A week has passed since the Orlando Massacre. I've spend most of the time since grieving, seeking the comfort of others, and sharing what comfort I can. In the back of my mind has been a battle over how to "respond". Personally, publicly, politically. I'm still at a loss, but here's one partial, tentative response, among the many swirling in my head.
So many things got "attached" in one way or another to the profound loss Orlando, the Nation, and beyond experienced: gay blood, the presidential race, violence prevention, overpolicing, I could go on.
Perhaps the thing that most caught my eye was the idea that somehow now that "the gays" were activated, gun control might stand a chance of moving forward in ways it has been slow to in the wake of so many national tragedies. On one hand, I'm perplexed by the idea, but also inspired by the challenge - we've made such huge progress on the "gay agenda", what can we offer?
Levers of Power and Change
What can "the gays" offer to gun control efforts? I guess I'd start with a basic breakdown of the levers of power and change in this country thatwe've appealed to at one juncture or another in recent years: the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government, the press, entertainment, science, and interpersonal relationships.
It appears that the judiciary is, for the next 3-5 years anyway, unlikely to be of great assistance. The legislature (Federally) is hamstrung, and likely to remain so at least until the 2018 election, and probably beyond. Although some State and local governments have made heroic efforts in recent years, the porous nature of State boundaries put severe limits on what can be accomplished. The Federal executive has done about as much as it can in the face of strident opposition from the other to branches. The press is a strong advocate, and also a strong impediment. More on that later. Science is unlikely to be of great assistance - the basic work demonstrating that possession of a firearm greatly increases one's own risk of death is already well established. In my experience, science itself rarely moves political change. Narratives do what statistics appear to be incapable of. Coming out has been an incredibly powerful method for invoking change, starting at the most atomistic level of power: family and friendship. But frankly, I'm struggling to think of what the corollary in terms of violence reduction through gun control is.
Changing the Narrative
I suspect the way to create the greatest momentum now, which can later be leveraged for policy change, is to work on the narrative of how we tell stories about guns. Guns don't solve problems. Guns cause problems.
But in the movies and video games, guns are frequently portrayed as solving problems, from a distance, without consequence. Now I love me some violent video games and movies (Reservoir Dogs springs to mind), but to the degree that we don't tell an accurate story about how using guns screws everyone up, we're doing a disservice. We should demand that television and film makers don't turn to guns as a plot device to get rid of a problem to allow the protagonist to progress, but rather every use of a gun should endeavor to show how it makes everyone's life, including the shooter's, much more complicated and less comfortable. That would be a more accurate story.
Narrative moves opinion more than statistics do. With that in mind, a committed, passionate press should tell more stories about the consequences of firearms use, more about the victims, and also more about what happens to those who carry and fire them. Get into the fears that drive people to carry, and to shoot, get into the legal consequenes, sure; and also the long term psychological consequences of what injuring or killing another human causes. Get the stories of people who used to carry and decided not to any longer - give current firearms owners a path out.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Sunday, January 24, 2016
So, I'm working on a new analysis, and my plan is to describe what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and what I'm learning along the way, as it happens.
Well, I guess it's not entirely "new", depending on how you count it, I've been working on this for years already.
It's an extension of prior work I've talked about a lot on this blog, the extraordinary finding that gay men are more likely to be in "excellent" health than heterosexual men.
I've looked at this issue in many datasets, and published a paper on it in one particular dataset, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, where I looked at the self-reported general health of men in same-sex and mixed-sex couples, based on their marital status and household composition.
In that study, I found that about half the general health advantage of men in same-sex couples was explained by the facts that men in same-sex couples were younger on average, better educated, and wealthier. When I looked at some of the specific health characteristics, men in same-sex couples were less likely to be overweight or obese, but more likely to smoke. Taking all the health factors I could into account didn't explain why man in same-sex couples were healthier than men in mixed-sex couples.
But what do I want to do now, in this new analysis? Well, it may yet shift and wiggle from this idea, but I'd like to do a couple of things. First, there's a lot more data to work with now. Instead of having to look at marital status and household composition, we can now look at sexual orientation directly, because a number of states have started to ask people not just who you live with and your marital status, but also whether you think of yourself as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or something else.
Second, because we now have both sexual orientation and marital status, and same-sex couples can get married in a lot more places than when I did the earlier analyses, I can look at single gay, lesbian and bisexual people, bisexual people in same-sex and mised-sex relationships, and a variety of household composition structures.
Third, I'd like to try to fold three different surveys into a single analysis, the BRFSS (which is the largest of the surveys, but the sexual orientation questions are asked in only select states), the National Health Interview Surveys (which are smaller, but comprehensively asked all across the country), and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (which are smaller still, but have a great deal of depth to them).
There are other ideas I'd like to look at too, like the degree to which heterosexuals would be misidentified as being sexual minorities because they live in same-sex households (like my heterosexual roommate). And what geographic and demographic factors predict that misclassification.
Also on the issue of misclassification, the BRFSS asks interviewers to guess the sex of the person they're on the phone with, and these data give us an estimate of how often they guess wrong.
Another set of issues I could look at with these data are things like basic demographics - Who do gay men and lesbians live with? How many are in relationships? Believe it or not, these basic issues have barely been touched in the academic literature, because data like this has not been available before.