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When Violent Crime Has No Punishment

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With violent crime on the rise around the country, the media should be interested in investigating the reasons why, right? Instead, the media feeds into the anti-gun frenzy with reports of untraceable “ghost guns,” descriptions of suppressors as “tools for assassins,” and gun owners as ticking time bombs. When was the last time you saw the network or cable news outlets actually talk about the clearance rate for homicides or shootings in our most violent cities? It simply doesn’t happen. Instead, we’re treated to guests who talk about nonsensical “common sense” steps we can take to reduce violent crime, like making it harder for people to legally carry firearms for self-defense.

That’s why I was surprised to see a story in Boston Magazine highlighting the abysmal arrest rate for shooters in the city. In Boston, only 4 percent of non-fatal shootings result in an arrest. Just 15 percent of fatal shootings end up with suspects in cuffs. And while these numbers are abysmal, Boston isn’t the only city suffering from a deluge of unsolved violent crimes. In Chicago, the homicide clearance rate was below 20 percent in 2016. In Baltimore, it was less than 40 percent. In Louisville, where violent crime has been soaring, the homicide clearance rate has fallen from over 70 percent in 2014 to around 50 percent in 2016. Similar stats can be found in many of the cities where crime has exploded in the past few years.

You won’t find a lot of politicians in these cities highlighting these troubling numbers. Instead of talking about the need to solve more of these cases, to bring more of these violent criminals to justice, these politicians instead like to bloviate about the need to have more gun control laws. Think about this for a second: Police aren’t making arrests in the vast majority of shootings, but somehow a new law restricting magazine size or requiring background checks is going to be A) more enforceable than laws against shooting someone, and B) more effective at driving down the violent crime rate. This is like trying to go after drunk driving by passing restrictions on NASCAR races.In Boston, only 4 percent of non-fatal shootings result in an arrest. Just 15 percent of fatal shootings end up with suspects in cuffs.

Anti-gun lawmakers are always eager to sound tough on illegal gun use. The same lawmakers who complain that our criminal justice system is inherently racist have no problems proposing more mandatory minimum sentences for those caught with a gun, even if there’s no evidence of a violent crime being committed. Those soundbite solutions give the impression of “doing something,” but the reality is that violent crimes continue to go unpunished.

The fact is that before the severity of consequence can matter, there has to be a good certainty that there will, in fact, be a consequence in the first place. When gang members have an 80 percent chance of getting away with murder, and nearly always get away with a shooting, they’re pretty certain that the only consequences to their actions might be retaliation from another crew. Even worse, they’re right.Those soundbite solutions give the impression of “doing something,” but the reality is that violent crimes continue to go unpunished.

Politicians need to give police the tools and tactical ability to focus on the most violent offenders in their communities, but law enforcement can’t do it alone. Boston Magazine’s David S. Bernstein sniffed that the cops know about the lack of arrests, “but will they do anything about it?” The idea that these cops aren’t really putting out a lot of effort to solve these crimes is an insult to the men and women in law enforcement. A lack of cooperation from eyewitnesses (and in many cases, the victims themselves) can stymie the best detectives. It may be fear of retaliation that causes someone to keep what they know to themselves, or it may be what passes for an honor code on the streets: Keep the police out of it and get revenge, not justice. These problems aren’t easily fixed, especially in communities that view police as a bigger problem than the violent criminals robbing the neighborhood of its innocence, or at least its peace. Unfortunately, right now too many anti-gun activists, elected or in the media, don’t even want to acknowledge these problems. Instead, they want to keep offering up the same stale and ineffective solution: gun control laws that violate the Constitution, as well as our common sense.

Article first appeared at NRA-ILA.

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