The outrage surrounding Donald Trump’s clumsy endorsement of stop-and-frisk is sure to be overtaken in a matter of days if not hours by the next item in the succession of Trump-related controversies that make up the 2016 “campaign.” (“If police see a person possibly with a gun or they think may have a gun… they’ll take the gun away,” Trump said. “The local police—they know who has a gun and who shouldn’t be having a gun”).
It’s worth pausing briefly to take note of the responses to Trump’s remarks from the Left and the Right, and to consider what they say about the distorted politics of crime and guns in America.
First, there is the deafening silence from allegedly pro-gun rights conservatives. As Leon Wolf correctly notes at RedState, Trump’s comments, taken in context, “can only be seen as an invitation for police to stop black people on the street and confiscate their guns.” And yet, the NRA-endorsed nominee is not facing much if any pushback from rightwing pundits and politicians who in other contexts are Second Amendment absolutists. “If Hillary Clinton became President and encouraged police departments in the posh white suburbs to stop and frisk people to take their guns away,” Wolf continues, “the gun rights folks would rightly be having a cow.”
But while liberal websites and social media accounts are alight with charges of racism against the GOP nominee, they ignore the fact that the Democratic Party has itself been pushing an aggressive gun control regime to control crime. As we have pointed out before, the effective implementation of such a draconian agenda would almost certainly require—or at least result in—a tougher and more intrusive police presence in urban black communities, which are the sites of a disproportionate share of America’s gun violence. New gun restrictions outlawing millions of weapons would not enforce themselves; they would require law enforcement to enter communities and root them out. Even the existing gun control regime produces wide racial disparities: As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko wrote last year, “47.3 percent of those convicted for federal gun crimes were black—a racial disparity larger than any other class of federal crimes, including drug crimes.”
The liberal rhetoric and imagery surrounding gun control tends to assume that the only people whose civil liberties might be restricted by new gun laws belong to demographic groups that are politically unfavorable to liberalism—namely, white men in rural areas. So people on the Left can note the racially troubling implications of Trump’s gun comments while turning a blind eye to the likely consequences of their own gun control crusade if it were brought to fruition.
It would be ideal if America could have a discussion about guns and crime with less demagoguery, more attention to the empirical evidence about what works and what doesn’t, and more appreciation of the legitimate interests that worry partisans on both sides. But as gun policy arguments collapse into the same lowest-common-denominator identity politics that threatens to swallow our discourse whole, such a discussion looks increasingly out of reach.