A crime wave is gripping American cities, and the Left, in the wake of a ruinous series of radical criminal-justice “reforms,” needs scapegoats.
As Kevin Williamson has explained, much of this can be traced back to ridiculous city ordinances, such as the abolition of cash bail in some major cities. But, glossing over such decisions, major news outlets and politicians have instead taken to describing the problem as an issue of gun violence. There’s a reason for this: So long as they maintain this account, the Left can avoid responsibility — even with their policy fingerprints all over the crime scenes.
This sustained dishonesty started with coverage of police brutality. For the past year or more, we’ve heard about how police annually “shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people.” It’s one of the worst acts of journalistic malpractice of the last several years that this statistic has been so little challenged or contextualized.
Last year, John Hirschauer explained in National Review that the vast majority of these shootings were in fact justified, with over 96 percent of those shot having been armed. On top of that, these incidents are exceedingly rare. Police officers make contact with over 50 million civilians a year. Of these interactions, more than 10 million are arrests. And, of these arrests, around 2,300 lead to complaints of excessive force (0.023 percent). The argument that the racial disparity in criminal outcomes indicates some pervasive tendency of departments to “over-police” minorities is also simply untrue. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black people are no more likely to have an officer initiate contact with them than with white or Hispanic people. What’s more, the race of an officer does not correlate with his or her likelihood to shoot minority offenders. The data show that police killings are both infrequent and unrelated to racial bias.
This is not to say that there are no problems with police violence in the United States. It is not a good thing that the U.S. leads most Western nations in police killings. But it is a mistake to attribute this to racism or other evils on the part of cops. For instance, the tragic modern phenomenon of “suicide by cop” is an understudied factor in police shootings. According to one research group, up to about a third of all fatal police shootings are orchestrated by the victims themselves — mentally ill civilians who threaten cops into firing at them. Another important factor is police unions; Steven Greenhouse has pointed to two studies, one at Oxford, which found that, in the 100 largest American cities, the strength of protections in police contracts directly correlated with abuses against citizens, and one at the University of Chicago, which found that allowing Florida sheriffs’ deputies to unionize led to a 40 percent increase in reports of violent misconduct. These numbers should not come as a surprise. Public-sector unions protect mediocrity and promote interests incompatible with the general welfare. There’s a reason why the military is not permitted to unionize.
But after last summer’s anti-police backlash, leftist legislators and policy designers took the easy way out — they followed the propaganda. Police do bad things? Hire fewer officers! COVID is spreading through jails? Release the prisoners! Cash bail disproportionately impacts different demographic groups? No more cash bail! Democrats aren’t going to push for reform when so much of their base is already convinced that the criminal-justice system is inexorably racist. They’d rather take steps to destroy the system entirely. Radical ideas moved from the fringes toward the heart of progressive politics, crowding out common sense.
Fortunately, this could not last forever. As crime rose, public opposition to extreme progressive policies mounted, and now city leaders are finally backtracking. Yet left-wing politicians and media outlets continue to blame everything but such policies. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and the New York Times asserted that the spike in lawlessness was due to poverty — never mind the fact that economic recessions have little association with crime surges. New York City officials, including Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and retired police officer who recently won the Democratic mayoral primary, said they suspected the police of intentionally reducing their response times.
Now, leaders such as Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot are blaming firearms. On Tuesday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency to combat not gangs, not drug-dealing and other criminal activity, but gun violence.
The media have been quick to follow politicians’ lead. CNN releases updates saying “There were 10 mass shootings across the US over the weekend.” The Washington Post runs headlines such as “2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades. So far, 2021 is worse.” And, last month, USA Today’s editorial board wrote that “Mass shootings turn America’s gun culture into a killing culture.” CBS, Forbes, and the Associated Press have all published similar pieces. None even partially attributes the crime spike to leftist policies, despite evidence indicating that “bail reform” has resulted in tens of thousands of potential criminals being left to roam the streets. One might even think of the media narrative as lies, damned lies, and leftist statistics.
Terms like “gun violence” and “mass shooting” have been used to drive calls for new firearm regulations. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a database the previously listed media outlets have taken to parroting, there have been over 20,000 deaths from gun violence and over 300 mass shootings this year. At first glance, these numbers are frightening. That is, of course, the point: to scare the public so much that people will not object to relinquishing their constitutionally protected rights. But who are the perpetrators of this gun violence? Who are the victims of these shootings?
Based on the Gun Violence Archive’s own data, and that of the Centers for Disease Control, over half of all gun deaths were suicides. Another 500 were either accidental or killings in self-defense. As for the mass shootings, the definition used is unhelpfully broad: any incident in which four or more are injured. Thus, for example, gang-related shootings are mixed in with other types of shootings. Incidents in which the type of firearm used is known overwhelmingly (more than two-thirds) involved handguns.
Suicides, accidents, and shooting in self-defense are not crimes, so the media’s lumping together of all forms of gun violence is tendentious. These are still problems, but they are mostly unrelated to the ongoing urban turmoil. Nevertheless, activists continue to pretend that gun control is the answer.
Isn’t it convenient that Democrats have managed to tout gun control, one of their main policy goals, as a solution to the crime surge their own policies helped to create? Despite Democrats’ rhetoric, federal gun-control measures would do nothing to resolve the current problem, not to mention that trying to ban handguns, the most common tool of gun violence, would be political suicide. Furthermore, Democratic state attorneys general and other top law-enforcement officers are currently declining to enforce the gun-control laws that states already have on the books. Writing in September 2020, Pat Nolan reported that Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner had “dropped charges on more than 60 percent of shooting cases and . . . dropped 37 percent of illegal firearms cases,” all while “shooting incidents in Philadelphia [were] up 57 percent from” 2019, with “201 homicides so far this year, up 24 percent.” Similarly, Alvin Bragg, likely to be Manhattan’s next DA, has made an oath to avoid incarcerating any nonviolent criminals, which presumably includes felonious possession of firearms. California Democrats, displaying their talent for mental gymnastics, have taken it a step further and are now pushing for reduced penalties for certain gun crimes.
In the summer of 2021, a third of the public believes that police officers treat minorities differently, and that gun control would reduce the current crime spike. Skewed media coverage and politicians looking to score cheap wins have helped bring us to where we are. Conservatives cannot allow progressives to spin the story so blatantly. Even if the Left were correct in claiming that firearm proliferation increases crime (and there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary), they have only themselves to blame for the recent uptick in gun purchases. There’s nothing like the episodic collapse of the rule of law, as we saw in the violent and destructive riots in so many cities last summer, to convince Americans of the need to protect themselves. Many of them see the progressive narrative about guns and crime for the charade that it is. Let’s hope more Americans become clear-eyed soon.