Republicans claim Democrats can’t keep us safe


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Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA © Provided by The Guardian

Republicans argue that Democrats are unable to ensure our safety, but when looking at crime data, this claim doesn’t hold up.

Republicans have consistently conveyed the message that Democrats are unreliable when it comes to ensuring public safety. For instance, Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump, criticized Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg for pursuing legal action against Trump while ignoring the issues affecting families in New York City.

However, this argument overlooks the fact that New York City is considered one of the safest cities in the United States, as supported by available data.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, there was a significant 30% increase in homicides, marking the largest one-year surge on record. Republicans capitalized on this spike in crime, as well as broader concerns about crime, to criticize Democrats and ultimately regain control of the House of Representatives in the subsequent election.

However, research conducted by Third Way, a center-left think tank, revealed an interesting trend. States that supported Donald Trump in the 2020 election consistently exhibited higher murder rates compared to states that supported Joe Biden.

This trend, known as the “red state murder gap,” has persisted for the past two decades. It remains consistent even when excluding the most populous county in each red state, which challenges the common argument on the political right that high crime rates can solely be attributed to Democrat-led large cities.

This data suggests that the relationship between crime rates and political affiliation is more complex than a simple partisan narrative might suggest.

“There is a common belief that crime problems are mainly associated with blue states and blue cities,” stated Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way, who co-authored the study. “We decided to challenge that narrative and see if it holds true. It turns out, it doesn’t.”

However, understanding the reasons behind this divide and determining the extent to which political factors contribute to it is more complex. Many of the states with the highest murder rates are located in the southern region, which historically has had higher rates of violent crime.

Additionally, while crime is a national political issue, the responsibility for ensuring public safety often lies with local authorities, such as mayors and police officials, who have significant roles in addressing and preventing crime.

Jeff Asher, a co-founder of AH Datalytics, which analyzes criminal justice data, emphasized that it is challenging to attribute a partisan bias to the crime issue.

He suggested that the blame could potentially be placed on state legislatures that do not prioritize effective solutions to gun violence. However, he believes that gun violence is primarily a local issue, with causes rooted in specific communities rather than statewide or federal factors.

Louisiana held the highest homicide rate per capita from 2000 to 2018, with its largest city, New Orleans, experiencing a high number of murders. Asher, who resides in New Orleans, attributed this to various factors, including the police department’s inability to solve many homicides and a lack of employment and educational opportunities in the area.

It’s worth noting that while Louisiana has consistently supported Republican candidates in presidential elections since 2000, it currently has a Democratic governor and was considered a blue state in the 1990s, along with several other southern states that are now considered Republican strongholds.

Asher emphasized that these underlying issues existed in the 1990s when Louisiana voted for Bill Clinton. Therefore, these challenges have not suddenly emerged but have persisted over time.

When examining the states with the highest homicide rates in the country, Nick Suplina, the senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization focused on preventing gun violence, sees a correlation with lenient gun laws.

In 2020, firearms were used in nearly 80% of homicides, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. In many southern states, where Republicans control the state legislatures, it has become easier to purchase and carry firearms.

The study conducted by Third Way, covering the period from 2000 to 2020, aligns with this observation. During this time, the National Rifle Association (NRA) influenced state lawmakers to oppose or eliminate regulations regarding background checks, permits, and safe storage of firearms. Furthermore, many states have preemption laws that prevent city mayors from enacting stricter gun legislation within their jurisdictions.

Even when stricter gun laws are passed, they can be circumvented easily. Suplina highlights that the strength of gun laws in one state is only as strong as the weakest neighboring state. The porous state borders in the country contribute to the movement of crime guns, with many originating from neighboring states and making their way across state lines.

However, there are indications that the surge in murders during the pandemic has begun to decline. Statistics from AH Datalytics show a year-on-year decrease of around 12% in murder rates in 90 U.S. cities until the end of May.

This decline includes cities like New York City, where Congressman Jim Jordan convened a hearing of the judiciary committee to address the city’s perceived crime problem following charges against Trump by Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg.

Bragg’s office criticized Jordan, pointing out that several cities in his home state of Ohio, such as Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron, and Toledo, have higher murder rates than New York City.

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