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Gun Control Goes Slumming By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 21, 2000


IN 1937, the federal government got into the housing business, with plans to reclaim depressed urban areas and to replace old tenements with "decent, safe, and sanitary" housing. Some thirty years later, with that goal still not attained, President Lyndon B. Johnson, in a fit of Great Society zeal, declared that "the first challenge" of his administration's housing policy would be "to attack the problem of rebuilding the slums." Fast forward another three decades, and the federal government is the country's single largest slumlord, maintaining 1.12 million units in 14,000 public-housing developments nationwide—projects in varying degrees of disrepair; breeding grounds for gangs, drugs, illegitimacy, and countless other social pathologies.

So who is to blame for the failure of federal housing? According to the Clinton Administration, it's—strangely enough—the gun industry. True, Washington has managed the projects for more than sixty years, but, as far as the White House is concerned, it is firearm manufacturers who have turned them into urban war zones, where one in five residents feels unsafe in his own neighborhood.

Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Andrew Cuomo has issued "In the Crossfire: The Impact of Gun Violence on Public Housing Communities," a study on the rate of gun-related crimes in federal housing. It's a flimsy document containing 50 widely spaced pages padded with large charts, an appendix full of disconnected anecdotes, and a text that lists the same few points repeatedly, almost verbatim, throughout the document. Its findings are grim, but unsurprising: residents of public housing are more than twice as likely than the rest of society to be shot.

In releasing the report, Secretary Cuomo warned that it might provide grounds for HUD—following the lead of some thirty American municipalities—to file a class-action lawsuit against the gun industry. At a recent press conference, President Clinton hailed the study, concluding that "it is long past time for Congress to pass (more) common-sense gun safety legislation." To hear Cuomo and Clinton tell it, federal housing projects would be idyllic, peaceful havens for the indigent, were it not for gun dealers who force weapons upon their hapless residents and compel them to shoot their neighbors.

High-mindedly, "In the Crossfire" purports to remain neutral on the issue of gun control, noting that "it is not the purpose of this report to take sides in this debate." Nevertheless, it comments favorably on "recent research" that "provides evidence of a correlation between the presence of a large number of firearms and violence events." Never mind that the report itself contradicts this claim, bemoaning in one passage "the increasing availability of cheap and more lethal firearms" and celebrating in another the nation's "extraordinary declines in violent crime rates." It's a good thing sham studies are written to be waved around by incredulous demagogues, not read.

Other than that one oversight, "In the Crossfire" does a masterful job of excluding contradictory facts. Although it measures the rate of gun violence within public-housing developments against the rate elsewhere, it makes no such comparisons regarding other crimes. After all, it would be hard to pin on the gun industry the 1,610 rapes, 28,777 burglaries, and 19,254 car thefts that the projects witnessed in the first six months of 1999. The problem in public housing is not the abundance of guns, but the abundance of criminals, and HUD alone is responsible for letting gangsters and felons overtake its projects.

That's why "Crossfire," despite noting the "many innocent victims in public housing," never asks how many guilty perpetrators dwell in the same units. That datum might give the residents of public housing good reason to sue Andrew Cuomo.

For good measure, they should sue Bill Clinton, too. In his press conference, the President seized on the report's unfounded claim—"estimates" based entirely on anecdote—that accidental gun injuries are rampant in the projects. That was enough evidence for him to reissue his call for increased "gun safety" legislation. But the inhabitants of government-run slums do not live in terror because they think that someone might shoot them by mistake. They genuinely fear the attack of violent predators whom Washington—after billions of dollars and tens of years—has been unable to keep out.

Or, more accurately, they fear violent predators whom Washington has nurtured for more than 30 years. Federal housing is but one piece of the remote, inefficient, and dispiriting welfare-state apparatus. It fosters notions of entitlement, rewards idleness, and subsidizes illegitimacy—three key ingredients to a criminal underclass. For its overseers, like Bill Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, admitting their failure is difficult. It's much easier to blame the gun industry.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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