From the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, the crime rate in the United States remained stable. Then, for various reasons, violent crime began to increase in the late 1960s. In 1968, the country experienced the largest year-over-year increase in homicides on record until that time – 13%. The FBI began keeping national crime statistics in 1930.
This increase in crime has put a new issue on the nation’s political agenda: gun control. Over the years, since 1968, certain restrictions have been placed on the possession of firearms. In 1968, it became illegal to purchase handguns by mail. In 1993, a 10-year ban on the sale of assault rifles was enacted. And when you buy a gun today, it is necessary that the person selling it to you do an instant background check with the Department of Justice.
But the more extensive gun restrictions that much of the public wants have not been passed. The reason is simple. While a clear majority of the public supports such restrictions, those who oppose any further restrictions on firearms are much better organized than the gun control forces. More importantly, people opposed to further restrictions on gun rights are much more likely to vote only on this issue than those in favor of restricting gun rights.
In early 2018, it looked like the blockade on gun control was going to be broken. In February 2018, a mass shooting took place at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed. There had been calls for greater gun restrictions after shootings at earlier schools, but this time the response was different. Specifically, many young students began to demonstrate and lobby for new gun restrictions. In March 2018, protests took place in Washington, DC and across the country, involving millions of young people.
It is a fundamental fact about successful social movements that these movements have a much greater chance of success if they involve those who will benefit most directly from the proposed social changes. For example, after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglas succeeded in pressuring Lincoln to begin forming regiments of black soldiers. Douglas was correct in believing that by mobilizing those who would benefit most from an end to slavery, the cause of the North would be considerably strengthened. These black troops were an essential part of the Union’s final victory. Thus, the active involvement of millions of young people in the gun control movement after the Parkland shooting has significantly strengthened the cause for the imposition of new gun restrictions.
And that increased public support for gun control has manifested itself here in Kansas. During the 2018 gubernatorial race, GOP contender Mr. Kris Kobach was a strong advocate for gun rights. The most commemorative image of this campaign was that of Mr. Kobach campaigning in a jeep with a papier-mâché machine gun in the back seat. While there have been a number of reasons Mr Kobach lost to Democrat Laura Kelly in this race, his stance on gun rights certainly contributed to his downfall.
However, as former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said: “A week is a long time in politics, and a year is an eternity. Some recent events have changed American public opinion on gun rights, and this fact will be an important thing to remember when predicting the 2022 election in Kansas.
The tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 shocked the nation and sparked much criticism from law enforcement. In the face of this storm of criticism, the number of retiring police officers has risen sharply and applications for police academies have fallen sharply. Most of the country’s police departments were already under-staffed by the time Mr. Floyd died – they have now become massively understaffed. This shortage of officers has also spilled over to civilian support staff – many departments have become unable to recruit enough 911 operators.
These severe staff shortages have started to seriously degrade the ability of local police forces to respond to crime. In the city of Detroit, the average response time to 911 calls is 58 minutes.
With the police less able to respond to crime, many ordinary citizens have started buying guns – many for the first time. Statistics from the Department of Justice show that since Mr. Floyd’s death there have been a record number of new gun owners.
As the state of Kansas draws closer to the 2022 election, it looks good right now that with a large number of new gun owners in the state, the electoral outlook for these candidates supporting gun rights. will be considerably improved compared to what they were in 2018..
Ernest Evans is a columnist for the Leavenworth Times.