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President Joe Biden is re-upping his gun control policy agenda following a deadly shooting in Des Moines this week.
A 15-year-old was killed and two others were injured in a drive-by shooting outside East High School on Monday, the Des Moines Register reported. Police are charging six local teens age 14 to 17 with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
“But these swift arrests cannot obscure the reality that too many families have had to bury a piece of their soul after yet another tragic shooting,” Biden said in a White House news release.
Gun violence is an important issue with heartbreaking consequences, as we saw in Des Moines this week. It demands serious attention but the political debates around guns tend to obscure the nuances of the problems.
Biden is taking a different approach than many other politicians — he’s emphasizing enforcement, not just regulation.
The gun control lobby has for years been focused on front-end policies to restrict access to guns — such as background checks and bans on certain weapons and accessories.
Biden backs those measures too but the centerpiece of his plans is to throw more law enforcement resources at the problem.
The American Rescue Plan Act included $350 billion for state and local entities, including police. The administration has bolstered its multi-jurisdictional task forces, where FBI, ATF and DEA agents collaborate with local officers on drug and gun busts. Biden has launched new “trafficking strike forces,” which send more federal police into communities.
“I have taken more executive action to reduce gun violence than any other president in their first year in office — more than a dozen necessary actions, from cracking down on gun trafficking and rogue gun dealers, to promoting safe firearm storage, to reining in the proliferation of hard-to-trace ‘ghost guns’ that can be bought online and made at home,” Biden said in his statement on the Des Moines shootings.
It sounds good in theory, just use the federal government’s mighty power to hunt down all the bad guys.
But here’s what it looks like in practice: Secret lists of suspected gang members who are surveilled with no due process; pretextual traffic stops and stop-and-frisk-style tactics with clearly racist impacts; vast federal resources flowing to state and local departments without adequate local oversight; excessive use of militarized SWAT teams; trumped up charges and extreme prison sentences.
We have used this exact same playbook for illegal drugs and the results have been disastrous. We have filled the prisons but done little to mitigate problematic drug use.
It’s not a simple thing to solve because gun violence is not really just one problem but many problems. Incidents vary widely based on the circumstances, weapons used and relationships between the people involved. The common element is guns but law enforcement’s ability to control access is limited.
The urge for the government to “do something” in the face of a problem is powerful, nowhere more so than when it comes to protecting kids from the threat of violence. Some of the prescribed remedies, though, carry grisly unintended consequences. We should not seek to repeat the mistakes of the wars on drugs.
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