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by Peter Moskos

September 16, 2016

It's the criminals, stupid. (Or why cops don't stand for gun control)

In reaction to this Missouri law, a friend of mine asked me "why police are not standing up to the gun lobby more vociferously and effectively? It seems to me that their jobs are made immeasurably harder and more dangerous by rollbacks in gun laws such as this." You'd think, she said, police would want fewer guns out there that could kill them. But generally that's not the case. My reply:

Partly because there really isn't any real national police organization to do the standing. And I wouldn’t want a representative national police organization talking about politics, because if such an organization existed, we wouldn't like what they have to say. [And as if on cue, the FOP came out endorsing Trump. I was hoping they'd keep their mouth shut on that one.]

There's the IACP (Int’l Association of chiefs of police). But it's not like they have a lot of Clout. And this law was opposed by Missouri’s Police Chiefs Association, says the story. I suspect they carry about 20 votes. And organizations of “chiefs” are more Left than their rank-and-file, because a lot of chiefs are appointed by politicians, and have to represent their beliefs.

Then you've got the police unions (the PBA and FOP). They're technically apolitical, though very much politically conservative. Like any union, there's a question over how much they should venture beyond working conditions and pay and the like and speak on national issues. Far be it for me to speak for a million cops, but I think most cops do support some gun regulation -- and thus oppose what Missouri did -- but given the either/or choice between “all guns banned” and “no gun restrictions,” most cops would go with the latter.

So then we just delve into the gun control debate with all the usual and predictable sides and lack of progress. Cops see danger coming from a small subset of criminals with guns, and not guns in general. Remember: police officers and all their friends are (for the most part) legal responsible gun owners. Cops want laws to focus on criminals and crimes, rather than guns. Collectively, most cops are incredibly pro-gun and equate the 2nd Amendment with freedom (just as you and I might do with the 1st Amendment). Inasmuch as gun laws are seen to infringe their rights while doing nothing to prevent criminals from shooting each other and shooting cops, cops aren’t going to support it.

Consider this: there are (almost) no shootings in Chicago or New York or Baltimore that involves a legally possessed handgun. We’ve already “controlled” these guns and made them illegal. So what would passing *more* restrictive gun laws do to stop this violence? Are we going to double-dog-dare make them illegal? They’re already illegal. We don’t prioritize the laws we do have.

How can we take guns out of the hands of criminals? (Or get criminals to use them less?) That’s the $64,000 question. Most gun-control laws are close to irrelevant here. Perhaps the only way to get guns out of the hands of criminals is to confiscate guns with strong gun control, Australian style. Many people, myself included, like this idea. But the majority of Americans and the current Supreme Court would not agree.

The basic ideological divide is that liberals see guns as the problem and conservatives see criminals as the problem. And nobody on either side has a good plan to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

There are three-hundred million guns in America; ten-million guns are manufactured every year! And yet only about 10,000 of these gun are used to murder somebody (plus suicides, of course). How many millions of guns would we have to confiscate before we prevented a single gun homicide? And how would we go about doing this?

Most proposed gun-control is pretty useless in actually preventing crime (as opposed to preventing a small number of gun sales.) And gun people see this as an ideological battle on gun-owners, so they won’t give in (even on so-called “common-sense” issues). The political reality is that there’s no way right now we could enact gun control so restrictive it would actually do any substantial good.

Common ground? Maybe actual jail time for people who carry illegal guns? Would liberals support more mandatory sentences for those caught with illegal guns? Without exception? I suspect such a practice did actually contribute to the crime decline in NYC. But you try throwing the words “mandatory minimum” into a room of urban Progressives and see the response you'd get! (The key here is mandatory; the minimum doesn’t have to be long.)

If gun-control advocates maybe first agreed that criminals with illegal guns are a bigger problem than guns, maybe some political compromise could be reached. I’m afraid gun-control has become a harmful distraction to real issues that can save lives now.

This past Monday in Baltimore, a 64-year-old man was robbed and attacked while reading a book in a park. A group of young people placed a gun to his head, stabbed him, sprayed him with mace, took his stuff, and then, just for kicks, stabbed him again. That’s just a normal crime, right? But what makes this shocking is less the crime than the girl that was there to film the crime and post it on facebook (which she did)! And this wasn't their only recent crime.

I have no clue what gun-control law is going to stop this from happening. Or what law would keep the 13-year-old armed robber with a gun in Ohio (who was just killed by police) from getting his hands on the BB-gun replica he had? And yet there’s more outrage from the Left about police killing this kid armed-robber who had a gun (albeit one that turned out to be non-lethal) than about actual armed robbers.

Here’s what scares me right now more than guns: the potential right-wing law-and-order backlash. The official 2015 crime data comes out, get this, the day of the next presidential debate. Homicides are way up in America. We know this. Black homicides in particular. It will be the largest increase in decades. And yet the Left has been in denial about this (and/or discounts its significance). By talking about guns rather than crime, we’re virtually conceding law-and-order issues to Trump and the fascist Right. Politically and morally, this is bonkers.

