Biden's Gun Control Speech Was A Mistake

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Joe Biden had one real goal in Wednesday’s speech announcing a five-point plan to address the rising violent crime rate in many American cities; reassure voters that Democrats have a strategy that will reduce the increasing lawlessness and reverse the spike in crime that began last year.

Instead, the big takeaway from his rambling and semi-coherent remarks was his off-topic warning to Americans that if they want to take on the government, they’ll need F-15s and nuclear weapons. An address that was supposed to show that the president was focused on violent crime turned into a half-hearted stump speech for gun control, and maybe cannon control as well.

Recent polls have shown that Biden isn’t trusted to handle the crime issue, and I can’t imagine that yesterday’s disastrous turn at the podium made voters feel any better.

Polls signal growing unease over crime, a potential liability for Biden and Democrats in next year’s midterm elections. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released in May found that nearly 50% of respondents said crime is a very big problem in the U.S. About 36% of respondents at least somewhat approved of Biden’s handling of crime, while 44% at least somewhat disapproved.

Republicans have accused the president of being soft on crime, saying he has not done enough to rebut some liberals who call for cutting spending on police departments. Biden has repeatedly said he does not favor defunding the police.

It’s true that Biden announced that cities can use hundreds of billions of dollars in COVID relief funds to spend on law enforcement efforts, but the officer shortage in many cities can’t simply be blamed on budget issues. Instead, as the New York Times reported a few days ago, officers are retiring, resigning, and joining suburban agencies because of the hostility towards law enforcement shown by many Democratic politicians and elected officials in cities from coast-to-coast.

“We have lost about one-third of our staff to resignation and retirement,” said Chief David Zack of the Asheville Police Department in North Carolina — more than 80 officers out of a full complement of 238. “Certainly with the way that police have been portrayed and vilified in some cases, they have decided that it is not the life for them.”

Those reductions in Ashville echo a nationwide trend. A survey of about 200 police departments indicates that retirements were up by 45 percent and resignations by 18 percent in the period between April 2020 and April 2021, when compared with the preceding 12 months. The percentage of officers who left tended to be larger for departments in big or medium-size cities, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington policy institute that will release full data next week.

“It is an evolving crisis,” said Chuck Wexler, the organization’s executive director.

Biden could have engaged in a full-throated attack on the Defund the Police movement, but he can’t risk alienating the Democrats’ base, so instead he pilloried gun owners. He could have issued a stark warning to violent criminals that the Department of Justice is going to be coming after them, but instead he warned “rogue gun dealers” that the ATF will have a zero tolerance policy on violations of agency rules and regulations.

A speech that was ostensibly designed to make Americans feel better about Biden’s handling of violent crime instead left many of us scratching our heads. Even Biden defenders like Geraldo Rivera were less than impressed by the president’s remarks.

“Compassion aside, where was the passion? That speech was as laid back as the program he is proposing,” said Rivera.

The longtime journalist, who has reported on violent crime and other major issues throughout his career, said that Biden’s allocation of resources toward summertime social programs for urban and endangered youth and stemming illegal firearm sales will not go far toward solving the problem.

“This is the civil rights issue of our time, murder has become the leading cause of death, if this is not an emergency, what is it?” he later asked.

Now, Geraldo is wrong about murder being the leading cause of death in the United States (heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, accidents, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and suicides are each responsible for far more deaths than homicide), but he’s right that Biden’s speech was “laid back.” I’d actually call it somnambulate, but seeing Sleepy Joe at the podium isn’t exactly a new phenomenon either.

The biggest problem for Biden is that he can’t actually acknowledge why we’re seeing a rise in violent crime. Biden wants to blame legal gun owners and federally licensed firearm dealers, when we know that the vast majority of gun owners will never commit a violent crime and that criminals are getting their guns on the illicit market or through family and friends. The White House refers to an 18-month increase in violent crime, when we all know that shootings and homicides really increased a year ago, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the riots and destruction that followed in many cities.

Biden’s address on Wednesday may have checked a box, but I doubt it moved the needle in terms of public opinion on his handling of violent crime. By continuing to call for more restrictions on legal gun owners at a time when millions of Americans are embracing their Second Amendment rights for the very first time and his unwillingness to get tough on those actually responsible for violent acts, the only people Biden really reassured were his gun control allies. When it comes to everyone else, Biden would have been better off politically saying nothing at all.

Dec 04, 2021 11:30 AM ET