D.C.’s Crime Problem Is Virginia’s Crime Problem

Christy Bautista

Christy Bautista

by James A. Bacon

Washington, D.C. has a crime problem, and due to its proximity to Virginia, that means Virginia has a crime problem, Attorney General Jason Miyares wrote a week ago in a letter to Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Miyares attributed D.C.’s crime wave to lax-on-crime policies. “Your unwillingness to enforce your laws and hold violent offenders responsible puts your residents and mine at risk,” he said.

The letter prompted immediate pushback from those who maintain that either (a) Washington’s crime problem really isn’t so bad; or (b) it’s really Virginia’s fault for allowing so many guns to get into the hands of bad guys in D.C. “This is not just a D.C. problem. It’s a gun problem,” retorted Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak. “More Americans died from gunfire — homicides and suicides — than in any other year on record.” Virginia’s lax gun laws, she said, leave D.C. in the “crossfire.”

At the risk of agitating both sides of the gun debate, perhaps it’s possible that both Miyares and Dvorak are right. Maybe, just maybe, Virginia’s gun laws do (or did in the past) make it too easy for D.C. criminals to get guns. And just maybe D.C. law-enforcement policies do make it too easy for violent criminals to get out of jail. While we’re spreading around the blame, maybe we should acknowledge that there is something dysfunctional about an American culture and society that produces so many violent criminals in the first place (although we’re never likely to agree why).

Here’s the case Miyares laid out in his letter:

Over the weekend Christy Bautista, an innocent young woman from Virginia, was murdered in the supposed safety of her hotel room less than an hour after checking in to attend a concert in your city. A Capitol Hill staffer was brutally attacked in broad daylight. Over the summer, a young Arlington woman was harassed on the metro, and countless Virginians have been murdered in D.C. over the last three years, including Aaron Bourne, Kenithy Manns, Christian Gabriel Monje, and Ahmad Clark.

Yet D.C. Council Chairman [Phil] Mendelson recently denied that D.C. had a crime crisis. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, D.C. has seen two consecutive years of over 200 homicides, a distinction the city hasn’t reached in nearly two decades. In addition, carjackings have been steadily rising for the last five years. Homicides in Washington, D.C. have increased by 31% since this time last year, sexual assault increased by 84%, and motor vehicle theft has increased by 107%. In general crime in 2023 has risen by 23%….

Washington, D.C., is dealing with a crime explosion. … There is no deterrent for illegal behavior in Washington, D.C., as these repeat offenders know they will either not be charged or let back on the streets in no time. That’s why we lost Christy Bautista. D.C.’s lenient policies and perspective are responsible for her murderer’s release when he should have been in custody.

(Miyares could have added that D.C. criminality leaks into Virginia communities. Bad guys hop on the Metro — often fare jumping — rob and steal, and then zoom back across state lines.)

D.C. and Virginia need to work together to address the rising tide of crime, Miyares said. “That means acknowledging it is a problem and committing to finding a solution rather than sweeping it under the rug.”

In putting the blame back on Virginia, Dvorak cites Virginia’s role as a supplier of illegal guns to D.C. “For decades Virginia has been a top supplier of guns in stickups, drivebys, maimings, and massacres across the nation, and especially up the Eastern Seaboard,” she writes. Thirty years ago Virginia held the No. 1 spot as America’s arms dealer.

She acknowledges that Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law has throttled the gun supply somewhat. But she cites ATF data to show that illegal guns originating in Virginia still are a key driver of gun crime in the District. In 2021, 619 of the guns seized in D.C. were traced back to Virginia, far outpacing the 164 that came from Maryland. (No word on when those guns made it into D.C. — before or after Virginia clamped down on gun sales.)

Complicating Dvorak’s narrative is that fact that Bautista, a James Madison University graduate and resident of Harrisonburg, was stabbed to death — not shot. The man charged in her killing, in what police say was a random attack, was homeless and mentally ill.

Miyares proclaimed an interest in “finding a solution” to the crime wave. That won’t be easy given the fact that his and Bowser’s worldviews are diametrically opposed.

But… just spitballing here… perhaps there is a grand deal to be struck. What if Virginia committed to cracking down on illegal gun trafficking into D.C. if Washington committed to keeping violent criminals behind bars and preventing mentally ill homeless people from roaming the streets? Can we as a society walk and chew gum at the same time?