During a forum on race relations published online by CNN Sunday, CNN employee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) condemned a black congressman for failing to stop gang violence in his district, saying that gang membership has increased “by 40 percent” since President Barack Obama was elected.
Speaking about Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Gingrich said: “You have a congressman who represents the most violent city in America. You have a congressman who represents a city in which over 500 people were killed last year, 74 percent of them African-American. You have a congressman who represents a city in which 80 percent of the killings, according to police, are by gangs.”
“Gangs have increased… by 40 percent since this president was elected,” he said. “There is no federal program to stop it. No one wants to have an honest conversation about it. So you have a congressman whose own district is bleeding, who puts on a hoodie as a symbolic act, but he doesn’t do anything about the gangs in his own district.”
Rush looked surprised. “That’s a charge Newt, that doesn’t hold water. I hav been working relentlessly since I’ve been in Congress, even when you were speaker in Congress and did not want to hear of these matters, I have been working on trying to deal with this violence. I am astounded and ashamed by this violence.”
Rush added that he’s organized the Congressional Black Caucus to come to Chicago later this month and hold a summit on urban violence. “This was before the [Zimmerman] verdict, we had planned this,” he said.
While Gingrich is right to say that gang membership is up in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime statistics, the bureau itself attributes the increase from 2009-2011 “primarily to improved reporting” as its first reason. It also cites opportunities with drug cartels, “gangster rap culture” and the prevalence of social media as a reason for “more aggressive recruitment” in recent years.
However, Gingrich failed to note that during that same period, violent crime in the U.S. went down, from 1,318,398 reported violent crimes in 2009 to 1,203,564 in 2011 — a decrease of 8.7 percent, according to the FBI’s own statistics.
This is a subject Gingrich is surely familiar with, having written about FBI crime statistics in February with an eye toward the violence in Chicago. He took note that the FBI says most firearms used in gang violence are usually “acquired through illegal purchases; straw purchases via surrogates or middle-men, and thefts” — and claimed that as proof “new gun laws are very unlikely to stop the flow of guns to gangs.”
Then again, the very thing the FBI cites — straw purchasing and using middle men to complete a weapons transfer through a private sale — is entirely legal in many places around the U.S., much to the dismay of gun control advocates who’ve been pointing at this loophole for years.
Laws specifically allowing such sales are what led to the whole “Fast and Furious” scandal, in which a misrepresented, sensationalized and highly partisan version of events was popularized in conservative media, but the “scandal” ultimately turned out to be the result of a legal struggle between federal agents and the prosecutors who told them the law allowed young straw purchasers to turn weapons over to suspected drug cartel representatives in private sales.
This video is from CNN’s “State of the Union,” aired Sunday, July 21, 2013.