In a tumultuous 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic locked down so much of America and the world, one thing that didn’t lock down was the murder rate.
According to the National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, which was launched by the left-leaning Council on Criminal Justice, murders across America rose 30% in 2020 when compared to 2019. Based on a survey of 34 cities, they report that: “Homicide rates were higher during every month of 2020 relative to rates from the previous year.”
These gruesome numbers include a 43% rise in New York City in 2020—meaning 131 more murders occurred there than happened in 2019. The numbers were even worse in Chicago, which had a 55% jump (278 more murders) from the previous year.
Not surprisingly, many of those who want the Second Amendment obliterated blame record gun sales for the rise in the murder rate.
“More guns led to more violence,” claimed a story at vox.com. “There’s been a big surge in gun buying this year, seemingly in response to concerns about personal safety during a pandemic. And as the research has shown time and time again, more guns mean more gun violence.”
Of course, most people who follow the Second Amendment debate closely know that, in fact, more guns do not lead to more violence, as researcher John Lott proved back in 1998. Lott, who is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), found that states with the largest increases in gun ownership also tend to have the largest drops in violent-crime rates.
With many individuals and groups blaming guns for the increase, many gun-control organizations used the mayhem to press for passage of more gun-control laws. The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) was one such organization.
“The need for federal action to address gun violence is more urgent than ever,” the CAP wrote before using heavily inflated numbers. “2020 was a devastating year for gun violence, with early data showing that there were more than 19,000 gun-related homicides, including 612 mass shootings in which four or more people were shot. According to one analysis, homicides increased 36% across 28 major cities, and communities of color bore a disproportionate burden of that violence. At the same time, there was an unprecedented surge in gun sales in 2020, with an estimated 20 million guns sold.”
That group listed a number of federal actions that it believed should be taken by the U.S. Congress to curtail the murder rate. Among those proposals are requiring so-called “universal” background checks, closing the alleged “Charleston loophole” and implementing extreme-risk protection orders (often called “red-flag laws”).
Whether they blame the 2020 murder rate on increased gun sales, or just see this as an opportunity to further infringe on private gun ownership, members of Congress who don’t like our Second Amendment-protected freedoms were quick to respond. From measures outlawing hundreds of types of commonly owned semi-automatic rifles, handguns and shotguns, to proposals that would force gun owners to be licensed, to forcing gun owners to buy expensive liability insurance, a lot of gun-control legislation was introduced.
All of these proposals have one thing in common: They all use deceptive, confusing language to try to hide the true intent of the legislation. So-called “universal” background checks are commonly coupled with the notion of closing the so-called “gun-show loophole.” In fact, such checks would never be “universal,” as criminals tend to get their guns by stealing them or buying them from the black market. Additionally, laws at gun shows are already the same as anywhere else—licensed dealers still must complete background checks.
Closing the “Charleston loophole” is simply a way to allow—possibly indefinitely—a waiting period for those who want to buy a gun. When the Brady Bill, which created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), was passed, pro-gun lawmakers included an amendment saying that if the background check was not completed within three business days (hardly instant, to be sure), the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) would have the option to proceed with the transfer.
In a nutshell, that three-day provision is what gun-ban activists now call the “Charleston loophole.” They want the FBI to have weeks to complete these “instant” background checks. Some even want the wait to be indefinite, which could allow an anti-gun administration to instruct the FBI to delay all checks for as long as it wishes. Of course, an extension of the wait time would only affect lawful citizens, as criminals don’t follow gun laws.
As for “red-flag laws,” confiscating constitutionally-protected firearms without due process of law is perhaps the most-direct affront to multiple provisions of the Bill of Rights that one could imagine.
What Did Contribute to the Murder Rate
A deeper dive into the unexpected events of 2020 reveals several factors that likely did contribute to a rise in the murder rate-not the millions of law-abiding citizens who purchased firearms. Early in 2020, we saw large protests after the death of a man in police custody. In many areas, these protests turned violent. Some cities saw destruction and looting of downtown areas.
Cynical politicians in many large cities chose to turn a blind eye to the mayhem; some even let radical groups set up so-called “autonomous zones.”
