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Opinion Crime needs to be more than just a gun issue for Biden

Police officers patrol inside a subway station in New York City on May 25. (Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg News)
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The Biden administration has been resistant to pleas even from the president’s own party to focus on crime. The moderate think tank Third Way has been stressing the issue as essential to responding to Republicans’ cultural attacks. Yet President Biden to date has only been reactive on the issue.

Other Democrats have shown it’s better to tackle the issue head-on. Democrat Eric Adams won his hotly contested New York mayor’s race almost entirely on the crime issue. As progressive Rep. Ritchie Torres proclaimed this year, “The defund police movement is dead in New York City — and good riddance. And any elected official who’s advocating for the abolition and/or even the defunding of police is out of touch with reality and should not be taken seriously.” Democrat Cavalier Johnson won the mayor’s race in Milwaukee, also emphasizing crime.

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But the issue remains a problem for Democrats. On Tuesday, progressive San Franciscans recalled progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin by a 60-40 percent margin, largely due to the perception that he hasn’t addressed crime in the city. The New York Times reports: “The city has been facing persistent property crimes, especially car break-ins and burglaries, but data from the police department showed that many other types of crime, including homicides, have been stable or declined during the pandemic.” Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, real estate tycoon Rick Caruso, relying on the crime and homelessness issue, spent millions to try to beat Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in the city’s mayoral primary. They will face off in the general election.

Biden, for his part, tried to squash the “defund the police” cry from far-left progressives. “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police,” he said in the State of the Union address. "It’s to fund the police.” Indeed, his proposed budget includes generous funding for public safety.

Still, Biden talks almost solely about gun legislation when discussing crime. This isn’t necessarily wrong; gun safety is a huge part of the crime problem. And Democrats on the ballot have the moral and political high ground on gun safety laws. USA Today reports: “Half of Republicans support stricter gun laws, an exclusive USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll finds, a double-digit increase after a series of horrific mass shootings at schools, stores, streets and houses of worship. The increase in GOP support — from 35% last year to 50% — could boost the prospects for Congress to tighten federal gun laws, an effort that has failed for decades.” Second Amendment zealots don’t even have Republican voters behind them: “Republicans are more likely to blame ‘loose gun laws’ for mass shootings in the USA: 43% in the new poll, compared with 27% a year ago.” So Biden is absolutely right to go all-in on gun safety regulations and hold Republicans entirely responsible if Congress fails to pass meaningful legislation.

But voters remain very skeptical that any meaningful reform will get done. Many will see Biden as focusing solely on something they think is virtually impossible and conclude he is not doing anything right now to address crime. Moreover, voters want to do more than just make it harder to get high-powered weaponry. They want more cops and fewer homeless people (which many associate with loss of physical safety), and they know property crimes are also up.

It’s frankly political malpractice for the White House not to be leading on this issue, especially since the administration has pushed for public safety funding. While the federal government does not have a huge role in crime-fighting aside from funding, Biden can, at the very least, emphasize his budget requests, go after red-state governors who have made it easier for criminals to get guns and push anti-recidivism programs. If the election results on Tuesday don’t push the White House toward a more aggressive stance on crime-fighting, Democrats should be prepared to get clobbered on the issue in November.