Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in the Newsweek on January 17, 2024.

Opponents of the Second Amendment seem to have painted themselves into a corner. They want to reduce gun violence, but they think cops are worse than criminals. They want more gun laws, but they don't want to punish people who break those laws. Instead of reconciling those opposing views, anti-gun activists have taken to blaming conservative governors for the crime that happens in liberal cities.

The idea that governors are to blame for gun violence is misleading because gun crimes—and most other crimes—are largely the responsibility of local officials. It's up to each city to hire and train police officers and elect or appoint prosecutors who can enforce the laws—whatever the laws may be in that area.

It should not go unnoticed that many local leaders have failed to control violent crime. Cities with Democratic mayors have higher rates of gun deaths than cities with Republican mayors. According to one study, Democrats ran 27 of the 30 cities with the highest murder rates.

Left-wing leadership in major cities often distorts statewide homicide levels significantly. Illinois, for example, had the 10th highest per capita homicide rate from 2014 to 2020. If you removed the homicides that occurred in the Chicago area of Cook County, however, Illinois would rank 33rd.

Additionally, the term "gun deaths" can be misleading. When most people hear the term "gun death," they think of homicides. Many gun death statistics include suicides, though, which can dramatically change the bigger picture. Montana and Wyoming, for example, are among the top states for total per capita gun deaths but among the bottom states for gun homicides, according to data from Rand, because of the high number of suicides.

Most fair-minded people likely don't think about the tragedy of suicide in the same terms they think about murder or assault. The two issues are both serious, and conflating them to score political points won't make Americans anywhere safer.

Either side of the gun debate can cherry-pick numbers that look best for their side. I'm confident that conservative leadership is more effective for one simple reason: Conservatives believe in enforcing the law.

America does not have a shortage of gun laws; we have a shortage of enforcement. Thanks to radical defund-the-police policies and anti-police rhetoric, police departments throughout the country are struggling to recruit the officers they need to discourage people from breaking the law and arrest the dangerous criminals who are plaguing their neighborhoods with violence.

The New Orleans Police Department is nearly 300 officers short of recommended staffing levels. Washington D.C. lost 450 officers over the past three years, leaving the department at a 50-year low. Chicago had 1,500 fewer officers in 2022 than it did in 2019.

Unless you peaked in high school, you understand that more cops will result in less crime. One study on policing found that each officer added to the police force resulted in four fewer violent crimes and 15 fewer property crimes. Another study found that a 10 percent increase in the police force resulted in a 13 percent drop in violent crime.

The law enforcement shortage also results in more victims who live their lives without ever seeing justice. According to the latest FBI data, American cities solved fewer than half of all homicides in 2020—a record high of unsolved murders. Some cities, including Chicago, solved just a third of all homicide cases. The numbers are even worse for other violent crimes, such as carjackings or robberies.

Leftist cities often refuse to enforce the law and prosecute criminals—regardless of the severity of their crimes. More gun laws will only make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from criminals.

Guns aren't the problem; criminals who use guns are the problem. Anti-gun activists need to own up to the fact that their policies have left many innocent families defenseless in high-crime areas by demonizing and demoralizing police forces throughout the country. If they want to address gun violence, supporting law enforcement is the first step.