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Dousing Firearms

The difference between guns and abortion, politically speaking.



Last month, Mayor Dwight Jones bemoaned, sort of, all of the gun legislation circulating at the General Assembly:

“It really represents a step backwards to think that we would continue to loosen these laws so that you have guns in bars, and guns just everywhere. And so that adds to the difficulty of our situation. But I think that the most important thing that’s being said here today is that we’ve developed a paradigm; we’ve developed a strategy that no matter what the variables are we continue to use that strategy to continue to solve crimes and work to bring the crime rate down. But I think we’ll do that no matter what happens at the General Assembly.”

Jones’ shifting paradigms notwithstanding, it’s important to note that he answered the question at a press conference celebrating the decrease in violent crime across the city, including the murder rate, alongside the police chief and commonwealth’s attorney. As McDonnell prepares to sign a bill repealing the one-handgun-a-month law that passed during former Gov. Doug Wilder’s administration in the early 1990s, there are several reasons why the GOP feels confident there’ll be no backlash akin to the abortion bills.

First, you can tap into the anti-big-government sentiment and the Second Amendment, which always plays well in a Southern state like Virginia. And there’s a big difference in the political climate during Wilder’s governorship and today. Remember, the early 1990s were a violent period in Richmond, and across the country, at the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic, when drug-related homicides were big news. 1991 marked the first time the number of murders in Richmond topped triple digits -- 113 -- topping out at 160 in 1994. In 2011, Richmond had recorded just 37 homicides, which have remained below 50 a year since 2008.

In other words, decreasing crime means we feel safer, hence we’re less concerned about the impact of repealing one-handgun-a-month. That’s not to say repealing the law won’t lead to Virginia becoming one of the country’s top criminal gun suppliers (although the evidence is murky), just that the general public is less likely to get worked up about it. Dan Palazzolo, a political science professor at the University of Richmond, explains:

“Guns are different. The reason why is that rate of crime and gun-related crime in the country has dropped significantly. So the one-gun-a-month provision … basically, the gun lobby has effectively gained support, broadly speaking, so I don’t think that’s as big as the abortion-related privacy issues.”

Of course this is kind of obvious, but worth pointing out. That and the fact that police departments are much more proficient at prosecuting gun-related crimes than they used to be, and the rising sophistication of police data mining has also helped.

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