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Murder Zones

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In the movie Casablanca (1942), when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) shoots Maj. Strasser to stop him from preventing Victor and Ilsa’s airplane from taking off, Capt. Louis Renault gave officers arriving on the scene their marching orders when he delivered the now-famous line: “Round up the usual suspects.” 

While rounding up the “usual suspects” isn’t exactly a common or practical policing technique, a decade ago, a high-level law-enforcement official told me that if he could just go into a handful of specific areas in his city and arrest 200 known bad guys, murders in his city would drop to nearly zero. I recall being somewhat skeptical of that claim at the time, but I didn’t have any research to dispute it.

The thing is, the more we learn about murder in America, the more his observation concerning the localized nature of homicides rings true. And a recent study reiterating that point should cause those in policymaking roles to consider ways of reducing murders other than their usual method of blaming guns and gun owners.

Our Murderous Zip Codes
New research from the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) shows, once again, what most of us have known all along: When it comes to murder in America, the country’s millions of lawful gun owners are not the problem.

The research paper by John Lott, founder and president of the CPRC, titled “Murders in U.S. Are Very Concentrated, and They Are Becoming Even More So,” revealed that 2% of American counties experienced 56% of murders in 2020, showing that increasing murder rates are very localized in identifiable hotspots.

“When it comes to murder, there are three types of counties in the United States,” the study noted. “Most counties experience no murders, a smaller set where there are a few murders and then a tiny set of counties where murders are very common.”

According to the research, in the year studied, 52% of counties, which had 10% of the population, had no murders. Further, 68% of counties had no more than one murder. These counties accounted for only 2.6% of all murders in the country in 2020.

“The worst 1% of counties (the worst 31 counties) have 21% of the population and 42% of the murders,” the report stated. “The worst 2% of counties (62 counties) contain 31% of the population and 56% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 73% of murders.”

Even within those dangerous counties, however, the murders are very heavily concentrated in small, localized areas. In looking at the high-murder-rate counties by zip codes, some are still mostly murder-free.

Take Los Angeles County, Calif., as an example. There, the worst 10% of the zip codes account for 41% of the murders, the worst 20% have 67% and the worst 30% have 82% of murders.

“By contrast, the safest 40% of the counties have just 1% of the murders,” the report stated. “Recent research shows that murders in Los Angeles County have become less concentrated over time, but they are still fairly concentrated.”

While the research shows that certain counties, and certain portions of those counties, are quite dangerous, it also reveals the other side of the picture—how safe the rest of the United States is as far as murder is concerned.

“In 2020, the murder rate was 5.84 per 100,000 people,” the study stated. “If the 1% of the counties with the worst number of murders somehow were to become a separate country, the murder rate in the rest of the U.S. would have been only 4.31 in 2020. 

The study further pointed out that, while the sky-high murder rates were generally in heavily urban areas, legal gun ownership is much higher in the safer suburban and rural areas.

“According to a 2021 PEW Research Center survey, the household gun ownership rate in rural areas was 79% higher than in urban areas,” the report stated. “Suburban households are 37.9% more likely to own guns than urban households.”

A Deeper Dive
Of course, those on the anti-Second Amendment-side of the spectrum like to point to what they call the “Red State Murder Problem,” but that is a misleading label. While soft-on-crime policies have wrought havoc and led to increased violent crime—including murder—in many big cities, the authors of those policies seek to blame the crime jump on state leaders who are not responsible for city crime policies.

A far-Left advocacy organization called The Third Way even published a 15-page study with the underlying finding that “murder rates are far higher in Trump-voting red states than Biden-voting blue states.” The so-called mainstream media lapped it up like a kitten at a saucer of warm milk, with outlets from The Washington Post to the San Francisco Examiner shouting the disingenuous news.

Last November, Charles Stimson, Zack Smith and Kevin Dayaratna, reporting for heritage.org, took a closer look at the states being highlighted and found something you won’t read about in the mainstream media. As the trio pointed out, while a state’s murder rate is somewhat interesting politically, a more-accurate reflection comes from murder rates for counties or cities. And what they found was even more interesting.