[Unrelated, I suspect the phrase "It's the ______, stupid" is long dated and most people don't understand it or know its Clinton-Era origin.]


Unknown said...

Part of the problem is the "east coast liberal" vs. rural america disconnect. In rural areas like Johnstown and Altoona (thanks for the shout out to my boyhood home, central PA does have some unique inhabitants) gun ownnership is damn near universal, but its hunting firearms, bolt action rifles and shotguns, that are the norm. Handguns are rare and handgun violence is even rarer.
Now, when gun control is raised in Washington, this distinction is lost on the liberals in Washington and Joe six pack in Johnstown goes out and buys a Glock. Not because he needs one, but because he is not going to let some pinko lefty tell him what kind of gun he can own.
Ok, so we outlaw handguns(not necessarily a bad idea, but keep reading). What if Joe six pack does not turn in his Glock? You want to see police involved shootings increase? The gun genie is out of the bottle and I don't see how you stuff him back in at this point.

Moskos said...

I'd be very happy with handgun ban and let-everything-else-be compromise.

The problem is that the one thing we now know the 2nd Amendment protects is the right for you and me to have a handgun in our homes for protection.

But it's important to keep in mind that in terms of regulation and/or banning, except for a handgun at home, *everything* else is still on the table, at least constitutional (though not politically).

Unknown said...

That goes back to the genie out of the bottle. Take M4s. After Sandy Hook, the president pushed for stronger assault weapon controls. Now the M4 sucks for hunting and would not be my first choice for home defense, not that my home needs much defending. Despite all that, M4 sales skyrocketed after Obama said it. Now we have an uptick in legal handguns and assault rifles in circulation. How do we roll it back?

John said...

"Mandatory Minimum" is a prosecutor's way of saying, "I can charge you with this MM thing and we can go to trial, or you can plead guilty to this other thing that carries less time." It's not exactly effective at what is is supposed to be doing. But if your goal is fewer trials, it's not a bad solution. If your goal is to remove people who use illegal guns, maybe not so much.

And when you do the whole  "Libruls don't care when people are murdered except when it's by a cop" thing, you are missing the point. We care so much that you betraying the oath you swore to protect and serve matters more than almost anything else. If we can't trust you not to attack the civilian population, then what? And don't give me the "few bad apples" shit, when the entire department covers, it's the barrel, not the apples that are the problem.

Moskos said...

In New York City, people with guns (hence illegal guns) did time. Mostly they still do. And yes, it's about the prosecutors. My point is you don't plea and don't cut people breaks. Call it what you will. You have an illegal gun, you do 6 months. (It was more like 12-18 months in NYC.) How many liberals would support time for crime?

And please don't educate me about liberals.

Moskos said...

While you're at not doing things, stop making off-topic comments with an obnoxious tone on points that haven't been made here. You might notice comments on my blog tend to be both insightful and polite. And they're going to stay that way.

Anonymous said...

The IACP opposed HR218 (now LEOSA). That should speak volumes of the disconnect between them and 'real' (i.e. working) police on the issue of guns. I also find that there tends to be a disconnect between city cops and cops everywhere else on the issue of guns and gun control (and often between county vs. state law enforcement, though I can't figure that one out as easily).

Moskos said...

Which way on the county vs state? I can't even guess. (But if I had to, I'd guess county more pro gun and state more pro gun control.)

John said...

I'm echoing your tone. Sorry if it isn't to your liking.

I'll close the door on my way out.

CollegeCop said...

This was a very good blog post, in that it shows that some anti-gun liberal folks can at least understand why people on the right really (and i mean really) dislike liberal thought on "gun control". I can't speak for others in law enforcement, but for myself I know that law abiding citizens with guns aren't the problem, so no I don't feel the need to 'stand up to the gun lobby' about anything. Especially when it only results in punishing people who obey the law while leaving criminals unscathed, because criminals don't give a flip about the law.

The very term "Gun lobby" is the best example of the liberal disconnect. Someone who uses that term is basically saying that we are somehow brainwashed by the NRA and not capable of holding our own beliefs about guns , the Second Amendment and the proper role and limits of Government. It's like the President's quip about "clinging to guns and religion", it's so incredibly insulting it's not even funny. Ok scratch that, it is sometimes a bit funny to watch liberals try to figure out conservatives, but only for a little while, then it goes right back to insulting. :)

You don't make progress by insulting people, and I know from reading this blog that at least prof. Moskos understands this. Too bad more folks on the left don't.

Andy D said...

