Political Scapegoating to Explain Away Rising Homicide Rates
By Michele Hanisee
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has reported a stunning 111 percent increase in homicides from January 1, 2021, to May 21, 2021, versus the same period in 2020. While current statewide numbers are not yet reported by the Department of Justice, California’s homicide rate in 2020 had a lower but still alarming 31 percent increase.
While some politicians have recently attempted to blame increased gun sales for the rise in violent crime, historical studies and data are mixed as to whether increased gun prevalence causes a rise in violent crime, or whether the increase in violent crime causes more people to buy guns.
Economist Thomas Sowell said, “One of the first things taught in introductory statistics textbooks is that correlation is not causation. It is also one of the first things forgotten.” In the absence of data that proves that it is the gun purchases causing the violent crime rate rather than the reverse, or that there is no causal relationship at all, it is dishonest to lay blame on increased gun sales.
A recent study published July 5, 2021, by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program found no causation between increased gun sales and a rise in violent crime. The study examined firearm sales over two years beginning in 2018, including the increased sales of millions of firearms during the COVID pandemic in 2020. The study concluded that “[d]espite concomitant increases in firearm purchasing and firearm violence nationally, the magnitude of the increase in purchasing at the state-level did not explain the magnitude of the increase in non-domestic firearm violence.”
Yet, as gun violence increases, politicians are calling for the decriminalization of gun use during crimes. The current District Attorney of Los Angeles County refuses to enforce California’s “10-20-life – use a gun and you’re done” law. A bill pending in the Legislature would repeal this law. Governor Newsom signed into law a bill that allows judges to dismiss firearm enhancements even after they have been found true by a jury. These same politicians defend diversion programs that will enable criminals to continue to possess guns.
These radical and reckless efforts to decriminalize gun violence are not evidence-based decisions, they are purely ideological. This is classic stage-one thinking by politicians who advocate for policy solutions without considering the long-term costs and consequences. Saving money through reduced incarceration is the stage-one goal. But what happens next? And who pays the cost of what happens next?
As local and Sacramento politicians are now learning, what happens next is a public safety crisis. Rather than looking for the true cause of rising homicide rates, they are attempting to deflect accountability away from their own policies and legislation which have reduced accountability for criminal gun use.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.