Taking a look at the cities with the highest homicide rates as of June 2022, they reported: “Not surprisingly, of those 30 cities, 27 have Democratic mayors, the exceptions being Lexington and Jacksonville, which have Republican mayors, and Las Vegas, whose mayor is an Independent.”

But digging deeper, they also found that rogue prosecutors inspired or backed by George Soros’ deep pockets were common in the cities that had very high murder rates.

“Within those 30 cities there are at least 14 Soros-backed or Soros-inspired rogue prosecutors,” they reported. “There were 2,554 homicides in those 30 cities through June 2022. In the 14 cities with Soros-backed rogue prosecutors, there were 1,752 homicides, representing 68% of homicides in the 30 top homicide cities in the United States.”

The authors point out that since Chicago elected the first Soros-backed prosecutor, Kim Foxx, in 2016, cities with like-minded prosecutors have made sweeping changes that include refusing to prosecute entire categories of misdemeanor crimes, forbidding prosecutors from including sentencing enhancements or allegations of prior convictions or special circumstances for egregious crimes or actions, forbidding them from seeking the death penalty in any case, forbidding them from seeking life without parole sentences for any crime and refusing to prosecute violent teenagers in adult court for such crimes as murder, child abuse and rape.

Other changes include requiring prosecutors to ask for the release of duly convicted violent felons whose appeals have been denied after these felons have served at least 15 years of a longer sentence, and prohibiting or limiting prosecutors from asking for bail to ensure the presence of the defendant at the next court hearing.

“The foregoing policies—and dozens of other pro-criminal, anti-victim policies—have contributed to the lawlessness across blue cities and the steep rise in crime rates,” the report concluded.

murders by county graphic

An Illogical Response
Burgeoning murder rates in very localized areas calls for a localized enforcement effort, right? Not so fast.

President Joe Biden (D) and his administration have access to the same statistics that pinpoint the extremely localized nature of murder, yet for some reason they insist that the best answer for stopping violent criminals is to pass more gun-control laws—laws that criminals, by their very nature, will continue to ignore.

Biden insists that so-called universal background checks will reduce murders, yet those doing the killing in the small, localized areas pointed out in the CPRC study likely aren’t purchasing their firearms at retail outlets. A 2019 survey conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that about 43% of criminals had bought their firearms on the black market. The same study revealed that only 10% managed to obtain a firearm, such as via a theft or with the help of a straw purchaser, at a gun store. So, any type of expanded background checks would have little effect on violent criminals, including murderers.

The Biden administration’s obsession with braced pistols, culminating with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) illegally reclassifying braced pistols as short-barreled rifles under the Gun Control Act, will prove equally ineffective. No reports anywhere indicate that such pistols are being confiscated in any substantial number from murder scenes or from murder suspects. Yet the move could turn millions of law-abiding gun owners into instant felons if they don’t register their guns with the government or take other steps like removing the brace.

And what about Biden’s overzealous push to pass a so-called “assault weapon” ban? This continues to be the hallmark of his “crime-prevention” program and something he promises he’ll see to fruition nearly every time he steps up to a podium, but federal authorities tell us that people committing violent crimes typically aren’t using AR-type rifles; in fact, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, rifles of all kinds (not just AR-type rifles) are used in just a tiny fraction of murders. 

Good And Bad Answers
So, what’s the real answer? Certainly, enhanced policing—especially by experienced officers—in areas that have proven to be the most dangerous, and most prone to murders, could help reduce violent crimes in those areas. A study released in late 2021 by the National Bureau of Economic Research focusing on gang-war-torn Chicago found that such intervention reduces violent crime, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, without increasing arrests, use of force or the police’s operating budget.

“Additionally, there may be welfare gains that go beyond our analysis,” the study’s conclusion stated. “Deterring violent crime through the more efficient deployment of experienced, senior officers would potentially improve police-civilian interactions without deteriorating public safety, lower the criminal justice cost associated with punishing minor offenses, reduce the cost of subjecting innocent persons to enforcement and reduce negative spillovers of the use of force.”

