Barbara Shelly

No permit required, and gun homicides spike in Missouri

Updated: 2014-03-01T23:24:21Z

By BARBARA SHELLY

The Kansas City Star

This week I joined the Kansas City MO Gun Trader Group on Facebook. It wasn’t difficult. I just clicked “join group” and about an hour later I was in.

There I found a thriving market of guns and ammo. The rules stated that I and the other 4,000-some members must live in either Missouri or Kansas; we should include price, location and descriptions with our posts; and we should be civil with our comments.

And this: “When you buy/sell/trade follow federal and state laws. You are responsible for your own sale/trade. Use Case.net to check out anyone you question.” ( Case.net is the website of Missouri’s court system that records civil and criminal litigation.)

The Gun Trader Group and hundreds of other Facebook pages created for the purpose of dealing weapons are perfectly legal. It’s also legal to buy and sell firearms on Instagram and other social networking sites. Sales and trades originating there are considered person-to-person transactions, which in all but 15 states are allowable without background checks or permits.

A new study shows why that’s a huge problem for Missouri.

In 2007, the Missouri General Assembly repealed a decades-old law that required residents to obtain a sheriff’s permit before purchasing a concealable gun. While a permit is still required for concealed carry, background checks are no longer required for gun sales, except those by federally licensed dealers.

Unlike the noisy fight to legalize concealed carry in Missouri, repeal of the permit-to-purchase law took place rather quietly. But it caught the eye of Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore. He decided to track the impact of the law change on homicide rates.

Almost immediately, Webster’s team recorded a two-fold increase in the percentage of guns recovered by police soon after their initial retail sale. This indicated that weapons were quickly falling into the hands of criminals and traffickers.

And murders increased. Researchers looked at offsetting circumstances like unemployment, poverty, changes in policing, incarceration and other state laws. Accounting for those variables, they found that the repeal of the permit-to-purchase law was a factor in an additional 55 to 63 murders per year in Missouri from 2008 to 2012. In Jackson County, homicide rates increased by 30 percent.

Neighboring states did not experience a similar spike in murders. The firearm homicide rate nationally dropped during the period covered in the study.

“This study provides compelling evidence that the repeal of Missouri’s permit-to-purchase handgun licensing law...contributed to a sharp increase in Missouri’s homicide rate,” the report concludes.

In a saner universe, a finding like that would send lawmakers scrambling to tighten up the state’s gun laws. Fifty or 60 lost lives a year is no small consequence.

But in the tilted universe of Jefferson City, an additional registration requirement for gun purchases is seen as a far greater threat than the prospect of more guns ending up in the hands of criminals.

Still, gun-safety advocates should use the Johns Hopkins findings to keep up the pressure.

Right now, groups like Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are demanding that Facebook and Instagram stop acting as channels for gun sales. But trying to close off Internet-initiated gun transactions is like playing Whack-a-Mole. Clobber one outlet and two more pop up. What are really needed are strong laws requiring background checks, permits to purchase and consequences for people who sell weapons to buyers without proper credentials.

As for the Kansas City MO Gun Trader Group, I now seem to have been banished from its membership. I may have pushed my luck by requesting to join a related discussion group. But a curious journalist is far from the worst person who could be trolling this group’s Facebook page.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bshelly.

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