootings are not limited to the US.  Which country has the worst rate of shootings/fatalities depends on what exactly you count (but the US has the largest number of mass shootings by a lot, and the rate is on the rise).

Police shootings deserve a separate post, but in 2015 they made up 3% of US firearm deaths, and 10% of the victims were unarmed.

And, if you really want to, you can dig through my hodgepodge of notes & stats on gun deaths that I keep meaning to turn into a bigger post (last substantially updated in 2015).


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preschool has a whoppingly huge impact on disadvantaged children

[UPDATE: I think I was not skeptical enough in this post, and relied on too few sources (see comments for some useful caveats).  I hope to do some follow up posts eventually and delve into both Tough’s work and other work on early childhood interventions and educational interventions some more.]

Planet Money recently had a story on the radical effectiveness of preschool at changing the lives of poor and at-risk kids, lasting long past preschool.  A few examples of how kids’ lives improved if they’d attended preschool vs. if they hadn’t:

  • teen pregnancy rates were far lower
  • arrest rates were far lower in kids
  • employment rates and income were substantially higher
  • the story also implied that homelessness rates were lower.
The show transcript isn’t up yet, so I don’t have the exact numbers, but the changes were really impressive — I think that there was as much as a 50% decrease in the rates of bad things happening later in life for kids who attended preschool.
This American Life expanded on this theme in another recent show.  They talked to Paul Tough, author of the book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  Tough explained that preschool teaches children “soft skills” — “qualities like tenacity, resilience, impulse control”, which then allow them to do better in all sorts of aspects of life.  You can also teach people these skills later in life, but starting early means they’re less likely to fall behind in school or get in trouble.

An economic analysis cited by Planet Money indicated that making sure kids go to preschool (or presumably otherwise learn “soft skills” early on) is one of the most effective ways you can improve a child’s life, on many surprising dimensions.  It also seems to be one of the best ways to have broader impacts on society as well, given the large effects on the above issues.  As a billionaire investor said, investing in preschools is a good way to treat some of the causes of issues rather than just the symptoms.

Has anyone read Paul Tough’s book?  I’m interested, but not sure whether or not there’s substantially more to it beyond the coverage I’ve already heard.

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