Jul 9, 2021 - Podcasts

A reality check on rising gun violence

There have been lots of headlines this year about the rise in gun violence. And some of it is true — more than 180 people were killed in shootings across the country over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

  • Plus, a swift exit from Afghanistan.
  • And, how Ohio is influencing the national Republican conversation.

Guests: The Guardian's Abene Clayton and Axios' Mike Allen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Justin Kaufmann, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected].

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, July 9th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today - we end the week with Mike Allen talking politics. Plus, a swift exit from Afghanistan.

But first, a reality check on rising gun violence is today’s One Big Thing.

There've been lots of headlines this year about the rise in gun violence. And some of that is true. More than 180 people were killed in shootings across the country just over the 4th of July holiday weekend. But we wanted to do a reality check on what's actually happening in the U.S. right now. And so we've asked Abene Clayton - she covers gun violence for The Guardian and is based in California - to join us this morning. Hi, Abene.


NIALA: Can we start with the numbers? Is crime actually increasing?

ABENE: So when you think of crime like robberies, rape, carjackings, etcetera, those have been on a decline for the past couple of decades, but what we saw last June, when a lot of people mark this really high increase, it was in gun violence. You know, it was in violent crimes. It was in shootings mostly concentrated in the areas where folks have been struggling with this issue for years. In small cities and big cities in red states and blue states, shootings have increased, but again, they're largely concentrated in lower income communities of color.

NIALA: What are experts saying about why this is happening?

ABENE: So there are a lot of explanations. We're never going to know for sure until we have the benefit of a few years of hindsight and we don't have that because it's still going on. So what I hear from a lot of criminologists is the stress of the pandemic, the economic downturn, this pressure cooker that COVID-19 has caused in people's families and communities led people to a breaking point, you know? These criminologists will also point to really high gun sales in California. There's been record handgun sales. There's been thousands of FBI background checks for guns, and that number has continued to rise since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

If you talk to police officers, they'll also say that this kind of anti-police sentiment following some George Floyd protests and other calls for racial equity have led to in so many ways an increase in gun violence and kind of a decrease in police being able to do their jobs, quote unquote.

But when you talk to community organizers and people who are on the front lines of gun violence prevention, they'll tell you that once the pandemic hit, they couldn't have the in-person relationships that made their work so successful. People couldn't show up to the school to provide mentorship, to provide care, a refuge from anything that was going on in their neighborhoods. And that is one of the points that I see being left off in many of the conversations.

NIALA: We have heard politicians say that crime is happening because of calls to defund the police or to reform police departments. What do criminologists say about that?

ABENE: Criminologists from what I've heard have said that that is very unlikely to be the case. There are so many places where there were calls to defund the police, these kind of promises to slash budgets by half that really haven't come to fruition. And even in that in-between time, shootings were still increased while police still had as many resources as they did before the pandemic. So criminologists are still kind of mulling it over, but most are leaning toward that not being the case, but again, we don't have the benefit of hindsight because folks are still being shot at really increased rates right now.

NIALA: Abene Clayton is a California-based journalist for The Guardian. She covers gun violence. I 'll tweet out this most recent story she did explaining the homicide rate. Thanks, Abene.

ABENE: Thank you so much, Niala. Nice to speak with you.


NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with a round-up of this week’s biggest political headlines with Mike Allen.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

NIALA BOODHOO: Best-selling author J.D. Vance was campaigning this week in Ohio, where he's running for Senator. And it was a big political topic, not just in Ohio, but here in Washington. Axios co-founder Mike Allen says we should think of the Hillbilly Elegy author as a leading indicator for where the political conversation will head during the midterms. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE ALLEN: Good morning. Niala.

NIALA: You spoke to J.D. Vance this week. What did he say?

MIKE: Yeah Niala, his race gives us a real sneak peek at the political conversation we're going to be having in America through the midterms of 2022. So J.D. Vance, who's running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Ohio..so to replace Senator Rob Portman. And I asked him, what do voters ask you about? And the topics that he brought up encapsulate our political conversation. So the culture wars, Big Tech, economic populism, and under that comes jobs going to China, comes immigration, comes, inflation, comes gas prices. This one Ohio race is going to tell you a ton about the Republican party dynamics. And as a result of that, like the big Congressional dynamics.

NIALA: What do you think this race tells us about President Trump and his hold on the Republican party?

MIKE: Niala, as you know, there's been a lot of controversy about President Trump and J.D. Vance. So J.D. Vance was against Trump in 2016, very vocally so, tweeted against him. In 2020, he was very for him. And now, he's completely embracing the Make America Great Again crowd. Molly Ball from Time Magazine did an interview with J.D. Vance, asked him about Trump, and he said, well, he's the leader of these people. If I want to be a leader of them, I need to...and this was the phrase he used, “suck it up and support him.”

NIALA: Axios co-founder, Mike Allen. Thanks Mike!

MIKE: Niala, have the best weekend!

NIALA: Earlier this week, we talked about the sudden withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Yesterday, President Biden said the entire mission will end on August 31st, weeks ahead of his original schedule. Biden went on to say that it is up to the Afghan people to decide their future.

That sentiment was echoed by one of our listeners. After our segment on Monday, Jonathan sent us a voicemail. He’s a marine who served in Afghanistan and now lives in Virginia.

JONATHAN: When I see what's going on there, it's very frustrating. I've lost fellow Marines there. As an institution, we've given blood, sweat, tears. But after 20 years, at some point, we have to move on. The Afghan national army has been given more training than almost any other foreign military I can think of at this point. I hear story after story in the mainstream news about Afghany citizens fearing that the Taliban are going to return to power. If this is the case, they have to fight for their own rights to live how they want. It's time to leave.

NIALA: You can always send me your thoughts on the show or any feedback by texting me at 202-918-4893

Before we go - last night 11 students competed in the final round of the National Scripps Spelling Bee. Here was the winning word -

Before we go - last night 11 students competed in the final round of the National Scripps Spelling Bee. Here was the winning word -


ANNOUNCER: That is correct!


NIALA: Congrats to the winner - 8th grader Zaila Avant-Garde - from Harvey, Louisiana, who is the first Black winner in the bee’s 93 year old history. And by the way - murraya is a type of tree.

That’s all for this week. Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Justin Kaufmann. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Dan Bobkoff is our Executive Producer. Sara Kayheanli Goo is our Executive Editor. And special thanks Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

At Pushkin, our executive producers are Leital Molad and Jacob Weisberg.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.

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