Joe Biden has unveiled a five-part “Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety.” While the administration’s promise to increase funding for local police departments will benefit beleaguered cities at the margins, the rest of the proposal is neither comprehensive nor especially serious in preventing the rising criminality facing our most vulnerable communities. Rather, it’s just another attempt by Democrats to push their ineffective gun-control agenda.
After the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers, America saw the Black Lives Matter protests last summer. With it came calls to defund the police and, perhaps more destructively, the widespread demonization of cops. Many big cities were hit with ensuing waves of criminality, propelled by riots, and compounded by the frustration of COVID-19 lockdowns. At the same time, the vilification of law enforcement sparked a “Blue Flu” — in which police officers called out sick in large numbers in protest — and a surge in early retirements. All of this created a police shortage in our most crime-ridden communities. While most Americans have rejected defund the police — a recent USA Today/Ipsos Poll found that fewer than one in five support the movement even when described as a redistribution of funding rather than a divestment — anti-cop policies continue to have traction in many Democratic-controlled municipalities.
In Minneapolis, for example, where the Floyd protests first began, homicide rates have risen to their highest level since 1995. The story is the same in numerous big American cities — Atlanta saw a 40 percent spike in shootings from one year to the next, along with Portland (126 percent), Los Angeles (51), Philadelphia (27), and the list goes on.
Last summer, the Minneapolis city council promised to abolish and replace the police department with a “new transformative model for cultivating safety.” Since then, over 250 officers have resigned or retired. A similar trend is playing out in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Philadelphia, and Seattle. A Police Education Research Forum study of 191 cities found that retirements had sometimes risen as high as 45 percent last year, while new hires only grew by around 5 percent. This isn’t a sustainable formula for public safety.
Accountability and enhanced training among law-enforcement departments is vital in rebuilding trust among all Americans. But who would want to become a police officer in an environment that treats them as a collective of murderers and racists? “It’s hard to recruit the very people who see police as an opposition,” Lynda R. Williams, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, recently explained.
Biden’s plan doesn’t deal with any of these underlying issues. Instead, it is just another attempt to tie the rise in crime to a lack of movement on gun control. For one thing, the notion that firearm ownership is driving crime rates is undermined by the fact that, until very recently, violent crime had precipitously fallen even as firearm ownership continued to rise. In fact, the new gun-buying binge is, in part, propelled by the rise of disorder.
Biden calls for renewing “ghost gun” regulation and an “assault weapons” ban, even though AR-15s and homemade guns are involved in only a sliver of firearm criminality. Biden is asking for the implementation of “universal” background checks, even though most firearms used in shootings are obtained illegally. Biden’s proposal tasks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with holding “rogue firearms dealers accountable” and implementing “zero-tolerance” for those who engage in “willful violations of the law.” That’s a good thing. Existing gun laws should be rigorously enforced. Yet the federal government is notoriously derelict in failing to prosecute those who violate those laws in purchasing or attempting to purchase firearms. Studies have shown that most illegal firearms are bought on the streets or stolen. Very few are obtained through illicit purchases from registered gun dealers.
For many American communities, the recent rise in criminality is an emergency. This isn’t time to push a partisan agenda on guns, but rather a time to deal with a culture that incentivizes and tolerates lawlessness.