If Only It Were That Simple

DC’s blossoming homicide rate has crossed some kind of rubicon. The weekend of July 20 got so bad that the police chief held a press conference, called in the feds and got the Mayor’s office involved. 

The cause for the deadliest weekend in recent memory, said Chief Newsham, was a veritable flood of illegal guns. This is nothing new in DC. Gun-related homicides have been on a steady rise since 2017, rising by approximately 56 percent in the last two years.  

To respond to this increase, Chief Newsham called on everyone to help get those guns off the streets, thereby making us all safer. 

At D.C. Witness, we cringed when we heard this. Our non-profit website tracks every homicide in DC from act to judicial resolution and gathers every piece of data we can on those deaths.

We cringe, not because the chief is wrong, but because we wish it were as simple as illegal guns. We fear shifting the focus to guns will make this a single issue debate: guns. Only a fool would think such a debate leads to anything but political grandstanding and hardened positions around gun rights vs. gun control and the problem will get no closer to being solved.

Don’t get us wrong. We support their aim of attacking the growing homicide rate whole-heartedly.  But, let’s ask the next question. Since nothing has recently changed in gun laws, what has changed that has brought in this recent flood of violence?  

D.C. Witness takes a more holistic approach to data than the MPD, which is focused on the policing part of the equation. 

Here is what’s missing from the Chief’s stand:

D.C. Witness  knows, from tracking each case, that men are buying guns because they increasingly feel they need to protect themselves. Data also shows that petty insults, more than anything else, is the motivation for pulling the trigger. Neither of those can be resolved simply by policing or going after illegal guns.  

So, while getting rid of illegal guns is to be supported, unless we address the growing fear that engenders the need for protection, and the lack of impulse control, getting rid of the guns might in fact create the paradox of actually just increasing the demand for more illegal guns. 

We fear Chief Newsham’s public plea may unintentionally be warping the search for a real solution and setting his own department up for failure, when the guns continue to flow into our city. Neither outcome is in our collective interest, nor will it stop the killing.