Crime, not gun control, a top concern in Democratic focus groups

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

You know the caveat by now: a lot can happen between now and November, don’t get cocky, yadda yadda yadda. Still, as we get closer to the midterms and generic ballots continue to show Republicans with stronger-than-average numbers, many Democrats are starting to panic and Republicans are getting a little giddy at the prospects of a red wave this November.

There’s more bad news for Democrats coming from POLITICO, where reporters Ryan Lizza and Eugene Daniels were able to watch two focus group of Democratic voters on Monday night; the first consisting of black voters over the age of 25 who “always” vote Democrat, and the second group comprised of “youth voters” between the ages of 25-39 who also “always” vote Democrat. These are demographic groups that Democrats need to turn out on Election Day in November, and the Biden administration’s attacks on the Second Amendment and the president’s demands for Congress to pass an “assault weapons” ban and other anti-gun restrictions are aimed not only at reducing our civil liberties, but energizing that base of supporters.

Based on Daniels’ reporting, however, it doesn’t seem like that strategy is paying off. Daniels says while inflation was the primary concern of the focus groups members, both Ukraine and crime also emerged as top issues.

Crime: It was impossible to ignore how much it came up. A Black man from New York complained about bail reform laws in that state leading to “repeat offenders” who get arrested and released and are “re-arrested in less than 24 hours.” A Black woman in the Philadelphia area wanted something done about gun violence and carjackings in the city by “repeat offenders.”

The white woman from Boston said she was reading a lot about “unprovoked attacks” on tourists in New York. “It’s out of control,” she said.

My guess is that if the focus group attendees had talked up their desire for a ban on modern sporting rifles or the repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, Lizza and Daniels would have mentioned it in their report. Instead, one of the primary concerns appears to be “repeat offenders,” individuals that, generally speaking, aren’t legally eligible to purchase or possess a firearm.

It sounds to me that the Democrats participating in these focus groups aren’t interested in empty promises about executive actions on “ghost guns” or calls on Congress to impose new bans. They want the perpetrators of these violent crimes put behind bars; particularly those who quickly get released on bond only to be arrested for new offenses while they’re awaiting trial.

That leaves Democrats in a tough spot, as a Monday press conference held by a group of Illinois Democrats to promote their new anti-crime strategy demonstrated.

The legislators who laid out a plan at a news conference in Springfield were mostly from the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party, which has found itself somewhat at odds with progressives in the effort to come up with a winning formula for anti-crime legislation.

… “We have to look at comprehensive ways to support law enforcement and to make sure that we can really bust through those barriers that have prevented first responders from accessing the desperately needed mental health support that they need,” said state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, who is considered part of the Democratic progressive wing but whose Northwest Side district of Chicago includes many cops and firefighters.

Some of the Democratic-led legislation introduced on Monday mirrors proposals made by Republicans several months ago that didn’t gain much traction from the majority party. Those include a push to improve training for police officers across the state and set aside money to hire more cops.

Asked why there were no Republicans joining them in their support, state Rep. Dave Vella said “we think that our ideas are better.”

“We always try to be open to all ideas, but the ideas that came out from the other side were just more putting more people in jail and that’s not working, and it costs the taxpayers too much money,” said Vella, a Democrat from Rockford.

So, Democrats are now “mirroring” Republican crime bills, except when it comes to actually putting violent offenders in prison, because that’s “not working” and it’s too expensive. How do you think that’s going to play with a mom in Chicago who wants her kids to be able to safely walk to and from school? It’s probably not going to get her to switch her vote to the GOP in November, but it may very well cause her to stay home on Election Day because she doesn’t believe the Democrats are taking her concerns about crime seriously. And honestly, she’s right. They’re not. They’re still trying to figure out the best way to handle violent crime as the political issue it is for the party rather than the deeply personal issue that it is for good folks living in high-crime neighborhoods, as well as those who have to work in crime-ridden downtown areas or even those tourists who’d like to visit landmarks without stumbling across an open air drug market.
As a result, the Democratic Party is increasingly out-of-touch even with the concerns of their own base, and while there is a lot of time between now and November, I don’t see an easy way for the Democrats to right their sinking ship… especially when they get things so wrong when it comes to crime and gun control.