What to Know Today

Fact-checking the 2020 crime wave. As The Trace has reported, homicides surged nationwide last year, primarily driven by gun violence. In a new piece, The Guardian offers some important context on the state of violence in America as it has again become a hot-button issue for politicians and the media. While the murder rate increased last year, other crimes like robberies, property crimes, and rape all dropped, a trend that continued into the beginning of this year. Meanwhile, the national homicide rate remains close to half of what it was in the 1990s, and the increase last year was clustered in largely Black and brown neighborhoods that had already seen higher rates of gun violence before the pandemic. “Everything we know suggests that the increases in homicide are occurring in the very neighborhoods where homicide has been traditionally concentrated,” said criminologist Richard Rosenfeld. “What we’re not seeing is a spreading-out of homicide.” The reporters on what to know about the crime narrative: Abené Clayton and Lois Beckett told The Trace: “Most of the time, national political figures don’t have much to say about the persistently high rates of gun violence in some American neighborhoods. But now, with evidence that murders increased along with the massive social and economic stresses of last year’s global pandemic, Republicans see a political advantage in raising alarm about ‘crime,’ while Democrats focus on guns. Much of the rhetoric around the increase is obscuring the realities of gun violence and how it impacts communities.”

As gun sales surged, the FBI never finished over 316,000 background checks last year. And that tally, more than any full year on record, was only in the first nine months of 2020, according to FBI data obtained by FiveThirtyEight. The news outlet reports that in 2014, the bureau left just under 2.1 percent of background checks incomplete. By 2019, that rose to about 2.5 percent. In the first nine months of last year, the share rose to approximately 3.4 percent of checks. “In other words, it’s impossible to know how many guns were sold to people in 2020 who couldn’t legally own them because those background checks were never completed,” writes reporter Joshua Eaton. Related: The Trace’s gun sales tracker found that Americans bought an estimated 1.58 million guns last month, down 42 percent from the previous June but still the 18th highest month on record. 

Memphis’ Black communities among those on edge as Tennessee’s permitless carry law goes into effect. Starting yesterday, most people 21 and older can carry a handgun without a permit or training, leading some local leaders to worry it will exacerbate already elevated gun violence in the city. Stevie Moore, a community leader who founded a nonprofit focused on ending gun violence after his son was shot to death, told MLK50 that he is bracing himself for a “wild, wild west” of more guns on the streets and fewer safety standards. Some law enforcement groups have also opposed the law, arguing it will lead to more violence. More from The Trace: A slew of other GOP-led states have enacted permitless carry this year. Experts say the evidence on what effect the laws have in practice is largely inconclusive, so far.

San Jose becomes first place in U.S. to charge firearm owners a fee for gun violence. A month after a railyard employee fatally shot nine co-workers and then himself, the City Council unanimously voted to require gun owners to carry liability insurance and pay a yet-to-be-determined fee to cover taxpayers’ costs associated with gun violence, including police response, ambulance transport, and medical treatment. The Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation, a national nonprofit, will conduct a study on gun harm to determine the fees. Preliminary research from the institute estimates San Jose residents pay $442 million annually in costs related to gun violence. “While the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, it does not require taxpayers to subsidize gun ownership,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement

Officer who reportedly lied on Breonna Taylor warrant can’t have his job back. In a unanimous ruling, the Louisville Metro Police Department’s merit board blocked former police officer Joshua Jaynes from returning to the department. Jaynes was fired in January for falsely swearing he had confirmed with a U.S. postal inspector that Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, who was at the center of a drug investigation, was having packages delivered to her apartment. Officers fatally shot Taylor in her own home during a no-knock raid that relied on that warrant.

Data Points

$200 million — the increase in police spending included in New York City’s record-setting $98.7-billion FY 2022 budget, bringing the NYPD’s total allotment to $5.4 billion. Of the increased toll, $166 million will cover police overtime. [The New York Times

$104.6 million — the same budget’s total new spending toward law enforcement alternatives to “break the cycle of incarceration and reduce gun violence,” including job training, reentry assistance for formerly incarcerated individuals, and expansion of hospital-based intervention. [City of New York]