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Gun control isn't the answer. We already know how to stop the violence

Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, from left, speaks while standing next to Representative Joseph 'Joe' Crowley, a Democrat from New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2016.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, from left, speaks while standing next to Representative Joseph 'Joe' Crowley, a Democrat from New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2016.

It's a vast understatement to say that the U.S. is at a political impasse when it comes to gun violence in this country. And like all good impasses, the reasons for it are multiplying rather than shrinking every day. But it boils down to a very old and stubborn argument. Pro-gun control forces insist on new laws and bans to stop gun violence while their opponents say those new laws and bans will only end up punishing and endangering the law-abiding gun owners or would-be gun owners in this country. Politically, this has been an unbridgeable divide for going on 40 years in this country. And no amount of sit-ins, NRA rallies, mass shootings, accidental shootings, or incidents where armed citizens stopped crimes in their tracks are going to break it.

The crux of the problem revolves around legislation. As long as Democrats insist that new gun laws and bans are the only way to stop or slow gun violence, the Republicans and most of the American people will stand in their way - unless they rush to pass new gun laws and bans within 2-3 weeks of major mass shootings. The reasons are many, but one of the biggest problems with the new legislation approach is the fact that gun violence is mostly committed in urban areas by people in demographic groups and living in geographical locations that a large segment of the American people believe are heavily connected to the Democratic Party. As "Dilbert" creator and blogger Scott Adams wrote last week, that leaves many non-Democrats who own guns looking at newly proposed gun laws by Democrats as essentially saying to them: "put down your guns… so we can shoot you." This approach simply isn't going to work.

But here's the funny thing, in a tragically laughable way of course: we already know how to reduce gun violence and gun crimes because we've already done it many times before. That's right, we actually solved the issue of rising gun violence in America in the mid-1990's and again in the early 2000's by doing something really radical. We enforced the law.

Now Republicans often get off too easy with their base voters by talking the talk about enforcing existing gun laws and leaving it at that. While it's technically true that there are already enough gun laws on the books to put the hammer down on gun violence, most Republicans know all too well that law enforcement all over the country needs a lot more funding and other tools to enforce those laws better. And that became clear during both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations when new funding programs to cut down on gun violence were instituted and they worked.

"There's no denying that maintaining the high number of gun arrests and prosecutions is expensive, and the money available for that kind of law enforcement has indeed become scarcer because of budgetary constraints brought on by the Republican Congress."

I'll start with the Clinton years and remind everyone that it wasn't the Brady Bill or the Assault Weapons ban that made the real difference. It was the increased funding to police departments from his 1994 crime bill that showed real progress. I was on the White House lawn that day in October, 1994 when President Clinton was joined by an army of police chiefs and mayors to announce the $200 million being released to put 100,000 more cops on the streets. It's not clear just how close the Clinton Administration came to reaching that 100,000 number, but the message the funding sent had almost as much of an effect as however many new cops actually hit the streets.

The message was that police weren't the problem, which just a couple years after the Rodney King beating and subsequent L.A. riots wasn't such an easy thing for any Democrat to say. And President Clinton was never shy about trumpeting the falling crime statistics during his presidency. He and Hillary Clinton are trying to backtrack on that a bit now as the "Black Lives Matter" movement has started a new anti-cop sentiment in the new Democratic Party base, but there's really no denying that the increased Clinton administration funding for policing and incarceration made a difference.

Clinton's successor, President George W. Bush, saw similar successes with boosted funding for the FBI to go after gun runners and then his "Project SAFE" program in his second term aimed at prosecuting criminals who used guns. Project SAFE alone got more than $1.5 billion from the Bush administration. Violent crime fell sharply during the Bush years, even when compared with the already falling crime numbers under President Clinton.

But at the end of the Bush years, the focus shifted from gun prosecutions to new regulations. That was probably the result of Republicans losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterms and the Bush domestic agenda was gutted.

President Obama has sadly continued this trend. Thankfully, violent crime has mostly remained at historic lows. But prosecutions of gun-using criminals has decidedly gone down. Federal prosecutors brought a total of 5,082 gun violation cases in 2013 recommended by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, compared with a record 8,752 prosecutions of ATF cases brought by the Justice Department in 2004 under President Bush according to the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

There may be ideological reasons for this decline, as many of President Obama's critics insist the White House is more interested in scoring political points by harassing law abiding gun owners. But there's no denying that maintaining the high number of gun arrests and prosecutions is expensive, and the money available for that kind of law enforcement has indeed become scarcer because of budgetary constraints brought on by the Republican Congress. The White House may be blaming the GOP a little too much for the gun prosecution decline, but it does have a solid point. Both the Clinton crime initiatives and the Bush crackdown on illegal guns cost money, big money. And Republicans haven't been so forthcoming with budgetary cash lately.

That leaves us with a unique double "put your money where your mouth is moment" when it comes to guns in America. The Democrats, if they really want to slow gun violence in this country, need to put their money where their mouths are and support renewed efforts to enforce existing gun laws like Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush did in the recent past. Republicans, if they really want to prove they believe enforcing the existing gun laws is all we need to do, need to put their money where their mouths are and get proactive about offering real funding for that enforcement up front.

So far, both sides just aren't stepping up to the plate. So we're stuck with stunts like sit-ins and scare tactics. I remain convinced that the presidential candidate who refocuses the gun debate towards a push for more funding would enjoy a significant boost in the polls. The question is: which candidate is smart enough to simply promote what we already know works?

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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