In this “Understanding Gun Violence” essay, Robert Spitzer demystifies a range of perceptions about gun policies and their effects. Spitzer engages a range of laws and regulations—from background checks to waiting periods, and gun storage to concealed carry—and the ways they differ across US states. He finds that more stringent policies correlate with less death and injury from guns. For social scientists interested in the sources and impact of public policy, Spitzer argues that guns are a rich and important zone for future research.
Angela Stroud’s contribution to the “Understanding Gun Violence” series calls for greater conceptual clarity among researchers. As an important example, Stroud examines different ways in which “mass shootings” are defined, and how fuzzy definitions contribute to public perceptions that overestimate their frequency. A more purposeful and sustained interdisciplinary conversation around gun ownership and violence, she argues, is critical for both advancing scholarship and informing public discourse and policy.
With this essay, Jonathan Metzl opens a new Items series exploring social science research pathways into understanding American gun violence, gun culture, and its discontents. The series provides a sampling of innovative approaches to the study of gun-related issues in the United States. Here Metzl provides background on the history and limits of public health research approaches to gun violence, and highlights how social science research can and has started asking new questions about guns in the United States.
Sixty summers ago, the SSRC’s Committee on the Simulation of Cognitive Processes organized a landmark training institute, in partnership with RAND and codirected by Herbert Simon. The ambitious goal was to push the use of digital computers as key tools in modeling human cognition. Here, Hunter Heyck reflects on the legacy of the institute in advancing the use of computer-assisted “models” in the social sciences and how participants’ future work was shaped by the event. The institute was initially described in a 1958 Items report by Simon and Allan Newell, which we now republish to accompany Heyck’s essay.
Kristen Lewis, Sarah Burd-Sharps, and Becky Ofrane dive into the demographic data in Measure of America’s latest report on youth disconnection, More than a Million Reasons for Hope. While the recent rebounding economy offers some good news in terms of the overall disconnection rates among young people, these remain disturbingly high for minority youth. The authors argue economic growth alone cannot erase the multiple structural barriers and institutional racism that produce significant gaps in the disconnection rates between different racial and ethnic groups, but solutions can be found through local organizations and by including youth in the conversation.
Responding to the reflections on A Portrait of Los Angeles County, Measure of America codirectors Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps first provide an overview of how they applied the Human Development Index to Los Angeles, including the categorizing of different neighborhoods from Glittering to Precarious. They then engage with key issues of ethnicity, incarceration, and the ways different parts of LA County are interrelated and affect each other—all issues that emerge from the reflections by Jennifer Lee, Pedro Noguera, and Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Terry Allen.
A collaboration between Duke University scholars and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) has focused on environmental justice questions in rural Alabama. In this essay, the partners describe their research on how sewage and related environmental problems intersect with broader social structural issues, and consider how to address these challenges. The authors also reflect on the process by which scholars and community-based organizations can work together, and what goes into a mutually rewarding partnership.
In this reflection on MOA’s A Portrait of LA County report, Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Terry Allen connect their research on incarceration and policing in LA to the report’s findings. The same neighborhoods coded as Struggling LA and Precarious LA by the report have the highest incarceration rates, as well as high “collateral damage” of the prison system such as the cost of bail. The authors refer to these parts of the city and county as Caged LA, and argue that an understanding of urban inequality needs to incorporate patterns of incarceration into measures of human development.
In a new response to the recently published Measure of America report A Portrait of LA County, Pedro Noguera unpacks a range of socioeconomic disparities revealed in the report. Noguera calls attention to how comparing inequalities across neighborhoods can miss the ways in which different parts of LA are interconnected—how what happens in one part of the city shapes social outcomes elsewhere. Showing how the lack of affordable housing, long commutes, and poor access to quality education are related, he proposes recommendations for addressing inequality based upon geographic interdependencies.
Program Director Tatiana Carayannis provides some of the conceptual basis for a new SSRC program on Understanding Violent Conflict. This essay traces the program’s origins in new understandings of the complexity of contemporary international conflict—including the importance of local dimensions and the extra-local nature of so much violence. Building on the recent work of the Justice and Security Research Program (JSRP) on how public authority is exercised in conflict settings, the UVC will take these lessons in a range of new directions, especially in the Middle East and Africa.