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Horowitz: Republicans should trap Biden with legislation instituting tough sentencing on gun felons

Op-ed
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Democrats are terrified that they are now trapped between their radical Twitter/woke base that doesn't believe in incarceration and the general public (including many Democrat voters) who want violent criminals locked up. Crime is one of the most potent political issues, and the GOP of the early 1990s would have annihilated the Democrats on this issue by forcing them to oppose tougher sentences in what would become a political bloodbath akin to Hannibal trapping the Romans at the Battle of Cannae. However, if Republicans don't kick their own addiction to the Koch-funded de-incarceration agenda, they will allow Biden to tactically retreat from the morass.

Sensing peril ahead with skyrocketing crime in almost every large and mid-sized city, Biden announced a major anti-crime agenda on Wednesday. Except, for the first time in history, the agenda had nothing to do with locking up criminals.

Notice what is absent from his agenda? Any proposal to lock up the thousands of gun felons who continuously terrorize the streets and are released despite violating their parole by illegally possessing a gun. The New York Times observes how Biden and the Democrats are realizing that defunding the police is a losing issue, which is why Biden is backing off the war on cops while simultaneously trying to direct the angst against criminals into the black hole of gun control.

Republicans, for their part, continue to talk about the need to fund the police. But they don't realize that Democrats have no problem throwing more funding at everything under the sun, including the police. Under current policies, there's no value to funding the police if everyone they arrest will be turned loose by leftist judges and, in some places, even the prosecutors. Which is why, rather than simply focusing on the cheap talking point of funding the police, thereby allowing Biden to co-opt the issue, Republicans should renounce their own support for de-incarceration and force Biden to take a stand on the issue of locking up gun felons.

Republicans should introduce legislation in Congress with the following goals:

  • Increase mandatory sentencing for gun felons: If guns are so bad that we need red flag laws against those never convicted of a crime, why not increase sentencing on those convicted of assaulting people with a gun or possessing a gun after having been convicted of a violent felony?
  • Actually make the mandatory minimums mandatory: Homicide in this country plummeted by over 60 percent precisely over the same period that gun ownership soared. Why? Thanks to Reagan's Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), we actually deterred violent criminals with stiff mandatory sentencing. Yet for all the hand-wringing over "draconian" mandatory sentences, they were only mandatory from 1987 to 2005. Following the Booker decision of the Supreme Court, they have been merely advisory. This has created a huge amount of disparity in the system, and in recent years, the lack of mandatory sentencing has decreased the successes of the Reagan-era laws. Take bad guys who use guns (or other weapons) off the streets, not guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.
  • Fix court loophole allowing violent felons back on the streets: Six years ago, in Johnson v. U.S, the Supreme Court ruled that the "crime of violence" provision in the ACCA is unconstitutionally vague. That has allowed thousands of the worst career gun felons and other violent individuals to get out of jail early or escape reasonable sentencing to begin with. In 2019, in S. v. Davis, Justice Gorsuch joined with the four liberals in expanding the assault on the ACCA, this time by saying that 924(c)(3), the statute that prohibits using or carrying a firearm during a federal "crime of violence," is unconstitutional and therefore vetoed out of existence. Now, armed robbers pointing short-barreled shotguns at store clerks avoid tougher sentencing at the same time liberals claim they want to "do something!" about gun violence. Just this past month, the Supreme Court punched another loophole the size of a truck through the ACCA (in Borden v. United States), allowing those already convicted of three violent felonies to escape the 15-year mandatory if subsequently convicted a fourth time for reckless assault and reckless homicide. Kavanaugh, in his dissent, warned that this opinion will result in "serial violent felons who unlawfully possess firearms" who would "otherwise [be] subject to ACCA" leaving prison "much earlier than Congress dictated, or avoid ACCA altogether." Whether one agrees with these court opinions or not, why would a Congress supposedly concerned about gun violence not want to fix these statutory loopholes created by the courts?
  • Limit bail for those charged with gun crimes: So many of the gun crimes in this country are committed by repeat gun felons out on bail pending their next trial. Rather than abolishing bail, how about raising the thresholds for releasing those with prior gun convictions?

Moreover, Republicans in control of every red state should push similar laws at a state level. Recently, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson suggested that violent crime is going to skyrocket and get worse. "There's nothing," said Jackson, "that's going to bring this down in the near future." Nonsense. Ohio's crime problem is being driven by gun felons, particularly juveniles. Getting tough both on gun felons and juveniles would reverse the homicide and carjacking rates very quickly. It's with policies supported by Mayor Jackson and other leftists that crime will increase indefinitely.

In addition, GOP governors should do the following:

  • Create a searchable database of all violent crime cases where the public can search the disposition of the case by judge, prosecutor, and crime category to see who is being let out on bail and who is being granted light sentences. Biden called on states to use COVID funding to fight crime, so they can use those funds to create such a database.
  • Convene a commission for victims of crime to audit all the ways violent criminals escape justice and how those loopholes can be plugged.
  • Pass anti-gang legislation creating tough mandatories on juveniles committing crimes in furtherance of gang activity and making it easier to prosecute them across county lines. Most gun violence stems from gang violence. To attack the gun and ignore the gang is like spitting in the wind.

We all know why crime is increasing. According to this Vera report, the U.S. prison population dropped by over 240,000 persons, a little more than 17%, from 2019 to the spring of 2021. That comes after several years of prior declines in most states. The federal prison population, which is largely composed of hardened career criminals, has dropped 29% since 2013. And this is while the general population is growing.

Let's face it, the reason so many Republicans refuse to push tougher sentencing is because they are scared of "locking up more black folks." But the reality is that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2019, the combined state and federal prison imprisonment rate was the lowest it's been since 1995. What's more, the imprisonment rate of black residents was the lowest rate in 30 years, since 1989. And that was all before the insane drop precipitated by COVID policies that led to a 17% decline overall in incarceration since after the study period of the BJS report.

No wonder we are experiencing record crime levels. Are we going to celebrate releasing black criminals (among others) or keeping law-abiding black citizens safe like we did in the 1990s?

Just consider the results of this mass prison release, along with the war on cops. In Milwaukee, from 2014 to 2020, 79% of all murder victims were black. Last year, Milwaukee broke the record for homicide, and this year it is on pace for another record. Guess what? So far this year, 91% of all homicide victims were black! That means almost all the excess homicide victims, crimes that were driven by the obsession with keeping black criminals out of prison, were black.

In Philadelphia, the number of murders has increased by 78% from 2015 to 2020. Meanwhile, the jail population has decreased by 43%. Again, we can either celebrate that black criminals are out of jail or we can lament how black residents, increasingly young children, are being gunned down in record numbers. Homicides in 2021 are already outpacing the record set last year. So far, 85% of all homicide victims were black, even though black people compose less than 45% of the city's total population.

At this point, the only thing gun control will accomplish is preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves against the gun felons these politicians release. Ultimately, the question Democrats need to be asked is: Do they truly hate guns more than they love keeping gun felons out of prison? Unfortunately, with Republicans signing on to "criminal justice reform" since crime started going up in 2015, Democrats have never felt compelled to answer that question.
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