The Magazine

Biden's One Accomplishment

Will the Democrats bring up crime this fall?

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By ELI LEHRER
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Biden's "assault weapons ban," for example, didn't change the law on military-issue machine guns--private citizens already couldn't buy them--but instead outlawed a number of features like folding stocks and "pistol grips." Even gun-control supporters admit this had no impact on crime. (The law lapsed in 2004.)

Biden's attempts to bring common crime into federal courts also proved misplaced. Although largely a piece of commonsense, good-government legislation, the "Violence Against Women Act" section of the 1994 crime bill allowed federal civil suits against anyone accused of "gender motivated violence" if the underlying offense went unprosecuted. In 2000, the Supreme Court concluded that Biden's legislation went too far in contending that gender-related attacks belonged in federal court because they constituted "interstate commerce."

Although it revives some of the good ideas from his 1994 bill--federal leadership on policing and competitive grants--parts of Biden's current agenda seem silly. He has proposed federal criminal laws relating to computer hackers, prescription-drug abusers, drug smugglers who use submarines, and intellectual property pirates. Biden is proposing outlawing things it is already almost impossible to do without breaking an existing federal law and which in some cases (prescription drug abuse) rightly belong in the hands of state and local police.

In the end, however, there's little doubt that Biden can draw on significant law enforcement support and, perhaps, transfer his law enforcement credibility to the Democratic ticket. As Chuck Wexler, who heads the Police Executive Research Forum--a research group for police chiefs--notes: "He's always been there. He always shows up. We don't endorse anybody but we do recognize when somebody has demonstrated a consistency on the drug issue, the crime issue, and the importance of policing for the great part of a long career."

Eli Lehrer is a writer in Oak Hill, Virginia.