Where’s All The Crime That Guns Protect Us From?

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Once again Gun-nut Nation is celebrating the continued health of the gun industry by misstating the monthly FBI-NICS background check number to make it appear as though gun sales continue in Obama-like fashion even during the Age of Trump.  The Washington Times blared: “Gun purchase background checks hit record after terror attacks overseas,” even though what continues to go up are background checks for gun licenses, not purchase of guns.

sessions                On the other hand, even if folks are increasingly using the NICS system to become legally-qualified to own guns, this still means that many Americans remain convinced that having access to a gun is a good way to deal with their fears of terrorism and crime. So as long as such fears abound, and as long as the gun industry creates messaging that exploits those fears, the more that guns will be floating around.  And guess what? We suffer from an extraordinary level of gun violence for one reason and one reason only, namely, too many guns.

If we regulated gun ownership the way guns are controlled in other OECD countries, the total number of civilian-owned guns would probably be around 50 million, give or take a few million here or there. How do I come up with that number? Because 14 million Americans hold hunting licenses, and let’s say that each hunter owns three rifles and shotguns, throw in another 5 million for trap, skeet and sport shooters and you’re at 50 million guns; i.e., a per-100,000 rate of roughly 15.7, which is half the gun-ownership rate of countries like Canada, Austria and Sweden, which experience little, if any gun violence at all. But in fact our actual gun-ownership rate is seven times higher than the rate calculated above, and probably half are handguns, which is what accounts for nearly all the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries that we experience each and every year. Because when there are 150 million handguns sitting in glove compartments, closets and drawers, it’s not unlikely that 200,000 or more will disappear from their rightful owners every twelve months and wind up in the wrong hands.

Now you would think that in the only industrialized country which has given its citizens relatively free access to guns, that everyone would own a gun.  After all, if the polls show that nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe that having a gun in your home protects you better than if you don’t, then obviously a lot of people out there buy the gun-industry’s idea about the virtues and values of gun ownership but don’t go out and purchase a gun. Meanwhile, for the first time in 15 years, more than half of all Americans (according to Gallup) believe that violent crime is on the rise. But each year the U.S. Department of Justice asks 160,000 adults whether they have been victims of violent crimes, and last year the DOJ reported that there had been “no significant change in the rate of violent crime.”

Talking about the Justice Department, its current boss has a date today with the Senate Intelligence Committee where it’s expected he’ll deny that any conversations he ever had with anyone, not just some guys from Russia, could constitute a crime.  And Sessions is a real expert on crime, having stated that we are in the midst of a ‘criminal epidemic’ even though he also admitted that violent crime is at a 50-year low.  Sessions has a boss who thinks that murder is the ‘highest’ in nearly 50 years; his misstatements on crime are so glaring and stupid that CNN actually ran a major story in February when Trump actually said something about crime which happened to be true.

When people with power and media access say something frequently enough, it often becomes an accepted narrative whether it’s true or not. When the President talks endlessly about American ‘carnage’ I’m not surprised that the average person then believes that crime rates are going up. Maybe the next thing Trump will do is sign an Executive Order requiring that everyone must own a gun.

 

Jeff Sessions Starts Fighting A Crime Wave That Doesn’t Exist.

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Now that a leading crime-fighter has been installed as Attorney General, we can rest easy because the great crime wave sweeping America will come to an immediate halt. And if you don’t believe there’s a lot of violent crime out there, Donald Trump promised to “liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their communities” if he were elected President. Which is kind of funny since a new report by the Brennan Center points out that with the exception of three cities – Chicago, Baltimore, DC – violent crime in the United States is at the lowest point of the last quarter-century, having declined by 50% since 1991.

sessions             But when was the last time you heard anything out of the White House which actually aligned with the facts? And when it comes to comments about crime the new Attorney General has even less regard for the truth than his boss. How could it be otherwise when he talked about New York City as one of nine jurisdictions that is “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime,” with the city seeing “gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city [being] ‘soft on crime.’”

Not only has Big Apple violent crime dipped to historic lows over the last several years, but much of this decrease is the result – ready? – of a major drop in gang crime, particularly gang shootings, which is exactly the reverse of what numbskull Sessions now claims. For the first time ever, shootings in New York City during 2016 dropped to below 1,000, with gang-related shootings dropping by 25% from the previous year, and gang-related gun homicides dropping almost 40% which brought the overall homicide number down to 335.

The Attorney General is lying when he says that New York City is suffering from a gang crime wave, because the New York City crime numbers are reported each year to the Feds. Sessions is pushing a ‘tough on crime’ agenda not only as an attempt to make it look like the Trump Administration is fixing yet another one of Obama’s mistakes, but he’s recklessly endorsing a ‘get tough’ crime policy which isn’t needed at all.