Likewise, slowing down the revolving door that repeatedly returns violent criminals to the streets with little-to-no penalty for their actions should also prove somewhat effective. One California district attorney reported last year that between 2020 and 2021, 70% of the criminals released on zero bail in his county had committed new crimes, including violent ones.

In the end, the plain truth is that America’s murder problem isn’t caused by the nations millions of law-abiding firearms owners.

“When over 70% of the people released under mandated $0 bail policies go on to commit additional crime, including violent offenses such as robbery and murder, there is simply no rational public-safety-related basis to continue such a practice post-pandemic, especially in light of the increasing violent crime rates across California,” said Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig in a prepared statement.

What definitely is not the answer is making it more difficult for good folks who are forced to live in those dangerous neighborhoods to be able to acquire a firearm or to acquire a concealed-carry permit to carry that firearm for self-defense. High fees and excessive red tape in some big cities make both acquiring a firearm and carrying one nearly impossible.

A good example, according to Lott, is concealed-carry-permit statistics for Indiana versus neighboring Illinois. In Indiana, 20.3% of adults have a concealed-handgun permit, while in Illinois, that number is just 3.3%. Further, in Indiana, urban minorities who often live in high-crime areas commonly have permits, while in Illinois, permit holders are overwhelmingly affluent, suburban white males. Thus, Lott said, those prevented from having guns because of high fees and red tape are “the very people that my research shows benefit the most from owning guns, the people who are most likely to be victims of violent crime—many of whom are minorities who live in high-crime urban areas.”

That being the case, it is citizens with limited incomes living in dangerous areas of big cities that benefit the most from constitutional carry, which is now the law of the land in half of the states (as this was being written, legislators in several more states were considering such measures). Yet, gun-control groups and anti-gun lawmakers still fight constitutional-carry legislation at every step.

In the end, the plain truth is that America’s murder problem isn’t caused by the millions of law-abiding firearms owners that anti-gun politicians constantly target with their new schemes and that the so-called mainstream media likes to label as “extremists.” The continued effort by gun-control advocates to restrict gun ownership and use by the lawful will never lower murder rates, and will only further embolden criminals to prey on the helpless.


Connecticut  state Sen. Gary Winfield (D)

Connecticut state Sen. Gary Winfield (D)

These Are Strange Times
To understand how far some policymakers and district attorneys have strayed from their duty to protect the public, consider this scene from a debate last March in Connecticut’s General Assembly. During a 12-hour hearing in which Darin Goens, an N R A state director, testified, assembly members debated whether they should get tough with repeat offenders.

According to the Journal Inquirer, the “mayors of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, where 80% of fatal and non-fatal shootings occur,” were advocating for legislation to enable them to keep repeat gun-crime offenders off the streets.

“In 2022, the percentage of individuals arrested for fatal and nonfatal shootings in Hartford who were on pretrial release, probation or parole was a staggering 58%,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin (D). “In Waterbury, that number was 70%.”

But Connecticut state Sen. Gary Winfield (D), co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, pushed back on the effort to keep illegally armed criminals off the streets.

“What person on the streets of Hartford who’s spending time out there, or who was in a neighborhood who used to spend time out there, doesn’t have an illegal firearm?” said Winfield.

“Senator, I don’t know how to answer that,” replied Bronin. “There are many people in my community who are not carrying illegal firearms.”

“Not everybody in your community,” Winfield said, according to the Journal Inquirer, but the ones “who might be out on the block, as we say, who might be doing things we don’t want them to do, but are not the people that are shooting up the community. We know those people. I would assume the mayor of Hartford would know what I’m talking about.”

So Winfield was objecting to locking up repeat offenders—people who, these mayors argued, commit most of the violent crimes in their communities—because he thinks individuals who have committed felonies or are prohibited for other reasons must be armed? A lot must be wrong with Connecticut law for policymakers to reach this Alice in Wonderland kind of impasse.

Article by MARK CHESNUT

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