As the GOP fails to act on gun violence, income inequality and inflammatory rhetoric are only making the problem worse across the nation in Republican and Democratic cities alike.
In major cities across the United States, gun violence is on the rise even as other crimes have diminished. Shootings are up and experts are pointing to a wide array of factors. These range from the pressures of unemployment, housing insecurity, poverty, and hunger—all of which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic—to the extrajudicial killings of Black people by police. While the causes are diverse and varied, the one certainty is the Trump administration’s refusal to do anything about it.
At the RNC this week, President Trump and the GOP repeatedly referred to gun violence, yet never addressed the true context of why it’s on the rise. The Trump administration has also worked to abolish pre-existing gun control measures and are supporting new legislation that pushes even more guns into the hands of Americans. That’s in stark contrast to the policies offered by the Biden-Harris ticket, which seek to enact common sense policies to address the root causes of gun violence in communities across the country.
Data from the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows that in 25 major U.S. cities, overall crime is down 5% compared to this time last year, and violent crime is down 2%. But murder in these 25 cities has risen 16%. And the problem isn’t limited to large cities controlled by Democrats. According to the Wall Street Journal, Miami, Omaha, San Diego, and Jacksonville—all controlled by Republican mayors—have seen spikes in murders as well.
“The first explanation that I have is that this comes from people being locked inside [during quarantines] and a lack of social services,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and C.E.O. of the Center for Policing Equity. “All those things are things that we would expect to lead to higher rates of violence.”
“The pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of gun violence,” Michael Sean Spence, policy and implementation director at the nonprofit group Everytown for Gun Safety, told The New York Times. “What we’re seeing is almost a perfect storm.”
The data speaks for itself. A 2019 study from the PLOS Medicine journal examined causes gun violence and discovered it comes down to “our ability to climb the social ladder.” It found “increases in the neighborhood percentages of residents in poverty” were linked to a 27% increase in gun homicides. In other words, there is an inverse correlation between gun violence and a community’s lack of social mobility and income inequality. That precise kind of inequality has been growing across the US for decades, according to the Pew Research Center. As of 2018, households that made over $130,000 annually took home over 50% of the nation’s income.
Trump has relentlessly sought to deprioritize and underfund programs that help low- and moderate-income households. His 2020 budget included extending tax breaks that were expiring for the nation’s wealthiest until 2025. At the same time, the administration’s policies bleed $1 trillion over the next 10 years from programs like SNAP food benefits and housing assistance that address much of the instability that contributes to violent crime.
The national problem of police brutality—highlighted by police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and most recently Jacob Blake in Wisconsin—is also contributing to the climate of despair. Kansas City’s Rev. Darren Faulkner, who runs a social outreach program, told The New York Times many of his clients feel “hopelessly trapped in a system in which they will never thrive.”
The sheer number of guns that have been bought and sold across the US are another likely culprit in rising gun crime. From March to June this year, firearm sales exceeded predictions by three million guns, and reached the highest levels on record since the data began being tracked in 1998, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.
That correlates with findings that show more guns leading to more shootings. For instance, a 2015 FBI study revealed that in states with the most guns, firearm assaults were nearly seven times more common than in states with less guns. Another 2015 report based on analysis from 15 varying studies discovered that the chances of people being murdered nearly doubled if they had access to guns in their household.
But instead of exploring ways to de-escalate this national emergency, Donald Trump has continued his pattern of catering to the gun lobby and calling for “law and order.” The Federal Election Commission found that in 2016 Trump received more than $30 million from the National Rifle Association toward his electoral campaign. One of the president’s first acts when he assumed office was to reverse an Obama-era rule that ensured background checks on people who had been diagnosed with a mental illness before they could buy a gun. Another policy from his administration made it easier for felons with outstanding warrants to purchase guns in the state the warrant was issued.
“Today marks a new era for law-abiding gun owners, as we now have a president who respects and supports our right to keep and bear arms,” Chris W. Cox, director of the NRA’s political arm, wrote in a statement when Trump signed the background check legislation.
RELATED: Gun Sales Are Up Because of Coronavirus. So Is the Risk for a Woman to Be Killed in Her Home.
Two years later, Trump proposed raising the legal age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the Parkland school shootings. But within weeks he dropped that idea, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ School Safety Commission refused to even consider examining gun violence as a school safety issue.
More recently, the president has regularly encouraged violence against people demonstrating publicly for racial justice and an end to police brutality. Most infamously, on May 28, he echoed the sentiments of Walter E. Headley, a segregation-era Southern police chief, with a tweet threatening protesters that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The GOP’s calls for expanded Second Amendment rights and ongoing support for vigilantes, white supremacists, and right-wing militias only amplify the concern around guns. And the rhetoric of this week’s Republican National Convention indicates that Trump’s administration will take no concrete action on gun violence.