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Cam's Corner | Are Our Cities Becoming More Violent?

Cam's Corner | Are Our Cities Becoming More Violent?

The decades-long drop in violent crime rates across the United States might be coming to an end—at least in some major cities. Violent crime has soared 21 percent in Los Angeles during the first six months of 2015. Baltimore’s violent crime rate has skyrocketed this year as well. Plus, homicides are up in Chicago; Milwaukee; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; New York City and several other major cities. 

In the urban centers where crime is spiking, you don’t have to look too hard to find people trying to blame the increase on what they like to call “lax” gun laws. St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson, for instance, says an amendment to the Missouri state constitution protecting the right to keep and bear arms is to blame for the rising number of homicides in his city. In fact, Dotson unsuccessfully tried to get the Missouri Supreme Court to strike the amendment from the state constitution earlier this year. While Dotson blames Amendment 5 for the jump in the number of homicides in St. Louis, homicides are down in Kansas City—the state’s largest city. You’d think if the state’s constitution was to blame, you’d see that reflected in crime stats across the state. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy continue to try and claim that Illinois’ gun laws are to blame for the ongoing violence in Chicago. Keep in mind that until 2010, it was illegal for Chicagoans to even own a handgun in their home, much less carry a gun on the streets. Homicide totals are roughly half what they were 20 years ago in Chicago, when that gun ban was in effect (although the city’s habit of underreporting crime does make crunching the numbers a somewhat iffy proposition). Even now, Illinois has some very restrictive gun laws on the books, including a requirement that every legal gun owner be licensed by the state. That requirement seems to be ignored by a lot of career criminals in the Windy City—along with every other gun law on the books.

Oddly enough, there’s not much talk about the need for additional gun-control laws in Baltimore. Maybe that’s because the anti-gun Firearms Safety Act went into effect across the state of Maryland in 2013, but crime in Charm City has been climbing ever since. If elected officials and lawmakers were to talk about the need for more gun laws, voters might question the ineffectiveness of the last round of restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. The sound-bite solutions of more gun bans and background check mandates offered by people like Emanuel and even President Barack Obama don’t seem to make much of an impact on the people who are actually responsible for the violent crime in their communities.

Violent crime is also up this year in Hartford, Conn., where lawmakers passed a series of anti-gun bills in 2013. This year, however, Gov. Dannel Malloy didn’t push for additional anti-gun laws to try and quell the violence in Connecticut’s capital city. Instead, two years after making it a felony to possess an unregistered magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, the governor is relaxing the drug laws in the state. Possession of “small amounts” of drugs like heroin and cocaine are now misdemeanor offenses, and the governor and lawmakers even removed a law that required a two-year prison sentence for possession of drugs within 1,500 feet of a school. Possession of an “unregistered assault rifle” that you’ve owned for a decade, on the other hand, could still cost you five years behind bars. 

Truth is, anti-gun laws target legal gun owners far more than they target criminals. Someone arrested for armed robbery and possessing an unlicensed firearm, for instance, will often see the gun charge dropped in a plea bargain. Why not? The armed robbery charge (itself often pleaded down to simple robbery) comes with a stiffer punishment than possessing an unlicensed firearm. Even felons who are prohibited by law from possessing guns or ammunition may see those charges dropped if they’re accused of a violent crime. The revolving door of “justice” just keeps spinning as criminals quickly enter, exit and re-enter the criminal justice system on a regular basis, while the law-abiding find it increasingly harder and more dangerous to become a legal gun owner. 

The sound-bite solutions of more gun bans and background check mandates offered by people like Emanuel and even President Barack Obama don’t seem to make much of an impact on the people who are actually responsible for the violent crime in their communities. Rather than calling for another round of gun-control laws that will impact the law-abiding far more than the career criminals, however, a number of cities are finding success in actually targeting the most violent criminals in their midst. 

In Richmond, Calif., for instance, homicides have dropped to a 30-year low over the past few years as city leaders have focused the criminal justice and the social services systems on a small group of individuals who are responsible for the vast majority of violent crime in the city. The message to these offenders is clear: Stop shooting and you’ll get the help you need to better yourself. Keep shooting, and you’re going to prison for a long time. No plea deals. No early release. No more. This solution is not as easy as simply saying “We need a new law,” but the difference is it actually seems to work.