Attorney General Jeff Sessions left one thing out of his KC speech on violent crime

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to department attorneys on Thursday at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to department attorneys on Thursday at the federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City. kmyers@kcstar.com

In Kansas City on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke about the urgent need to reduce violent crime. Everybody’s for that.

He’s right about how important it is to bring down the murder rate in Kansas City and elsewhere. Again this year, Missouri has the highest rate of black homicide victims in the country.

And he’s not wrong when he suggests that there’s been a “Ferguson effect” — in St. Louis, anyway.

“Across your state, in St. Louis, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, arrests went down — this is very dramatically seen also in Chicago — and violent crime went up,” Sessions said. “From 2013-2016, arrests fell by almost 19 percent. Meanwhile, violent crime went up 18 percent, so I don’t think that was a coincidence. Frankly, we’ve got to be honest about these facts.”

We do, and it’s true that wherever police stop doing their jobs, then yes, arrests go down and crime goes up. But that does not account for the spike in murders in Kansas City.

Two years ago, Mayor Sly James warned Missouri lawmakers that they would “double down on stupid” if they eliminated training and permit requirements to carry a concealed gun in public. Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

Some of the state’s last limits on gun rights disappeared on Jan. 1, 2017. But a decade earlier, lawmakers did a lot of harm when they did away with the requirement that anyone buying a handgun had to go through a background check in person, at the sheriff’s office.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that in the first six years after the state repealed the requirement for comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, Missouri’s gun homicide rate rose by 16 percent — at a time when the national rate declined by 11 percent. The kind of law Missouri repealed is considered the single most effective way to keep those who really shouldn’t have guns from getting them. In the decade after Connecticut passed such a law, gun murders went down dramatically there, by 40 percent.

By 2013, Missouri had the second-highest gun murder rate in the country. The 2014 “right to bear arms” amendment to the Missouri Constitution took things even further.

In Kansas City, this has been another deadly summer, and there have been 91 murders here so far this year, 89 of them with guns. Which is down some but not enough from the 108 murders in Kansas City at this point last year.

Sessions also said reducing opioid deaths is a major goal, and yes to that, too; it has to be. “There are too many drugs being prescribed,” he said. But it’s hard to see how that dovetails with his position on reemphasizing the prosecution of marijuana possession when that’s a far safer method of pain control than prescription painkillers have turned out to be.

He also commended the stepped-up prosecution of immigration law violations, and suggested without saying outright that immigrants are responsible for increases in violent crime, when that’s not the case.

There’s nothing wrong with Sessions’ plan to go after “alpha criminals” and to spend $1.7 million to help the Missouri Highway Patrol improve its electronic criminal records, though the first doesn’t sound like anything new, and the second doesn’t sound like a game-changer.

Thanks for coming to Kansas City, and hang in there with your boss. But it’s hard to see how we’ll reduce violent crime without making it harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them.