*Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty
In the wake of a tragic shooting like the one in Las Vegas on October 1st, it is natural for Americans to react with fear, shock, and dismay. However, the issue of gun violence is one that is much deeper and more complex than it appears.
For starters, it should be widely accepted that eradicating the presence of guns will not end violence or crime. It is imperative that members of the Democratic Party, especially its lawmakers, stray away from this belief and adopt policies that tackle crime as a whole. Doing so will allow Democrats to circumvent the power of gun lobbies like the NRA and reduce violent attacks like the Vegas shooting.
The main approach adopted by Democrats for the last three decades has been banning assault weapons. Attempting to curb gun violence by banning only assault weapons has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future. For instance, more people have died from the use of both handguns and knives than rifles, never mind assault weapons. The overwhelming majority of gun violence in the United States occurs with something other than an assault rifle. Trying to ban assault weapons or assault rifles ignores the bigger issue.
For Democrats to begin crafting effective gun policies, they must address the core causes of everyday violence in urban areas, specifically violence related to people of color. As of 2015, only 1 percent of all gun homicides occur in mass shootings. Meanwhile, about half of all Americans murdered by gun violence on a daily basis are black men. The real issue that needs to be solved by leaders on the left is an alarmingly high homicide rate amongst African-Americans in inner cities, an integral part of the Democratic Party’s base.
Democrats, by focusing on assault weapons, are missing an opportunity to unite the country around ways to significantly reduce gun deaths and help African-Americans in poverty. In Chicago alone, in 2016, there were nearly 690 gun-related homicides. Unfortunately, this epidemic is common among our nation’s urban centers. Despite this fact, the overwhelming majority of time spent on gun issues occurs in the aftermath of mass shootings instead of on the more prevalent occurrence of gun deaths in black communities. In fact, gun deaths are twice as likely among African-Americans than whites.
As the party that has championed equal rights for African Americans for the past 5 decades and as the party that receives the vast majority of African American votes, we owe it to the community to spend less time banging our heads against the wall on the assault weapons issue and more time focusing on realistic and constructive solutions to reduce gun violence in urban areas.
It is imperative that the party alleviate the pains experienced by marginalized groups in this country. Instead of continuing down its recent path of hindering growth in the black community (see the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996), the Democratic Party should be actively serving the needs of these constituents by focusing on reducing violence in American cities.
Aside from ignoring the needs of the African American community, Democrats also display a disconnect in regard to defining the differences between an assault rifle and an assault weapon. An assault weapon, according to the infamous 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, is a firearm that has at least two of a series of attachment that includes a bayonet and a grenade launcher. The definition has nothing to do with the rate of fire or military capabilities of a firearm.
There is also no evidence whatsoever that the ban led to a reduction in gun murders. According to a study conducted by Christopher Koper in 2004 “The gun ban provision targets a relatively small number of weapons based on outward features or accessories that have little to do with the weapons’ operation. Removing some or all of these features is sufficient to make the weapons legal.” The AWB’s moniker was simply an attempt to confuse citizens. It had nothing to do with assault rifles or semiautomatic firearms and was about as useful as a Mexican border wall would be in quelling illegal immigration.
Attempting to ban all semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles would not only be a frivolous pursuit, however, it would be unconstitutional as well. Confiscation is impossible and impractical in a nation with about as many guns as people. Any serious attempts at banning assault rifles, semiautomatics, or handguns would not only never make it out of a subcommittee in Congress, it would also never make it past a U.S. District Court without being struck down immediately. It would, however, provide a source of comic relief for the justices.
Even if Congress were able to pass some form of firearms restriction more effective than the 1994 AWB, it would not prevent mass shootings due to difficulties law enforcement experiences in obtaining firearms used in violent crimes. According to the ATF, the national time-to-crime average was 10.48 years after a weapon is used for a violent crime.
In order for Democrats to craft meaningful policies that will curb gun violence, it is imperative that the party adopt policies that focus on reducing crime in general. Lowering the crime rate will, in effect, lower the amount of gun deaths in the U.S. Hanging our hats on gun control will only distract from the real problems facing our constituents.
To start crafting this type of policy, we must address issues plaguing the urban poor. This can be done by addressing institutional factors and legislation that lead to spikes in crime that increased during our government’s failed “War on Drugs,” specifically Ronald Reagan’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and Bill Clinton’s aforementioned “Tough on Crime” legislation. For starters, we should legalize marijuana on a national level, and move to decriminalize other drugs like cocaine and opioids on as well. This would drastically reduce the incarceration rates of African-Americans and would limit the power of drug traders in urban America. Like when the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition, ending the drug war would also decrease violent crime.
Another approach that should be adopted by Democrats is the implementation of alternative crime prevention strategies in major cities that focus on reducing gang activity by directly communicating with youths in inner cities. One perfect example of this type of policy is the Operation Ceasefire initiative that was implemented in Boston in 1996. This policy that focused on eliminating drug trafficking and deterring teens from entering a life of crime yielded incredibly successful results. The number of youth homicides dropped 63 percent, monthly shots-fired calls to the police were reduced by 32 percent, and most importantly, the number of monthly gun assaults decreased by 25 percent.
Another approach that Democrats should adopt is a change in policing in metro areas. After the questionable deaths of Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, and Tamir Rice, a growing sense of mistrust in the police has been prominent. Changing the way citizens in urban America are policed can potentially lead to a decline in crime, and with it gun deaths and even police brutality. In order to achieve these goals, the party should encourage cities to implement a style of community led policing that was developed by former Baltimore Police Officer and U.S. Marine Michael Wood Jr. If the fissures between minority communities and police forces can be mended, all forms of violent crime will begin to plummet.
Democrats should not aim to solve the issue of violence with restrictions on guns, they should address the issue by combatting institutional factors which lead far too many into committing crimes. Doing so will both heal the wounds that affect minorities on a daily basis and lower the alarming amount of gun violence in this country.