The Calligrapher


Frequent mass shootings and recurring political struggle over gun control measures are uniquely American social phenomena. The earliest proposals for US federal gun control legislation were met with an emergent organized opposition, whose effectiveness triumphed over wide approval for control measures among the public.

In a 1981 article, CAROL SKALNIK LEFF and MARK LEFF examine the origins of this opposition and the eventual passage of “ineffective” firearms legislation during the interwar period.

From the article:

“The interwar period is notable less for the pervasive impact of its legislation than for the coalescence of the interest group matrix that has resisted firearms legislation ever since. Although the Justice Department preferred to put the onus for opposition to regulation onto the gun manufacturers, whose unpopularity as ‘merchants of death’ peaked between the wars, the most rigorous and effectual resistance came from sportsmen’s and wildlife organizations, and rifle, pistol, and revolver associations. Jointly, these groups were to play a decisive role in determining the scope of gun control efforts in the 1920s and 30s. The crux of the balance of power between regulators and antiregulators in the interwar period was that the Justice Department fought its gun control crusade with less intense and less mobilized allies, while facing a committed and organized resistance. The consequence was that the nascent gun lobby was in a strong position, not only to fight gun control, but to co-opt or redefine initiatives that seemed likely to gain a following.

It was in the 1930s that gun control opponents faced their decisive test. To trace their response to mounting interest in federal regulation, it is most useful to focus on the organization that had moved to the forefront of the antiregulation movement, the NRA. The timing of the NRA’s emergence as a national force testifies to the galvanizing impact of the federal movement towards firearms regulation. From a roster of 3500 in the early 1920s, the NRA membership rolls expanded to 10 times that many by the time of the legislative debates of 1934. In one fundamental sense, the perspective on gun control as a cultural issue can be distorting if it at all implies that the individualist ethos extends to the methods utilized to wage antiregulation campaigns. Champions of individual rights were decidedly more organized than the regulators.”

Link to the text.

  • “After the 1968 assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King a groundswell of visible support for more decisive federal action temporarily materialized.” William Vizzard on the Gun Control of 1968. Link. And in a 2015 article, Vizzard revisits different eras of gun control legislation in the US. Link.
  • “A racialized framework—undergirding who is ‘a good guy with a gun’ versus ‘a bad guy with a gun’—informs and justifies how police understand and pursue public safety.” Jennifer Carlson on race, policing, and the politics of gun control. Link.
  • In a new Northwestern University Law Review paper, Joseph Blocher and Reva Siegel look at public safety regulation after Heller. Link. And link to an essay elaborating on the paper.


Port Efficiency in Brazil

PhD candidate in Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign VINICIOS SANT’ANNA studies international trade and migration. A 2018 paper co-authored with Sérgio Kannebley Júnior investigates turnaround times at ports and effects on Brazilian exports.

From the abstract:

“This paper estimates the impact of vessels turnaround time on Brazilian exports. To achieve this goal, we use a difference gravity equation in order to explore the time variation in port procedures for 16 Brazilian ports. This paper uses a unique database with local exports, taking into account the port used and products aggregated at the four‐digit Harmonized System (HS) level for the period between 2010 and 2012. The estimation results indicate that, in general, each additional hour of delay in port procedures represents costs to Brazilian exporters, which may lead to loss of competitiveness of domestic products abroad. According to the estimates, each additional relative hour of delay in the average port is equivalent to a reduction in relative local exports of ~2%. Moreover, a 10% relative reduction in vessel turnaround time can increase the proportional number of exported product categories by 1%. Therefore, our findings suggest that turnaround time has a statistically significant effect on the intensive and extensive margins of international trade.”

Link to the paper, link to Sant’Anna’s website.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: (text:

+ + +

  • On April 23, Phenomenal World and the Law, Letters, and Society program at the University of Chicago are hosting a roundtable discussion on the forthcoming book by Destin Jenkins, The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City. The event will feature Jenkins, Melinda Cooper, Sarah Quinn, Peter James Hudson, Yakov Feygin, David Stein, and Jonathan Levy. Link to register.
  • A new JFI paper by Khalil Esmkhani, Jack Favilukis, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh models a universal cash transfer in New York City, “with particular focus on how it affects real estate and the urban environment.” Read the full paper here, and read Stephen Nuñez’s post situating the research within the broader macro literature here.
  • “We find that unreported income as a fraction of true income rises from 7% in the bottom 50% to more than 20% in the top 1%.” John Guyton, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck, Max Risch, and Gabriel Zucman on tax evasion. Link.
  • Adam Tooze’s newsletter tackles the question of getting the EU to carbon-neutrality by 2050. Link. Relatedly, new paper on green industrial strategy for Norway, by Rainer Kattel, Mariana Mazzucato, Jonas Algers and Olga Mikheeva. Link.
  • Kornel Chang on “democratization as decolonization management” in Korea under US occupation, 1945-1948. Link.
  • “Using 61 indicators of democratic performance from 2000 to 2018, we develop a measure of subnational democratic performance. The racial, geographic, and economic incentives of groups in nationalparty coalitions may instead determine the health of democracy in the states.” Jacob Grumbach on “Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding.” Link
  • Isabel Knößlsdorfer, Jorge Sellare, and Matin Qaim on the effects of fair-trade certification for farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. Link.
  • Iñaki Aldasoro, Wenqian Huang and Nikola Tarashev on the relationship between bank regulations, asset managers, and market liquidity. Link.
  • A new evidence review finds that “smaller farms, on average, have higher yields and harbour greater crop and non-crop biodiversity at the farm and landscape scales than do larger farms.” Link.
  • FT Alphaville’s part-time boat correspondent Brendan Greeley explains the hydrodynamics that stuck the Ever Given in the Suez Canal. Link.
  • “We explore the causal connection between weather and war by constructing and analyzing a dataset featuring extreme weather events and military conflicts involving a set of stable political entities that existed side by side over several centuries, namely, the three ancient kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula between 18 Before the Common Era and 660 Common Era. Conflicts are classified as desperate if a state experiencing the shock invades a neighbor and opportunistic if a state experiencing the shock is invaded by a neighbor. We find that weather-induced conflict was significant, but largely opportunistic rather than desperate. That is, states experiencing an adverse shock were more likely to be invaded, but not more likely to initiate attack. We also provide evidence that the channel through which weather shocks gave rise to opportunistic invasions was food insecurity, which weakened the power of states to repel attack.” By Tackseung Jun and Rajiv Sethi. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

Subscribe to Phenomenal World Sources, a weekly digest of recommended readings across the social sciences. See the full Sources archive.