George Will’s Stop & Frisk Factcheck

gwill2The ABC Sunday show This Week (2/24/13) had not one but two roundtables this weekend. I know, I was excited too.

Right-winger George Will appeared on both of them, because… well, he knows a lot of stuff. The discussion turned to gun violence, and Will attempted to argue that the difference between Chicago’s gun violence and New York City’s is a matter of law enforcement:

DONNA BRAZILE: It’s not about — the Democrats support the Second Amendment right. It’s not Democrats, it’s about assault weapons rifles and these military-style weapons. And should we get them off the streets. And many Americans believe we should.

GEORGE WILL: Get them off the streets, precisely.

The president went to Chicago this week. Chicago has more gun homicides than New York, although New York has three times the population, what’s the difference? The difference is different police measures. And New York, with at lot of controversy, has stop and frisk. And it’s had a measurable effect on gun violence.

It’s not sexy. It’s not a federal program. It’s at the local level and it works.

Stop and frisk is definitely not sexy–and it might be not constitutional either. The practice of stopping people, mostly young men of color, and searching them without probable cause is a lot of things–racist on its face, for one.

But does it actually have anything to do with a reduction in gun violence? To think so, one would want to show that the stops wind up in weapons arrests. But the evidence is that they overwhelmingly do nothing of the sort.

As Ailsa Chang of New York public radio station WNYC reported (7/16/12), out of almost 700,000 stops in 2011, “about 770 guns were recovered”–a little more than one in every thousand stops. What’s more, most of those guns were not found in the areas of the city where most of the stops are being conducted:

 We located all the “hot spots” where stop and frisks are concentrated in the city, and found that most guns were recovered on people outside those hot spots–meaning police aren’t finding guns where they’re looking the hardest.

 This idea that Chicago should adopt a constitutionally dubious practice of stopping and searching hundreds of thousands of people of color who aren’t suspected of any criminal activity is a popular idea among conservatives, from the New York Post editorial page to Fox‘s Geraldo Rivera.

To be fair, Will’s not just wrong about stop and frisk. Moments later, he gave his Oscars picks:

WILL: The best picture, I think, for three reasons, would be Zero Dark Thirty. First, it’s a challenge to make a suspense movie when everyone knows the outcome, which they did.

Second, it’s a genuine contribution to public education about the hard choices that are–


WILL: — did start a useful debate.

But third, sufficient reason for voting for it is a rebukes to senators Levin, Feinstein and McCain, who have enough to do without being movie critics and falsely accusing that movie of taking a stand on torture it does not take.

It’s that kind of knowledge that ABC feels obligated to inflict upon its viewers every Sunday. Sometimes twice in the same Sunday.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.