Gun violence rises as access to guns rises

Violence will be reduced when we address its causes and reduce the availability of its instruments.

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Firearms on display at Marengo Guns in Marengo, Ill., Jan. 29, 2021.

Firearms on display at an Illinois gun shop on Jan. 29, 2021.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Violence is on the rise across this country. Murder rates are up dramatically during the pandemic. Most people associate gun violence and rising murder rates with urban areas that are disproportionately African American or Latino. But violence is not color-coded. If it were, the war between Russia and Ukraine would be labeled white violence.

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Republicans have made rising murder rates one of their attack lines against Democrats who they label as being soft on crime. They also claim Democrats are defunding the police. But no city has defunded its police. In fact, police budgets are up across the country.

Ironically, the highest murder rates are in states that voted for Donald Trump, not those that voted for Joe Biden. Eight of the top 10 states with the highest murder rates voted for Trump. Murder rates were 40% higher in the 25 states that voted for Trump than in those that voted for Biden. Mississippi has by far the highest murder rate in the country, followed by Louisiana. Mississippi’s murder rate is a stunning 400% higher than that of New York and 250% higher than that of California. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco has half the murder rate of Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield.

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Gun violence rises as easy access to guns rises. Many mayors and city councils in big cities seek to put severe restrictions on guns — banning assault weapons, limiting handguns, banning open carry, requiring testing, licensing and registration. Sadly, in many states, the gun lobby has enlisted Republicans at the state level to pre-empt, or block, efforts to control guns at the local level.

Now Republican leaders seem intent on a race to the bottom, on who can cater most to the gun lobby, who can be the most macho, the most extreme, the most Trumpy. The gun lobby is pushing for laws that allow open carrying of a handgun without a permit. Twenty-five states already have such laws.

In Texas, the laws allow open carry without a permit, no waiting period, no magazine limit, no universal background check. These guns are not for hunters. Over 35% of Texas residents own a gun; only 3.9% have a paid hunting license. In Florida, which has witnessed some of the worst mass murders in recent years, Gov. Ron DeSantis, eager to become Trump’s successor, has promised to deliver the same for the gun lobby. Open carry in football stadiums, in bars, in schools, on university campuses — what could possibly go wrong?

Violence isn’t color-coded. It is a spirit, a demon. In the pandemic, more and more people grow fearful and frustrated. Anger congeals, resentment builds. When guns are easily available and near at hand, too often that anger can be expressed in violence.

In these days, as our politics gets more partisan, as political rhetoric grows more abusive, political violence is rising. After the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against Asian Americans soared, as if they were somehow responsible. Violence against immigrants rose as the vicious rhetoric about them escalated. Targeted violence against Jews and synagogues, Muslims and mosques is also on the rise.

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We need practical plans and bold initiatives for disarmament both at home and abroad. In cities, we need new efforts to bring all the stakeholders together — officials, community leaders, clerics of all faiths, gang leaders, police — to discuss ways to reduce the level of violence and to get rid of the guns. An arms race between the miscreants and the police is not a sensible answer, particularly in an era when assault weapons are no longer banned.

Political posturing won’t bring down the level of violence. Making guns ever more available with ever fewer restrictions hasn’t helped. Even the best police forces have a hard time solving murders, much less preventing them. Violence will be reduced when we address its causes and reduce the availability of its instruments. Perhaps murders will decline as we move beyond the pandemic. Until we come together, however, this society will remain one of the most violent in the world.

Follow Jesse Jackson on Twitter @RevJJackson

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