A Religious Left coalition convened in the historic United Methodist building on Capitol Hill early this week essentially to back President Obama’s new gun control initiatives. Of course, Sojourners chief Jim Wallis was prominently featured. Of course, as elaborated in a later column, Wallis lambasted the National Rifle Association as a chief culprit for violence in America. He especially detested Wayne LaPierre’s assertion that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Instead, Wallis countered, “When we are good, we want to protect our children — not by having more guns than the bad people, but by making sure guns aren’t the first available thing to people when they’re being bad.” He added, “Being good is protecting people and our children from guns that are outside of the control of rules, regulations, and protections for the rest of us.”
Wallis cited the current murder rates in Chicago, where more died last year from gun deaths than did U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. Of course, Wallis does not mention that Chicago has very strict gun control. Instead he wonders if the mainly non-white victims of murder in Chicago elicit less sympathy and provoke more indifference than do white deaths. “It’s morally mistaken and also religiously repugnant,” he laments.
Recounting a conversation with his evidently precocious 9-year-old child, Wallis quotes that child saying that gun access should be limited to “licensed hunters, [who] have guns if they use them to hunt. And people who need guns — who need guns for their job like policemen and army. But I don’t think that we should just let anybody have any kind of gun and any kind of bullets that they want. That’s pretty crazy.”
Presumably Wallis’ child speaks Wallis’ own views. Since Wallis is largely pacifist, it’s likely Wallis is not enthusiastic about armed military or even police but grudgingly accepts the political reality. Absent from Wallis’ commentary is any argument as to how the types of gun control he and much of the Religious Left advocate would actually reduce gun deaths. And he ignores, as do so many others, the almost unprecedented drop in America’s murder rate, which is now one half what it was per capita 30 years ago, and is now lower than it was 50 years ago. This plunge in murder rates accompanied a large increase in the number of personally owned guns in America. Clearly gun control did not cause the drop, which has meant hundreds of thousands of Americans who otherwise would be dead are now alive. As Wallis mentions race, he might note that since non-whites are disproportionately the victims of murder, they are correspondingly the greatest beneficiaries of America’s plunging murder rate.
Maybe Wallis prefers not to admit the wonderful drop in murder because it detracts from his preferred narrative to justify greater state power over individuals and their right to gun ownership. He also does not likely like one main explanation for the drop in murder, which is the dramatic increase in America’s incarcerated population over the last 40 years. Persons who would be murdering are instead behind bars, i.e. incarcerated by “good guys with guns.” The incarceration rate of today is in fact five times per capita what it was 40 years ago.
Law enforcement and judicial leniency of the 1960s, confronted by surging crime and disorder, provoked stricter enforcement and tighter sentencing in subsequent decades, including longer prison terms and frequent elimination of parole. It was an obvious answer to runaway crimes rates, but an answer that the Left, including the Religious Left, which prefers to think of criminals as victims rather than morally responsible agents, prefers to ignore. A 2010 “Time” magazine story estimated that just over the previous 18 years 170,000 Americans who would have been murdered were spared. Just in 2008, the lower crime rates included 40,000 fewer rapes, 380,000 fewer robberies, half a million fewer aggravated assaults and 1.6 million fewer burglaries than would have occurred under the old crimes rates. Perhaps Wallis and other Religious Left lobbyists should have convened a press conference in the United Methodist Building to praise God for these miraculous drops, and the millions of people who have been spared the ravages of violent crime thanks to more effective law enforcement, among other factors. Meanwhile, by some counts, the number of guns privately owned in America has increased by 50 percent in recent decades, following the growth in population. About half of Americans say they have a gun in their home.
Besides incarcerating more criminals, smarter law enforcement backed by higher technology, along with an overall aging population are likely also factors in the stunning drop in murder and violent crime in America. But there’s no comprehensive evidence that gun control has played any major role in reducing crime.
Yet Jim Wallis and the Religious Left cling with tenacious faith to their dream of reducing private gun ownership in America. Since there’s no solid evidence that gun control has substantively contributed toward crime reduction, their objectives must lie elsewhere. We can only conjecture, but aligning with the rest of their politics, their constant political goal seems to be the reduction of personal liberty and greater government control at every level. So maybe the next Jim Wallis press conference in the United Methodist Building should more forthrightly urge greater “control” over every aspect of American life and not limit its scope to guns.
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