Have you noticed the cognitive dissonance that many supporters of “common-sense” gun control have been exhibiting as of late? I’m not sure it’s possible to support more gun-control laws and oppose “mass incarceration” or “excessive policing” policies. How can someone argue that young men of color are overpoliced, while at the same time calling for more non-violent-offender gun laws to be placed on the books?
Look at Michael Bloomberg’s law in New York mandating years in prison for the unlicensed carrying of a firearm. Look at NYC’s knife laws and the hundreds of thousands of prosecutions, even as slashing attacks increase. And look at the stop-and-frisk policies of Michael Bloomberg, who told an audience at the Aspen Institute in 2015 that one way to fight crime is “throw them up a wall and frisk them.” Who’s the “them”? Young minority males. Bloomberg said, “One of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana. They’re all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do you do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.” Oddly enough, the media has seemed strangely uninterested in Bloomberg’s thoughts on policing and young men of color, even as reporters and pundits breathlessly wondered if the NRA would comment on the death of Philando Castile in Minnesota.
If the media covered the gun issue fairly, you’d see large numbers of talking heads on your TV screen explaining that Bloomberg’s comments miss the point that many who complain about excessive policing policies are making: It’s not the guy smoking a joint that they’re worried about. Or, at least, they’re not as worried about him as they are about the armed robber who never seems to get arrested, or the murders that go unsolved. Chicago’s homicide clearance rate is less than 20 percent as of June 30. As homicides spiked in Baltimore last year, the homicide clearance rates plummeted.
This isn’t because cops don’t care about the victims. It’s because the department’s resources (and those of the broader criminal justice system) and priorities are often aimed at high-profile, media-friendly sweeps and temporarily beefing up the police presence in high-crime neighborhoods. Meanwhile, as murders go unsolved, some turn to retaliation, and the cycle of violence continues. The recent book by Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder In America, makes a strong case for a change, not in law, but in tactics to continue driving down the violent crime rate.
A key component of solving homicides involves having the trust of the community. We seem to be headed in the opposite direction, unfortunately. The trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve seems to be fraying, aided by bad actors; a media focused on covering, promoting and in some cases manufacturing controversy; those with political agendas; and lawmakers looking to score points with voters by “doing something” as opposed to doing something that works. Last year, reporter Lois Beckett pointed out in a piece for ProPublica that the Obama administration had the opportunity to push for meaningful reforms that have saved lives around the country, but chose to ignore programs that have demonstrated the ability to dramatically reduce homicide rates in violence-plagued communities in favor of pushing for so-called “universal” background checks, a renewed semi-auto ban, and other measures aimed at reducing the scope of the legal exercise of our Second Amendment rights. Beckett wrote, “Twenty years of government-funded research has shown there are several promising strategies to prevent murders of black men, including Ceasefire. They don’t require passing new gun laws, or an epic fight with the National Rifle Association. What they need—and often struggle to get—is political support and a bit of money.” A key component of solving homicides involves having the trust of the community. We seem to be headed in the opposite direction, unfortunately.
These programs can’t get the political support of people like President Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi, and they can’t get the money from billionaire Michael Bloomberg. All of these individuals would rather spend their political capital and their financial resources pushing new gun-control laws. You won’t see any of them question the decline in federal weapons prosecutions. They won’t bat an eye when a U.S. attorney goes along with probation for the illegal acquisition and resale of dozens of firearms. They demand new laws making it a crime for failing to report a lost or stolen firearm, supposedly in order to crack down on straw purchasing, but when the woman who engaged the straw purchase of the firearm used to kill Omaha police officer Kerrie Orozco received probation for her crime, did you see a single anti-gun advocate object or push for increased sentences for straw purchasers?
One of the reasons the American people have lost so much respect for the political class is that they insist on treating us like morons. They act like the most important crime-fighting tool in our toolbox is a gun-control law, and if we just pass their preferred legislation, we’ll all be safer. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies across the country are dealing with budget cuts, staffing cuts, and seeing the impact on the number of crimes investigated and even the number of police responses after a 911 call has been made. Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s point man on gun control, even admitted that law enforcement doesn’t have the time to “prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately.” Given the decline in federal weapons prosecutions, they apparently also don’t have the time to prosecute violent felons in illegal possession of firearms, and when they do, the defendants often serve far less time than the 10-year maximum sentence allowed under federal law.
We’re supposed to believe that we can just sprinkle a few more gun-control laws on top of this dysfunctional system and that’ll fix everything? Again, we’re not morons. And sadly, the people most hurt by insistence of anti-gun politicians to spend their time and energy promoting more useless gun-control laws are the good people living in bad neighborhoods. They’re the ones that have to live with the consequences of a “do something” mentality that ignores the real problems and real solutions. Legal gun owners, increasingly restricted in the lawful exercise of their rights, are also hurt by these moves. Criminals, including those using guns in the commission of a crime? They aren’t likely to be fazed by having another non-violent misdemeanor charge thrown at them, especially if it’s likely to be dismissed in a plea bargain (or even worse, the most severe charges are thrown out and the criminal pleads to a non-violent misdemeanor).Sadly, the people most hurt by insistence of anti-gun politicians to spend their time and energy promoting more useless gun-control laws are the good people living in bad neighborhoods.
Again, keep in mind that these new laws are likely to be enforced primarily against young men of color. As Radley Balko pointed out a couple of years ago, in 2013 47.3 of those convicted of federal gun crimes were black, “a racial disparity larger than any other class of federal crimes, including drug crimes.” You think that’s going to change if Michael “Against The Wall” Bloomberg gets his way on gun control? That’s about as likely as Katie Couric asking that question in a hard-hitting interview with Bloomberg or Shannon Watts. In Bloomberg’s Everytown, young minorities are thrown up against the wall and frisked, minorities between the ages of 21 and 25 are disarmed, and you’re damn right there are going to be more arrests of minorities on minor offenses and possessory crimes. Who cares if only a small percentage of these young men are violent offenders, much less persistent offenders? In Everytown they restrict the rights of everyone in the hopes of ensnaring and stopping some criminals. And when that doesn’t work, they just call for more gun laws. It’s the Everytown way.
But it doesn’t have to be the American way. We can treat public safety seriously. We can recognize the limitations and challenges already facing law enforcement and the communities they serve, and we can focus our efforts on targeting the most prolific violent offenders. We can make solving homicides a priority—reducing retaliation killings and restoring confidence in the criminal justice system in high-crime neighborhoods. We can identify violent criminals as the problem, not Americans and their rights.
If we do that, streets will get safer. Kids will play outside again. The sound of sirens and the sight of police tape will fade from the neighborhoods once plagued by violent crime. But we won’t get there by “doing something” about guns. We have to do something that works.