Gun control advocates have been proclaiming that with violent crime down during the coronavirus pandemic, there’s no reason for anyone to want to purchase a firearm for self-defense. They’ve also been warning that the large number of new gun owners pose a threat to public safety. As it turns out, some cities are now reporting a troubling increase in shootings, but new gun owners don’t seem to have anything to do with the numbers that are trending in the wrong direction.
In Omaha, Nebraska, police say the number of shootings in March was almost double compared to March of 2019, and police chief Todd Schmaderer says the rise has been driven almost entirely by a surge in gang violence.
“Gangs feel this is an opportune time to commit acts of violence,” Schmaderer said. “OPD and the community had a very good system in place, and that system is compromised right now, understandably.”
Community partners are now focusing on providing basic needs such as food. Omaha police gang prevention specialists aren’t able to meet with at-risk youths because of a threat of potential exposure to the virus.
In response to the increase in shootings and the number of shots fired, Schmaderer has assigned extra officers to the gang unit and increased patrols in the city’s northeast and southeast precincts. Other measures have been taken, the chief said, but he can’t discuss them.
Schmaderer says that crime had been dropping in Omaha, but the coronavirus and its impact on the city have undone the efforts made in recent years.
In Santa Barbara, California, Mayor Cathy Murillo says there’s also been a rise in street crime, but she’s hoping to counter the gang violence with a new initiative called Youth Responders.
Participants can earn community service hours and gift card stipends by working in food packing and distribution in collaboration with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and grocery stores that have surplus food.
“Adult outreach volunteers are recruiting at-risk youth to this program that brings them new skills, teaches them discipline, and gives them a sense of purpose during this difficult time,” Murillo said of the program, which launches next week.
There’s nothing wrong with the program, and I hope that it works, but some gang members and at-risk youth aren’t going to start earning merit badges and gift cards just because they can. That outreach needs to be coupled with a crackdown on violent crime, but in California many arrestees are now being let loose, even if they’re caught with illegally possessed firearms.
New York City has also seen its homicide rate skyrocket since stay-at-home orders were issued, with a 55% increase in murders over the past month. Burglaries are up by more than 25% as well, and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters last week that officers are making arrests, only to see suspects quickly returned to the streets.
“It’s frustrating. The cops are out there making arrests for these burglaries,” the city’s top cop said.
But “[w]ith the existing law, what’s happening is the individuals are being released immediately and that’s something that ultimately in the end will have to be fixed,” Shea said, referring to bail reforms that took effect in January.
A total of 259 commercial and residential burglaries were reported citywide April 13-19 — a 36.3-percent rise from the 190 reported during that period last year, according to the latest NYPD stats.
Burglaries also rose 25 percent during the 28-day period ending April 19 compared to the same time frame last year, stats show.
Commercial burglaries skyrocketed 122 percent between March 12 and Sunday — from 275 in 2019 to 612 this year, cops said.
One alleged serial thief, Billy Queen, was charged with three heists this month alone, only to be released each time when prosecutors declined to press charges due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Gun control advocates may still be claiming that the nation has become a quieter, calmer place since the national emergency was declared back in March, but there’s not much evidence to back them up. Instead, it looks like emboldened criminals are committing more crimes, often with deadly consequences. As we head into summer, when violent crime traditionally rises anyway, some cities could be facing a staggering increase in murders, robberies, and break-ins. Law-abiding Americans have been purchasing firearms in record numbers for self-defense, and for good reason.