About that "GOP states have higher murder rates" study

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

I debated long and hard about giving this “study” from the moderate Democratic group Third Way even a paragraph’s worth of attention because of how shamelessly unscientific it is, but I’ve seen enough chatter about it online that I feel like I can’t ignore the problems I have with it, especially since I’m sure that gun control activists will be pointing to what Third Way has to say as evidence for the need for more gun control laws.

Let’s start with the premise for the “study,” which Third Way calls “The Red State Murder Problem” even though their own summary demonstrates that’s not exactly the issue.

  • The rate of murders in the US has gone up at an alarming rate. But, despite a media narrative to the contrary, this is a problem that afflicts Republican-run cities and states as much or more than the Democratic bastions.

In other words, what Third Way’s research shows is that the increase in violent crime beginning in 2020 was seen across the board. I don’t think there’s any disagreement on that, though it should be noted that there were also areas of the country that saw declines in homicides in 2020, including blue-state Baltimore and red-state Oklahoma City. In fact, here are the cities with the biggest increases and decreases in homicides in 2020, as reported by the anti-gun outfit Everytown for Gun Safety. Let’s start with the cities that saw the biggest murder spikes.

  1. In seven cities, the gun homicide rate at least doubled in 2020 compared to 2019: Lubbock, TX; Des Moines, IA; Fresno, CA; Vallejo, CA; Trenton, NJ; Columbus, OH; Syracuse, NY; and Milwaukee, WI.

By the way, those crack researchers at Everytown say there were seven cities where the gun homicide rate doubled, but I count eight cities up there. Third Way looked at states that voted for Trump vs. states that voted for Biden in 2020 as their “red/blue” metric, which in this case means that cities in three Trump states had double digit increases in the gun homicide rate, compared to five cities in Biden states. This completely cuts against Third Way’s hypothesis about the increase in homicides being a red state problem, but it gets even worse from there.

Now let’s look at the cities that had the biggest declines in homicides in 2020.

  1. The seven cities that experienced the greatest declines in the gun homicide rate from 2019 to 2020 were Virginia Beach, VA; El Paso, TX; High Point, NC; Anchorage, AK; Salt Lake City, UT; Oklahoma City, OK; and Long Beach, CA.

Just two cities in Biden states saw double digit declines; Virginia Beach, Virginia and Long Beach, California. The other five cities with the biggest drop in murders are all in states that voted for Donald Trump. What’s more, three of the cities with the biggest declines are also located in states that had Constitutional Carry laws in place in 2020; Anchorage, Salt Lake City, and Oklahoma City, where Constitutional Carry came into effect in November of 2019 (Texas’ Constitutional Carry law didn’t take effect until 2021).

This once again refutes the idea that the rise in homicides is a “red state problem” as Third Way so desperately insists. Again, most of the country saw an increase in homicides, regardless of the presidential vote. And two states made both lists; California and Texas. Those states have diametrically opposed gun laws, but gun homicides spiked in Lubbock in 2020 just like they did in Fresno and Vallejo, California, and they plunged in El Paso as well as Long Beach, California.

You simply can’t read too much into one year’s crime statistics, but 2019 and 2020 are the only years that Third Way considered.

We found that murder rates are, on average, 40% higher in the 25 states Donald Trump won in the last presidential election compared to those that voted for Joe Biden. In addition, murder rates in many of these red states dwarf those in blue states like New York, California, and Massachusetts. And finally, many of the states with the worst murder rates—like Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas—are ones that few would describe as urban. Only 2 of America’s top 100 cities in population are located in these high murder rate states. And not a single one of the top 10 murder states registers in the top 15 for population density.

Whether one does or does not blame Republican leaders for high murder rates, it seems that Republican officeholders do a better job of blaming Democrats for lethal crime than actually reducing lethal crime.

That’s the gist of Third Way’s argument: Republicans suck at fighting crime. And the reason why Third Way is putting this out there is because poll after poll shows Republicans with an edge over Democrats on the issue of “gun policy” and “crime”; the latter of which is a major concern for a lot of voters, including those who say they always vote for the Democrat on the ballot, but who may simply decide to stay home on Election Day this year.

I don’t believe the GOP is perfect on public safety issues, but there are some huge differences between them and the Democrats.

First, let’s not forget that the addition of every blue-state gun law comes with the promise that it will actually reduce violent crime. When cities like New York and Los Angeles experience historic increases in homicides, I think it’s fair to ask why those gun control laws suddenly stopped working, don’t you?

There’s also the fact that Republicans aren’t now trying to run as fast as they can away from their previously whole-hearted support for defunding the police, “re-imagining public safety”, and even abolishing prisons. And unlike Democrats, they’re also not trying to make it harder to exercise your Second Amendment right to carry a firearm in self-defense while convicted felons are able to easily and illegally arm themselves with a home-built machine gun.

No, the Republican public safety strategies haven’t led to a crime-free utopia, but then, I’m not aware of any Republican shamelessly pledging to bring about that paradise by “ending gun violence”. And while I’d love to see the party do more with focused deterrence and other nuts-and-bolts approaches to curbing violence, the fact that the GOP’s crime-fighting strategy isn’t based on weakening your right to keep and bear arms with the false promise of collective safety for all resonates with a lot of voters; and that’s something Third Way can’t easily spin away in a junk study.