If there were any doubt, rising violent crime is a real issue with the potential to do major political harm to Democrats.
That’s the subtext of President Joe Biden’s decision to interrupt his push for his trillion-dollar spending plans to announce an anti-crime agenda.
It’s a good thing the president has noticed that homicides increased 30 percent last year, a historic jump that shows no sign of abating. But he leads a national party that is largely incapable of seriously grappling with a problem that requires resisting the yearslong intellectual and political campaign to delegitimize law enforcement and the criminal-justice system.
To his credit, Biden acknowledges the need for more cops, and his administration is making clear to localities that they can use funds from the COVID-19 relief bill to hire them.
The main thrust of his agenda, though, is gun-control proposals that represent a stark misdiagnosis of the crime wave.
There has indeed been a massive surge in gun purchases since the onset of the pandemic and the rioting after the death of George Floyd. But the murder rate had been in a long decline since the 1990s, even as gun laws steadily loosened and millions more guns came into circulation.
Biden’s signature gun-control initiative, an assault-weapons ban, is completely irrelevant to urban crime. Almost all the gunplay in America’s cities involves handguns that wouldn’t be touched by a ban of certain varieties of semi-automatic rifles.
Biden also touts small-bore policies such as a crackdown on gun sellers who don’t conduct required background checks or who deliberately sell to people not allowed to own guns. If we can do more to enforce current laws and to stop dirty gun dealers, by all means, let’s do it.
These guns surely represent a fraction of a drop in the bucket of the firearms used by gangs and other malefactors, though.
According to a January 2019 Justice Department report, the vast majority of criminals who possessed a gun during their offense either bought it on the street or underground (43 percent) or got it from a friend or a family member or as a gift (25 percent). Only 7 percent purchased their firearm from a gun shop, and 0.8 percent got it from a gun show.
The other prong of the Biden agenda is focused on prevention — summer programs for youths and the like. All of this is fine, as far as it goes, but also marginal.
To focus on what’s necessary requires an honest account of the crime problem.
Over the past year, Democrats have tended to blame the pandemic for the rise in murder. But other countries with pandemic lockdowns saw declines in homicides, and even as the lockdowns have eased up or disappeared here at home, the surge has continued.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Biden said that the end of the pandemic could drive crime higher.
The simplest answer for the rise in murder is that besieged police have been more cautious or defensive in their patrolling. This comes against the backdrop of a yearslong trend in major cities of limiting police stops and elevating progressive district attorneys devoted to keeping as many people as possible out of jail.
The Rudy Giuliani–Mike Bloomberg approach that proved so effective in New York City — of backing police to the hilt and aggressively working to get illegal guns off the streets — came to be considered a terrible mistake. But it doesn’t look so bad if the alternative is young men routinely getting gunned down in neighborhoods beset by intolerable chaos.
If the tough-talking ex-cop Eric Adams, currently leading the New York mayoral race, can win and then deliver on his law-and-order promises, perhaps he can show other cities how to step back from the brink. That Biden felt compelled to offer an anti-crime agenda of his own, no matter how ineffectual, highlights the political stakes.
© 2021 by King Features Syndicate