E.J. Dionne wrote in The Washington Post:
Who is really “soft on crime?” The gun lobby and all who coddle it, particularly those who serve in the U.S. Senate and on the Supreme Court.
If you want to talk about those blinding themselves to rising violence, start with the politicians and jurists who offer abstract and ahistorical readings of the Second Amendment to prevent mayors, police officers and lawmakers from getting guns off our streets.
Consider how distorted our political dialogue has become, abetted by how the politics of crime are covered in the media. A dead-as-a-doornail slogan, “defund the police,” continues to take center stage. But a genuinely powerful movement that handcuffs efforts to fight mayhem by stemming the flow of guns into our neighborhoods continues to get a pass.
President Biden’s visit to New York City last Thursday and his embrace of Mayor Eric Adams (D), a former police officer elected in November on a tough-on-crime platform, was widely seen, in the words of Politico’s New York Playbook, as a response to “a Republican backlash targeting Democrats on crime.”
So powerful has the fear of the “defund” slogan become that Biden himself felt obligated to play defense. “The answer is not to defund the police,” he told the police officers gathered to hear him. “It’s to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors.”
Let’s stipulate that the slogan was a bust. There’s evidence that it hurt Democratic House candidates in the 2020 elections. Worse, it got in the way of the debate it was designed to encourage: whether some resources might usefully be shifted from policing to prevention and other programs.
The fact remains that very, very few Democrats made the catchphrase their own, and Biden himself repudiated it right out of the gate. How come we don’t talk about “guns for everybody,” which is the world Second Amendment propagandists imagine?
Buried in most of the stories about Thursday’s events was how Adams, Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland all focused on the problems posed by guns themselves. Adams spoke to CNN ahead of Biden’s visit about “the rivers that are feeding the sea of violence in our city and in our country.” He added: “We have to stop the flow of illegal guns in our city.”
Biden directly took on Second Amendment fundamentalists who see it as “absolute.” He defended restrictions on assault weapons and touted his administration’s efforts to go after “ghost guns … that can be purchased in parts, assembled at home, no serial number, and can’t be traced.”
If politicians in Washington were serious about rising crime, they would take a whole series of steps to limit the spread of weapons. The Senate could start by enacting two modest bills already passed by the House last year. One required background checks for all gun buyers. The other extended the time the FBI would have to check on those trying to buy guns who are flagged by the nation’s instant check system.
But no, in a Senate where big cities facing the most serious crime problems are wildly underrepresented, the gun lobby rules. And we just accept this as a fact of life. Conservative members of that body are so committed to fighting crime that they’re willing to do ... nothing about the weapons our current laws allow to be so widely available.
At least as dangerous to public safety is the radically conservative majority on the Supreme Court that claims to revere state and local rights but seems prepared to upend municipal efforts to get a handle on the gun problem.
The consensus after last November’s oral arguments saw this majority as hell-bent on undoing New York’s strict limits on carrying weapons outside the home. At the time, Adams used the word “frightening” to describe “what’s about to play out on … the Supreme Court.”
How disconnected from urban realities are the good justices? “You don’t have to say, when you’re looking for a permit to speak on a street corner or whatever, that, you know, your speech is particularly important,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “So why do you have to show in this case, convince somebody, that you’re entitled to exercise your Second Amendment right?”
Ah, yes, giving a speech is like carrying a gun. Got it.
Those who rightly advocate reforming the police and the criminal justice system need to show how “policing that treats everyone with respect and dignity,” as Biden put it in New York, is, in fact, the best approach to combating lawlessness.
But the other imperative is to call out the hypocrisy of those who give fiery, divisive speeches about law and order while doing everything in their power to guarantee lawbreakers access to all the weapons they need.
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