D.C.'s Problem Isn't "Too Many Guns"

Executive Office of the Mayor/Khalid Naji-Allah via AP

After a drive-by shooting outside of the Washington Nationals stadium over the weekend, the D.C commentariat is sounding the alarm about the rise in violent crime, but they’re off-base in diagnosing the problem that’s leading to the surge in shootings.

WUSA-TV’s Tony Perkins, like many in our nation’s capitol, says that the reason for the increase is simple; there are just too many guns out there.

It’s a complicated problem, but the obvious, overwhelming fact is there are too many guns on our streets.

We are a trigger-happy culture.

 

No other country goes through this, and it’s not justifiable. Some say guns are needed to protect ourselves, but that is clearly not working.

 

There must be a wholesale change in our mindset when it comes to guns. If there isn’t, weekends like this last one will be the norm, and that’s not good.

When it comes to worldwide rates of violent crime, the United States is basically in the middle of the pack, and there are plenty of countries with much more restrictive gun control laws that have far higher violent crime rates. Beyond that, however, the disparity in violent crime is also seen here in the United States. Washington, D.C.’s violent crime and homicide rates, for instance, are much higher than those in neighboring northern Virginia, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Washington, D.C. has much more restrictive gun laws.

There are no gun stores in D.C. where folks can legally purchase a firearm. There are no ranges where gun owners can train or take classes. The percentage of residents who are legal gun owners is estimated to be just a small fraction of the city’s population, but making guns taboo hasn’t done a damn thing to make D.C. any safer, and it’s insane to pretend otherwise.

Still, it’s also important to note that the District’s crime rate is far lower than what it was 20 years ago, when the D.C. handgun ban was in place and the gun laws were even more draconian and unconstitutional than the current licensing regime. If Perkins was right, and the availability of firearms is what’s driving the violence in D.C., then why did the District’s homicide rate peak back in the 1990s? After all, there were far fewer guns in the United States twenty years ago, and our nation’s capitol had far more restrictive laws in place back then as well.

D.C.’s problem isn’t that it has “too many guns.” It has too many criminals, and too many people who feel emboldened to break the law because they don’t fear any consequences. Take, for example, the murder of 6-year old Nyiah Courtney last Friday night. The little girl was shot and killed during another drive-by shooting that left five adults wounded, and though police were on the scene 34 seconds after the first shot was fired, so far no arrests have been made.

Speaking with anger and urgency, officials pleaded with the community to take responsibility to help make their neighborhood safer.

“Nyiah was killed; somebody else could be killed tonight,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “It’s also very important that while we look for the killers of Nyiah, we also prevent the next murder, and that is within our sphere of influence as a community.”

A team of officers organized a bike patrol in addition to about a dozen patrol cars that were stationed in the area. But police leaders made it clear that increased patrols would not be enough.

“I need calls,” Chief Contee said. “I need tips. Send me smoke signals.”

There are two big reasons why those calls aren’t coming in. First, you’ve got the code of the streets, which views cooperation with law enforcement as a crime in and of itself. But you also have good people who may have valid information on suspects who are afraid to cooperate with police, not unwilling to do so.

These folks have seen how the criminal justice system returns violent offenders to their communities after just a short amount of time behind bars, and they know that testifying against these individuals may result in quick retaliation instead of prolonged incarceration. Witnesses need to feel safe testifying in open court or even contacting an anonymous tip line, but D.C. politicians like Muriel Bowswer would rather utter platitudes than take concrete steps to ensure that those willing to share evidence won’t end up shot and killed as a result.