Question: What do the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union have in common? Answer: The determination to stop New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg from having his way with guns. The NRA defends the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. The ACLU defends the Fourth Amendment’s constraints on “stop and frisk.” Between the two, guns will remain on the street and more people will die.
The numbers are irrefutable. Last year, 419 New Yorkers were murdered, mostly by gunfire. In 1992, the figure was 1,995. That works out to approximately four New Yorkers a day who were not killed by guns. Yes, crime has fallen across America, but nowhere has the drop approached New York City’s.
Some of that is due to whiz-bang policing, computers and all that jazz. But some of it is due to stop and frisk. There are simply fewer guns on the street. (The New York Police Department estimates that in 1993, “as many as 2 million illegal guns were in circulation in New York City,” many of them imported from Virginia.) Rightly or wrongly — a higher court will ultimately decide — the city’s stop-and-frisk program has collided with the Fourth Amendment’s injunction against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
More controversially, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has ruled that the program is racial profiling at its most pernicious and that, too, is illegal. After all, of an incredible 4.4 million stops, an overwhelming number were of black or Hispanic men — and resulted in relatively few arrests. It did not seem to matter to the judge that an equally overwhelming number of both assailants and victims were also black and Hispanic men. Her gavel came down. The city was guilty.
It may well be. The issue before the court was not the effectiveness of stop and frisk but its constitutionality. I have zero faith in the impartiality of this particular judge — she seemed determined to embody the conservative stereotype of a liberal, activist judge — but her reading of the Constitution is hardly bizarre. Repressive police measures can often depress crime, but at considerable cost to our civil liberties and our sense of community.