Thursday, November 05, 2015

Snippet Posts, 11/5/15: On the Dangers of Open-Carry Laws And The Early Demise of Poorer Non-Hispanic White Americans

1.  The Colorado shooting rampage touches upon one often-ignored way other people's right to open-carry endangers any potential victim of mass shooters:

Two days before Noah Harpham killed three people in a Colorado Springs shooting rampage, the 33-year-old wrote an incoherent Internet essay post and rambled in a video uploaded to YouTube.


Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor — whom she didn't know by name — and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle. She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.

Bolds are mine.

This phenomenon isn't limited to just guns, but it's pretty common there.  In this case the police didn't act as rapidly as would have been the case if open-carry had been illegal*.  Whether some of the victims might have been saved under that scenario is unclear.  But worth thinking about.

2.  A new study looks at the death rates among Americans between ages 45 and 54.  It argues that something troubling is taking place among poorer white non-Hispanic Americans in that age group:

The recent divergence in death rates between the United States and other rich countries is striking. Between 1979 and 1999, Case and Deaton show, mortality for white Americans ages 45 to 54 had declined at nearly 2 percent per year. That was about the same as the average rate of decline in mortality for all people the same age in such countries as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. (See figure below.) After 1999, the 2 percent annual decline continued in other industrialized countries and for Hispanics in the United States, but the death rate for middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans turned around and began rising half a percent a year.

The authors, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, note that white Americans still have a higher life expectancy than black Americans, but the difference between black and white mortality rates (as a ratio where 1 would stand for equal rates) has shrunk from 2.09 in 1999 to 1.40 in 2013.

What's driving these results?  Most of the increase in white non-Hispanic mortality rates in this age group is caused by rising death rates among those with the lowest education levels (and probably therefore the lowest incomes).  And the reasons look to me linked to self-harm:

This increase for whites was largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.
I've only skimmed through the study so far, but it's worth pointing out that the various explanations Case and Deaton offer are speculative ones, i.e., not something one could directly deduce from the statistics they report.  This doesn't mean that their proposed explanations wouldn't be the correct ones, of course.** But the data is silent about what's causing these changes. 

Case and Deaton didn't find this pattern among older Americans, who are still all enjoying declining mortality rates (as are blacks and Hispanics in the studied age range).  It would have been interesting to see if the pattern would be visible among Americans younger than the 45-54 age group the study analyzed.

I need to spend more time thinking about that study.  The changes look very recent and pretty drastic, and it's hard not think that they have something to do with the economic despair*** of the least educated middle-aged non-Hispanic whites.  But why wouldn't the same economic despair affect the poor non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics in that age group in a similar manner?

Edited later to fix a typo and to add the first footnote.  For the sake of clarity.  I was half-asleep because of fatigue when I wrote the original draft.

*  What I mean when I say that this phenomenon is not limited only to guns is this:  The cues the police uses to judge whether a crime might be taking place are different when the cue behavior itself is illegal than when it is made legal.  In the latter case the old cue is no longer workable.  For a non-gun example, think of masked people entering a bank.  That might cause the bank staff to press the alarm button or call the police.  But if being masked is completely legal they cannot do that or at least get help as fast should a bank robbery indeed be in progress.

** Earlier studies have also found an increase in the mortality rates among poorer white men and especially among poorer white women, so it's clear that something is happening among the poorest non-Hispanic whites which requires attention and analysis not only from economists but also from health care researchers.  But what the specific chains of cause-and-effect might be still remains to be researched.

***Caused by the collapse of the housing markets, the most recent recession, the disappearance of better-paying jobs for those with at most a high-school diploma, the way we are being talked to slowly accept no long-term retirement security and so on.