A Fact Check of Gov. Newsom and Gov. DeSantis on Crime and Guns

by
posted on December 1, 2023
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AP

In the Fox News’ debate on the Sean Hannity Show between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), a lot of competing “facts” were thrown around. To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a U.S. Senator who represented New York, they are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

So here, of course, we’ll only fact check what they said that’s related to guns, the Second Amendment, and crime (as this is often used by anti-Second Amendment politicians to push for more gun-control laws).

Hannity began this topic by asking Gov. Newsom: “Your [violent crime] numbers are way higher than the national average. How do you explain that when safety and security, I would argue, is a prerequisite for the pursuit of happiness?”

“Well, I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Gov. Newsom, “we’re near 50 year lows, down 55%, violent crimes in the state of California from the 1990s … .”

Gov. Newsom didn’t cite specific years or cite the source or even the specific category of data (is he comparing violent crime rates, just murder rates … ?), so it is hard to fact check the 55% claim. Whatever the case, this is certainly an example of cherry-picking data—and brings to mind Mark Twain, who once wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

After all, even Gov. Newsom’s local newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, recently reported that California’s violent-crime rates are up. “California’s violent crime rate increased for the second year in a row in 2022, while violence in the United States overall declined,” begins the article. It later states that “California’s overall violent crime rate in 2022 stood at 500 reported crimes per 100,000 people, the highest it’s been since 2008 but still low relative to the highs of the 1980s and 90s.”

Gov. Newsom was pointing back to the 1990s, when violent crime was at its peak nationwide, in order to claim a drop in violent crime. The thing is, he has been the governor of California since 2019, so, on his watch, crime has risen. To establish this, Hannity quoted the FBI’s crime statistics, which is what the Chronicle also cited. A slide that Hannity aired showed that California’s 2022 violent crime rate was “499.5” per 100,000 people, whereas Florida’s was “258.9” for the same year.

Indeed, even the state of California reports that “[f]rom 2017 to 2022, the homicide rate increased 23.9 percent (from 4.6 in 2017 to 5.7 in 2022)” in California.

Nevertheless, Gov. Newsom then claimed that DeSantis “has a 66% higher gun death rate than the state of California; it’s a higher murder rate. Go to places like Jacksonville. Go to places like Orlando. Go to places like Tampa. The murder rates are off the charts compared to cities like San Francisco.”

The San Francisco Police Department reports 56 murders in the city in 2022. Tampa, Fla., is reported to have had 46 homicides in 2022. Jacksonville, Fla., reportedly had 168 homicides in 2022, according to the Times-Union’s unofficial data. The population of Jacksonville in 2021 was 954,614. In Tampa it was 387,050. The population of San Francisco in 2023 was 715,717. So the differences between San Francisco and these cities in Florida, in terms of murder rates, is hardly “off the charts.” But, if the data is true and comparable on a per capita basis, then Gov. Newsom is at least partially correct.

Gov. Newsom also claimed that DeSantis “made it easier for felons to get guns without background checks without any training … . You made it easier for felons to get guns.”

As federal law mandates that anyone attempting to buy a firearm from a gun store (or any federally licensed gun dealer) in any state (including Florida) must undergo a  background check--usually conducted through the FBI-run National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)–this claim is false. Newsom, as someone who campaigns on gun control (and, indeed, even wants to pass a gun-control amendment to the U.S. Constitution), should know this claim is a lie.

Florida and California gun laws ranked

 

Meanwhile, in Florida, Gov. DeSantis became governor in 2019, like Newsom in California, but in the Sunshine State, violent crime has fallen by about 31.5% since 2019, according to FBI crime data. 

When Gov. DeSantis responded, he accused Gov. Newsom of prioritizing the interests of criminals over everyday citizens of his state. “When Californians come to Florida it’s almost like an out-of-body experience. They can go to the store, get toothpaste off the shelf, pay for it and leave,” said DeSantis. “In a lot of these places in California, everything is under lock and key because they've basically legalized retail theft. They have chosen, in California, to put the interests of criminals over public safety … . They’re easier on all these crimes that lead to a collapse in the quality of life,” he said.

Gov. DeSantis later said, “We had two radical Left [George]-Soros District Attorneys, like your buddy [Los Angeles County District Attorney George] Gascon in LA, one in Tampa, one in Orlando; they were endangering the public and I removed them from their posts. Gavin Newsom has not lifted a finger to reign in Gascon in LA. That city has collapsed … [because] he is not enforcing the law.”

It is unequivocally true that Gov. DeSantis removed two district attorneys that he argued were not prosecuting enough violent criminals; whereas Gov. Newsom has not done anything to try to change  Gascon’s performance as DA, even though Gascon has been widely criticized for not prosecuting enough people who’ve been arrested for violent crimes.

A lot more was said in this fiery debate, including a brief sparring match over the number of mass-murders in each state—Fox News showed a graphic claiming that California has had many more—but the two governors didn’t get deep enough into the topic for a real fact check.

Regardless, it was an interesting comparison between a governor who signed a constitutional-carry bill into law and one who is actively trying to impose every gun-control law imaginable upon the residents of his state. Honest debates can only be good for freedom.

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