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November 2012
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January 2013

A new America

Changing demoWhat did we learn this year? We'll never be the same.

Consider the following statistics that caught my attention in 2012.

America's complexion is changing.
  • By 2019, no single race or ethnicity will be in the majority among people 18 or younger.
  • That will also be true of the nation as a whole by 2043 when non-Hispanic white people will account for less than half the population.
  • 60% of Hispanic Americans were born in the U.S. The rate of Asian immigration now surpasses that of Hispanics.

America is aging.

  • The number of Americans 65 and older will more than double over the next two generations. 
  • By 2060, seniors will constitute more than one in five of the population, up from one in seven in 2012.
  • Seniors will surpass the 18-and-younger generation for the first time by 2056.
But older Americans will stay white, as the younger generation becomes more diverse. 
  • In 2060, more than half of seniors will be non-Hispanic white.
  • More than two-thirds of people 18 and younger will be people of color.

Disparities between non-Hispanic whites and people of color are significant.

  • The median net worth of white households in 2009 was more than 18 times greater than that of African-American and Hispanic-American households.
  • More than one in four Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans live in poverty.
  • While Asian-Americans have a lower poverty rate than other people of color, it is still 20% higher than that of whites.

Still, people of color represent a huge market and considerable political influence.

  • People of color have combined purchasing power of nearly $2 trillion.
  • The U.S. Hispanic market alone is larger than the economies of all but about a dozen countries.
  • Had people of color not voted in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama would not have been elected president.

American family structures are changing.

  • 42% of babies are born to unwed mothers in the U.S.
  • Most heads of households are women.
  • One out of seven marriages are interracial.
  • For the first time, a majority of Americans approve of same sex marriages.

We're not the people we used to be, but we're not the people we will soon become either.

Happy New Year to all. May 2013 be the year we finally begin to recognize and embrace these changes. 



Gun culture

All-Teachers-Should-Carry-GunsOne of my nephews posted the image to the left on his Facebook page.

Initially, I was incensed. Then embarrassed.

After all, I wrote a whole book, OtherWise, dedicated to the idea that we need to be smarter about relating to others.

So I asked myself -- why does my nephew apparently think guns are the solution, rather than a cause, of violent deaths?

Why do some people resist the whole idea of regulating gun purchases and ownership?

Then it dawned on me -- in this context, a gun is not so much a weapon as a symbol.

Guns give people a sense of control; it gives them a sense of physical safety. But even more importantly, for many, fighting for "gun rights" is a way of asserting control over a society that seems opposed to many of their values.  

The relatively new field of cultural cognition suggests that people interpret reality through the lens of their values. Individualists put a high value on personal freedom; Communitarians feel safer in a world of shared responsibility.

In fact, research shows that those cultural orientations are stronger predictors of individuals' positions on gun laws than anything else, including whether they are male or female, white or black, Southerners or Easterners, urbanites or country dwellers, conservatives or liberals.  

That suggests that statistics and case studies won't convince anyone on either side to change their mind.

My nephew, in fact, lives in rural New Hampshire where hunting is second only to skiing (or in his case snow-mobiling) as an outdoor activity. His life experience and mine are completely different.

And I'll bet that's true of most of the people on opposite sides of the debate over gun laws.

We won't make progress on gun laws until we acknowledge and learn to respect these deep and honest feelings on both sides. Then we can work together to ensure that something like the Newtown tragedy never happens again.


Don't let it blow over

BULLET_HOLE_2_by_nighthawk101stockI don't know who is give public relations advice to the National Rifle Association these days.

But I think I understand their strategy -- this will blow over, lie low in the meanwhile.

Normally, I'd say that's a reasonable approach.

After all, what does the NRA stand to gain by speaking out?

Even a message of sympathy for the victims of the Newtown tragedy could back fire. Nothing will change the minds of the folks who support tougher gun laws and NRA supporters don't need convincing.

But what if this doesn't blow over?

I suspect the NRA conference rooms are abuzz with people considering just that possibility. 

Historically, the NRA has worked from a fairly simple playbook.

  • Their goal has been to avoid the slippery slope of agreeing to any limits on gun purchases and possession because it could lead to an outright ban.
  • Their argument boiled down to "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Even in the Newtown case, the "real" cause was mental illness. Stricter gun laws wouldn't have prevented it. Enforce the ones on the books.

If I were advising them, I'd remind them that the Supreme Court has thrown sand on any slippery slope of gun laws by reaffirming the right to bear arms, while recognizing the government's perogative to regulate their purchase and possession.

And I would suggest that the time is right for the NRA to come out in favor of something rather than offering knee-jerk oppostion to everything.

Even previous recipients of NRA campaign contributions have been asking "if not now, when?" Public opinion is swinging in the direction of reasonable regulations. Even winning basketball coaches are inserting a plea for gun laws in post-game interviews. No one is calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment.

At some point, the NRA will come to this conclusion on its own. Let's make sure it's sooner, rather than later. Don't let your anger over Newtown "blow over."




Guns (cont'd)

Guns_vector_packThe debate over Obamacare taught us that the public can be against something in general, but in favor of its component parts.

The same principle seems to apply to gun restrictions.

Polls show that support for stricter gun laws has been dropping for years.

In 1990, 78% said "the laws covering the sale of guns should be more strict;" in 2010, less than half (44%) agreed.

But a poll taken in January 2011 showed very different results when people were asked their opinion of specific gun restrictions. 

  • 9 out of 10 favored requiring people to notify the police if their gun were lost or stolen

  • 9 out of 10 favored requiring peoplewho buy guns at a gun show to pass a criminal background check.
  • 9 out of 10 wanted Congress to fund enforcement of a law preventing people with a history of mental illness from buying a gun

  •  8 out of 10 favored banning the sale of guns to people who has been arrested for a drug charge or failed a drug test

  • 6 out of 10 favored banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Proponents of common-sense gun regulations should avoid generalities and focus specifics that will add up to a safer world for our children.


Saga_Weapons_Pimp_My_Guns_2_by_cpiThe Newtown tragedy has understandably moved the nation.

But there are disappointing signs that it has failed to move the people who can actually do something about it -- our elected representatives.  

 A brave few have argued for legislation to make it harder for unstable people to get their hands on lethal weapons.

But most of the legislators who have voted against such steps in the past have been uncharacteristically silent. The Sunday talk shows were unable to get any to show up for a discussion of the issue. And at least one of the former pols who did show up suggested the solution to this problem might be more guns.

"I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett told "Meet the Press."

The side in favor of tightening restrictions should keep several things in mind.

1. Be careful how you frame the issue. This is not about "gun control" but "gun licensing." Many of the people who own guns do so precisely because they feel it gives them greater control over their lives. Don't suggest that you propose to take that control away. The idea is to ensure that people who might be out of control don't have access to guns through common-sense licensing requirements.

2. Make clear that you respect the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms." Acknowledge that many families enjoy hunting and you have no problem with that. Praise the steps that organizations like the NRA have taken to improve gun safety, such as encouraging the use of trigger guards, training people in the proper handling of guns, etc.

3. Focus the discussion on the biggest problems: the loophole that allows guns to be sold at gun shows without background checks, the wide availability of assault weapons like that used in the Newtown shootings, and the sale of multiple-round ammunition clips.

4. Don't let this debate become defined in partisan terms. One of the strongest proponents of "gun rights," with a perfect rating by the NRA, is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. He told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that it is time to sit down and have a "sensible, reasonable" debate about gun control in light of the massacre in Newtown. And he expressed an openness to banning assault weapons. 

5. Hard as it may seem just three days after Newtown, the emotion surrounding this issue will disipate. Don't let it.