GOP lawmakers blame rising murder rates on defunding of police departments

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They say increased gun sales have nothing to do with it. Criminologists disagree.

House Republicans are claiming a rise in homicides is the result of efforts to cut police budgets, despite a lack of evidence, as they reject criminologists' assessments that the increased number of people purchasing guns is a factor.

"Democrat cities across the country have sought to defund the police for over a year. And now they're surprised by a Crime Crisis?" tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday. "President Biden's solution is to blame guns and lawful gun owners instead of the Left's open embrace of the Defund the Police movement."

"Today, Biden blamed guns and lawful gun owners as the reason behind the massive crime crisis across the U.S., instead of the Democrat-run cities that have opted to defund the police," said Oklahoma Rep. Stephanie Bice. "Instead of more gun control, we must #BackTheBlue and end this #BidenCrimeCrisis."

"Skyrocketing crime rates are present in Democrat-run cities due to defunding the police and gun control laws unconstitutionally disarming law-abiding citizens," argued North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

"The problem isn't guns and it isn't COVID either. It's violent rioting and the Defund the Police movement, both of which were supported, financially and rhetorically, by the Biden admin," wrote Indiana Rep. Jim Banks.

Banks shared his own Fox News opinion piece in which he asserted, with no evidence beyond "the timeline," "There is overwhelming evidence connecting the rise in murders to the violent riots last summer and the Defund the Police movement."

Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko also tweeted Banks' column, writing, "Democrats won't take responsibility for the fact that the rise in crime is due to the Defund the Police movement. Instead, they want to attack Americans' Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms."

Contrary to the GOP's suggestions, the murder rate is up in many places — not just in big cities or places led by Democrats — and the spike preceded the Biden administration.

Criminologists attribute the rise in homicides to multiple factors, including the coronavirus pandemic, economic unrest, and mental health.

"We have good data that the rise in murder was happening in the early stages of the pandemic. We have good data that the rise in murder picked up in the early stages of the summer," crime data expert Jeff Asher told NPR in January, "and we also have good data that the rise of murder picked up again in September and October as some of the financial assistance started to wear off."

There does not appear to be any evidence that efforts to defund or reduce the budget for police departments has fueled the problem. As the numbers increased last summer, the Trump administration retroactively blamed the spike on police budget cuts that hadn't been implemented yet.

"When you defund the police there are consequences, and that's where the Democrats of today stand," then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed last August. "And unfortunately we've seen a corresponding rise in violence in these Democratic cities, and it's not acceptable."

Professor Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri—St. Louis told Yahoo! News at the time that data showed no connection between the spike and the budget cuts or the fact that cities were led by Democratic officials, saying, "It makes no criminological sense. The party affiliation of the mayor has no direct impact on crime."

And while Republican lawmakers continue to suggest that more guns are the solution to gun violence, experts say the increase in the number of gun purchases during the pandemic has been a major contributor to the increase in the number of murders.

"I think it is because we have a larger group of people who purchased firearms during the pandemic. It's not just the usual sales that ebb and flow," professor of law Ronald Wright of Wake Forest University told NPR on Thursday. "And lots of the crime increase that we're seeing, particularly in homicide, is gun related."

In the last two Congresses, House Democrats have passed legislation, with current efforts backed by the Biden administration, to expand background checks for gun purchases. It has not made it through the Senate, where Republicans can block most legislation even without a majority.

Wright noted that it is unrealistic to put all of the blame on any one factor. "I think availability of guns is part of the problem," he told NPR. "These are always multipart problems."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.