For a movement that views banning firearms as the fundamental lynchpin of its ideology, gun control groups don’t seem to want to talk about it that much these days. Oh sure, Joe Biden can go off script and declare that he wants to ban 9 mm pistols, but have you noticed that gun control activists would rather talk about something else much of the time?
Take a recent op-ed by two longtime activists, which barely mentions imposing new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms and instead focuses on ways to reduce violence without more policing. Now, more policing is at the heart of the gun control movement; it’s reliant on law enforcement in fact. After all, every new gun control law must be enforced somehow, and cops are generally the ones to arrest individuals for violations of those laws.
Yet in the pages of the Washington Post activists Rachel Usdan and Roger Marmet, who are both affiliated with Moms Demand Action (Usdan is a former chapter leader in D.C. and Marmet currently serves as the D.C. chapter’s “city gun violence lead”), gloss over the organization’s support for criminalizing common aspects of gun ownership and instead spend most of their column promoting strategies to “transform the lives of the small number of individuals who are most at risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of violence.” In fact, this is the only mention of gun control in their entire piece.
For far too long, our city’s solution to “public safety” has been over policing and over-incarcerating Black and Brown people. This does not stop the violence. This leads to deep distrust of police, reduced homicide closure rates and erosion of communities as funding is monopolized by police at the expense of housing, food, education, jobs and health. Holding violent offenders accountable is critical, and police have a role to play. But police alone cannot make communities safe.
Though D.C.’s gun laws are strong, our borders are porous, and guns are brought into our city from other states. It’s imperative that we push for common-sense gun laws, but the gun is the final instrument. We need to go much deeper to address the root causes.
Few people would disagree with holding violent offenders accountable, but Usdan and Marmet would prefer readers not think too deeply about the non-violent, possessory gun control laws in place in Washington, D.C. that can lead to prison sentences for simply possessing a firearm or a round of ammunition without a license. The over-incarceration of minorities that the pair complain about is the result, at least in part, of the very same “common-sense gun laws” that groups like Moms Demand Action are demanding nationwide.
In fact, as a group of public defenders and legal aid attorneys recently argued in an an amicus briefs filed in support of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association’s challenge of New York’s carry permitting law, the kind of “common-sense” gun laws that Moms Demand Action supports end up putting a disproportionate number of minorities behind bars.
In 2020, while Black people made up 18% of New York’s population, they accounted for 78% of the state’s felony gun possession cases. Non-Latino white people, who made up 70% of New York’s population, accounted for only 7% of such prosecutions. Black people were also more likely to have monetary bail set, as opposed to release on their own recognizance or under supervision, even when comparing individuals with no criminal record.
When looking at only N.Y. Penal Law § 265.03(3)—which alleges only possession of a loaded firearm—80% of people in New York who are arraigned are Black while 5% are non-Hispanic white. Furthermore, according to NYPD arrest data, in 2020, 96% of arrests made for gun possession under N.Y. Penal Law § 265.03(3) in New York City were of Black or Latino people. This percentage has been above 90% for 13 consecutive years.
When these gun control activists complain that “over policing and over-incarcerating Black and Brown people” doesn’t stop the violence, they’re ignoring the fact that the gun control movement is a root cause of over policing and over-incarceration. More importantly, they want everyone else to ignore that fact too.
The gun control movement has historically found its home on the Left, but as more and Democrats embrace criminal justice and policing reforms, the idea of putting people in prison (a disproportionate number of them minorities in Democrat-controlled cities) for non-violent possessory offenses is looking less and less like a progressive ideal. And as the progressive case against gun control laws take shape, the gun control movement itself is becoming more desperate to ingratiate themselves with their traditional allies, even if that means downplaying their commitment to banning their way to safety.
Look, I’m glad to see Usdan and Marmet discuss ways to address violent crime that don’t involve putting new gun control laws on the books. I just wish they were willing to go one step further and actually admit that when it comes to over policing and over-incarceration groups like Moms Demand Action are a much bigger part of the problem than the solution. And until the gun control movement will acknowledge this fact, we should all call them out for the damage they’re doing to the communities they claim to support.