If gun control worked, Baltimore, Maryland should be one of the safest cities in the country. Maryland requires applicants for a concealed carry license to show “good cause,” and self-defense isn’t considered a valid reason, so there are only a handful of city residents legally allowed to carry a firearm. Residents of the state are required to obtain a Handgun Qualification License before legally owning a pistol, and all firearms must be registered with the state.
Despite all those gun control laws, Baltimore remains one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, and homicide rates this year are on pace to once again reach a record high. Now the Michael Bloomberg-funded Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research is out with a new report on crime trends in the city and how to reduce the number of shootings on the streets, and their suggestions may surprise gun owners and gun control advocates alike.
For years, Michael Bloomberg was a vocal supporter of “stop-and-frisk” policies that allowed police to stop individuals and frisk them for weapons with no probable cause of any crime being committed. Bloomberg publicly changed his mind about the policy shortly before he announced his run for president, but questions remain about the sincerity of his apologies for stopping and frisking 5-million New Yorkers, many of them young minority men, over the 12 years he served as mayor.
Stop-and-frisk causes more problems than it solves, according to the new report from the Johns Hopkins researchers, who say that even in high crime neighborhoods where residents are concerned about the illegal carrying of firearms, stop-and-frisk policies “elicit fear and distrust and are inconducive to public safety.” Considering the fact that stop-and-frisk is probably the easiest (if not the most constitutional) way to enforce laws against illegal gun possession, magazine bans, and other gun control laws, this finding strikes a blow to the traditional gun control enforcement model.
The Johns Hopkins researchers go even further, however, and say that their research shows that simply arresting more people for illegally possessing guns had no impact on Baltimore’s homicide rate.
Our findings from prior research studies of Baltimore demonstrate mixed effects of proactive gun law enforcement strategies, which is similar to findings from other U.S. cities. In our 2018 study involving analysis of monthly trends in homicides and nonfatal shootings across police patrol posts in Baltimore between 2004 and 2017, a 1-month lag in arrests for weapons violations was unrelated to shootings within a post after controlling for other factors.
The researchers say that sending detectives with the city’s Violent Crime Impact Section to “violent hotspots” was far more effective, with a 13-percent reduction in homicides and a 19-percent drop in the number of nonfatal shootings. In other words, even busting people who may be illegally carrying a firearm for self-defense does nothing to actually address violent crime. You have to focus on the relatively few people in any given community who are proactively and prolifically committing acts of violence.
This is more bad news for gun control advocates, because it suggests that even broad enforcement of their favored gun control laws won’t have an impact on violent crime. Gun licensing laws, gun and magazine bans, and the like are worthless at preventing violent crime, but they’re great for putting young black and brown men behind bars for non-violent possessory offenses and saddling them with a felony record for years to come.
The Johns Hopkins report makes several recommendations, including focusing enforcement efforts on the most violent and prolific offenders, but it doesn’t call for any new gun control laws. That’s another surprise, and another blow to the gun control movement.
Still, the researchers are no fans of gun ownership, and the report fails to issue one recommendation that could make a big difference in Baltimore: the re-establishment of a culture of lawful gun ownership. If one of the biggest concerns that residents have is the illegal carrying of firearms, then why not recognize the fact that Americans actually have the right to legally bear arms. The adoption of “shall-issue” concealed carry laws (I’d love to see constitutional carry in Maryland, but I’m trying to be realistic here), along with proactive efforts by the Baltimore Police Department to offer gun safety and training classes for city residents, would result in more legal gun owners in the city. Heck, start a citywide campaign to “Shoot Paper, Not People” and encourage the development of marksmanship skills.
Baltimore has a violence problem, and the researchers at Johns Hopkins have acknowledged, however reluctantly, that the city can’t arrest its way out of the situation. Focused deterrence on violent criminals is great, but it needs to be coupled with an embrace of the Second Amendment rights of residents and the fostering of a culture of legal and responsible gun ownership.