These protests instigated a “defund the police” movement in some cities. Officers were taken off the streets or told to not confront violent rioters. In Seattle, police were forced to surrender their East Precinct to militant protesters, to which Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) simply replied, “Keeping demonstrations peaceful must be a joint effort between our community members and law enforcement.”
Another good example was New York City, where the police commissioner eliminated the NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime unit—those 600 officers were reassigned to “other positions.” Commissioner Dermot Shea’s decision was praised by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D).
During the first week after the unit was disbanded, there were 28 shooting incidents with 38 victims reported, compared to a total of 12 shootings for the same week the year before, according to the New York Post. Mayor de Blasio, nevertheless, didn’t admit to the policy failure.
“So, this is a permanent change,” de Blasio said. “The personnel will be using new and different ways to fight crime more effectively and in a way that creates a better relationship with the community, and that’s the way forward for this city and for the NYPD.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic grew, things became even worse. In some cities, already-neutered police forces were cut even further as many were forced into quarantine because of COVID-19 exposures. As police presence plummeted, violence became more commonplace.
To further add to the already-volatile situation, some states and municipalities began turning prisoners loose to try to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in detention facilities—and not just nonviolent prisoners. In the Big Apple, 250 prisoners who’d been released from Rikers Island were rearrested within a matter of weeks. Those 250 prisoners were actually rearrested 450 times by the end of June 2020!
A similar situation in California saw Orange County officials release seven “high-risk” sex offenders because of the pandemic. Six of the seven were rearrested within a month, at least one for another sex crime. That man’s previous convictions included child molestation, indecent exposure, assault, battery, criminal threats and inflicting injury on an elder adult. Since 2017, he had violated his parole five times.
Another crucial thing to consider is the fact that the vast majority of U.S. murders occur in just a handful of larger cities, mostly run by anti-gun bureaucrats who are far quicker to point fingers at firearms than at violent criminals.
While the argument that the murder rate increased in both large and small cities in 2020 seems to be mostly true, larger cities still statistically contributed a lot more to the murder rates.
Consider a city like Bartlesville, Okla. If that city saw a 30% increase in murders from one year to the next, that would simply mean the number of homicides jumped from about two to about three a year. On the other hand, in a murder hotbed like Chicago, which actually saw a 55% jump, that jump means that 278 more people were murdered in the Windy City in 2020 than in 2019. Did a small city and large city both add to the increase? Sure, but certainly not to the same extent.
In fact, CPRC’s Lott says the United States can basically be divided up into three types of places: ones where there are no murders, where there are a few murders and where murders are very common.
“In 2014 … 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders,” Lott wrote back in 2017. “Sixty-nine percent of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country… . The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 2% of counties contain 28% of the population and 51% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. But even within those counties, the murders are very heavily concentrated in small areas.”
As Lott further pointed out, if you discount a handful of select counties, the U.S. murder rate would actually be substantially lower.
“In 2014, the murder rate was 4.4 per 100,000 people,” he said. “If the 1% of the counties with the worst number of murders somehow were to become a separate country, the murder rate in the rest of the U.S. would have been only 3.4 in 2014. Removing the worst 2% or 5% would have reduced the U.S. rate to just 3.06 or 2.56 per 100,000, respectively.”
In another example, a study in the journal Criminology, titled, “The law of crime concentration and the criminology of place,” by David L. Weisburd, showed that for eight cities, 25% of violent crime occurred on 1% of the streets and about half occurred on 5% of the streets.
Increasing the law-enforcement presence in such small areas would be one way to quickly and efficiently reduce the violent crime rate. Yet for some reason, many big-city politicians seem reluctant to crack down on violent criminals in areas where violence and murders regularly occur.
In the end, 2020’s jump in homicides isn’t something any of us would like to see repeated in 2021. But the vast majority of the increase was almost certainly the result of widely condoned violence, combined with diminished policing in many of America’s largest cities. Blaming the increase on gun owners—or on the millions of people who purchased a new firearm in 2020—is just another excuse to further infringe on our natural and constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.