The best example I have of why "common sense" gun law are harmful is the (2013? I think) Maryland law that made it illegal for any person ever convicted of a crime for which they could have possibly received two or more years in prison from ever owning any firearm or ammunition, and also making simple misdemeanor assault a "crime of violence" that prohibits all firearm ownership forever. This means that here in rural areas I see frequent cases of normal, respectable people who were (as in one case) convicted of an assault in another state when they were an 18- or 19-year old kid in the early 1980s--an assault where the maximum penalty at the time was a payable fine--who can never own a shotgun for deer, goose or turkey hunting and who doesn't know he is a criminal. In addition, many truly stupid crimes fall under the "maximum penalty of two years" rule such as...a liquor store owner accepting a promotional sign from an alcohol distributor worth over $50. Since we have a great penchant in this society for over-criminalizing things (drugs, liquor store owners etc) it makes the whole thing stupid AF

Anonymous said...

"Which way on the county vs state? I can't even guess. (But if I had to, I'd guess county more pro gun and state more pro gun control.)"

Yes, that's been my experience- although I can't say that it holds true for every state.

Unknown said...

" Now the M4 sucks for hunting" - Iread/hear this often as a valid reason for banning AR15's. Aside from the fact these rifles have made up les than 0.05% of all murders, the statement itself simply isn't true. I have several variants. My .308 chambered variat is an excellent hunting rifle for large game. My 5.56 variant is used for small game and general range time with the kids. THe weapons look scary and look like actual M4's, thus they just have to be the most dangerous weapon in the country. The reality is, the AR15 is the least dangerous of all the guns used in crimes. But hey, makes for a good sound bite to trash the weapon. As for reducing gun crime, gun control will obviously do nothing and an Australien style law, well, when I hear this my response to the person is this: I will agree to such law/confiscation so long as you are willing to be the one to come and forcefully take them. IOW, such a law literally would lead to mass killings, we don't want to go there. What does work, locking up the criminals for extended periods of time with a two strike rule. Of course this will not happen either because disparate impact, supposedly.

Jim Greer said...

"How many millions of guns would we have to confiscate before we prevented a single gun homicide?"

I don't know. How many millions of gas-guzzlers have to get off the road to make a dent in global warming? Should we not have fuel efficiency standards then? The auto lobby used to hate it (though they've come around, interestingly).

"And how would we go about doing this?"

I don't know. Keep buying them back, taxing new sales, tighten background checks? Worth a try.

I'm not that hopeful either. But it's pretty fucking bad right now. Try something.

Unknown said...

Here is something I'm curious to have a cop's perspective on. I have the idea that there are a large population of people out there I'll call punks. They engage in impulsive criminal behavior -- public drinking, fist fights, shop lifting -- but they don't go out planning to commit crimes. If they're carrying a gun and they get into an argument, they might use it, but they wouldn't go out to hunt someone down and shoot them.

And I have the idea that, if legal gun sales were time consuming and costly, and the black market in guns were targeted at professional criminals, most punks wouldn't put in the effort of getting a gun.

So I imagine cracking down on guns would lead to fewer punks shooting people, and at cops needing less force to protect themselves from punks, although it would also mean less ability for good people to protect themselves from serious predators.

Do the punks not exist? Would they get guns anyway?

Unknown said...

"Punks" exist, but they normally don't carry guns. Petty misdemeanors turn into serious felonies when the cops find a gun on you.

Unknown said...

"Punks" exist, but they normally don't carry guns. Petty misdemeanors turn into serious felonies when the cops find a gun on you.

Moskos said...

But I think many did, at least in New York. Whether it was cool or "for protection." I think a disarming was exactly what happen in New York City. Gun laws are tough in New York. People with illegal guns do time. Access to a gun is a huge variable. People stopped carrying guns. They don't get guns anyway. Partly because it's a pain. Partly cause the city is safer. Partly because they don't think of themselves as active criminals... just guys who won't back down.

Those punks are still here. Certainly I see them in my neighborhood (which was a lot rougher in the 1970s, in a white ethnic kind of way). But they're not playing with guns.

Unknown said...

Holy crap! Gun laws that work! Now, if they could just export it to Baltimore and Chicago.

Andy D said...

One way to make gun laws work is to actually put and KEEP people in prison when they violate the gun laws. This Does NOT happen in Baltimore or Chicago. Actual Jail time served for an illegal gun in Bmore is probably (I don't see any numbers anywhere) about 90 days max, and most of the cases are probably dropped.

Peter, I hear you about how NYC cleaned up the "punks with guns" but...how do you square that with your feelings (such as you expressed in 'In Defense of Flogging') about how people should generally not be incarcerated for crimes? Is carrying a gun one of the exceptions? I believe it works in this regard, as long as the laws aren't set up (such as in Maryland) to catch a lot of otherwise law-abiding people up in the net. But I'm surprised if you agree.

Unknown said...

Black homicide is a public health emergency.

Unknown said...

Black homicide is a public health emergency.