Another Brennan Center report on the new direction being taken by Trump and his minions points out that not only is violent crime at historic lows, but that the ‘get tough’ approach “contradicts the emerging consensus among conservatives, progressives, law enforcement, and researchers that the country’s incarceration rate is too high, and that our over-reliance on prison is not the best way to address crime.”

There is some truth to the idea that while violent crime is going down, illegal drug-use is going up. But these are very different drugs from what fueled the explosion of crack-cocaine in the early 1990’s because this time much of the current drug products are opioids, which even though they come from overseas (mainly China) represent a much different type of drug problem both in terms of cause and response. And while the Brennan report finds some evidence that Sessions understands the need to tie more comprehensive treatment rather than harsher punishments to the increase in opioid use, the rhetoric coming out of his office continues to focus primarily on a ‘get tough’ approach to all crime.

What’s really behind this new policy to ‘get touch’ on crime? First is the cynical and wholly-politicized strategy to sell the idea that Trump is making America ‘great’ again by sweeping away all the political detritus of the Obama ‘regime.’ Second is the attempt to wrap crime policy around immigration because most immigrants are here illegally which makes them more prone to commit crimes (which in fact is not one but two Trump lies.)

If Sessions was really serious about reducing crime, he’d sit down with New York City’s top cop, James O’Neill, and ask him to explain why the city’s crime rates are so low. But what Sessions is really serious about is helping his boss convince us that every time he tells a lie he’s revealing a new truth.

Jeff Sessions May Believe That Longer Sentences Curb Gun Violence But He’s Wrong.

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The moment that the 45th President nominated Jeff Sessions to be the People’s Lawyer, everyone on both sides of the gun debate began to shout out. The NRA posted television ads saying that “our nation’s chief law enforcement officer will work tirelessly to defend our rights while protecting us from violent criminals.”  As to the former, Sessions was an outspoken champion of the 2005 PLCAA federal law immunizing gun makers from tort suits; regarding the latter, he is known to be ‘tough on crime,’ in particular violent crimes caused by a gun.

sessions             Sessions is one of a number of public officials who has been fervently impressed by a gun-control initiative in Richmond, VA known as Project Exile, which mandated lengthy federal prison time for anyone convicted of a gun crime in a city whose gun violence rates in the early 1990s ranked it as one of the most violent urban centers in the entire United States. In 1997, when the program first began, Richmond experienced 140 homicides, or an annual rate of 73!  In 1998 homicides dropped by 36%, and continued to dwindle down over the next few years.

The good news is that by 2005, homicides in Richmond dropped to 84, then to 76 in 2006 and to 31 in 2008.  From 1997 until 2010, more than 1,300 people were convicted of gun crimes and received prison sentences which totaled more than 8,000 years, for an average prison stay of more than 6 years per crime.  No wonder Tough Guy Trump has praised Project Exile, but in all fairness the program was strongly supported by a Richmond City Councillor named Tim Kaine.  The program was also supported by folks in the GVP community, including the Brady Campaign, then known as Handgun Control, Inc.

There were also some dissenting voices, most notably from various Gun-nut groups like saveourguns.com, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and, of course, Larry Pratt.  And lost in the rhetoric were complaints from federal judges who heard these cases and claimed they were an ‘overreach’ of federal authority, along with the charge that the program was inherently racist and led to over-incarceration of black defendants who always end up as the chief victims of any over-zealous response to crime.

Like most special law-enforcement initiatives that cost extra dough, Project Exile petered out in the mid-2000s after funding was cut by Congressional Republicans in 2003.  But meanwhile, homicides in Richmond remained well below levels recorded before Project Exile went into effect in 1997-98.  That is to say, until this past year.  In 2016, the final murder number may end up at 60, the highest since 2007, and this would bring the annual murder rate back up to 30, which puts the former capital of the Confederacy back in the high end of gun-violence cities big time.

Nobody really knows for sure how come gun killings in Richmond have suddenly spiked last year, just as nobody really knows how come they dropped so significantly twenty years ago.

Back in 2002 several noted public policy and gun researchers, Steve Raphael and Jens Ludwig, published an assessment of Project Exile for Brookings, and decided that the “reduction in Richmond’s gun homicide rates surrounding the implementation of Project Exile was not unusual and that almost all of the observed decrease probably would have occurred even in the absence of the program.”  Why did Raphael and Ludwig come to this conclusion? Because the same drop in violent crime occurred at roughly the same time in many cities which didn’t have any special anti-violence programs running at all.

Trying to figure out why America experienced a 50% decline in violent crime from the mid-90s until the mid-years of the following decade has become an academic cottage industry, without any real consensus as to the cause. Senator Sessions may believe that getting ‘tough’ is an effective to what has now become a new upwards spike in gun violence, but it won’t work until and unless we figure out why sometimes violent crime goes up and other times goes down.  The solution hasn’t yet been found.

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