Barbara Shelly

Missouri study argues for stronger gun-licensing laws

A change in Missouri gun policy that passed with relatively little attention seven years ago caught the eye of a team of researchers, who now say the change was responsible for an uptick in violent crimes in the state, including an additional 60 or so homicides a year.

Led by Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, the team tracked crime in Missouri following the repeal in 2007 of a longstanding law requiring a sheriff’s permit to purchase a concealable gun, including for private sales. Sheriff’s departments had up to seven days to review a permit application and conduct a criminal background check.

Gun advocates argued at the time that the sheriff’s review was redundant and bothersome. They noted that federal law requires licensed gun dealers to do background checks on their customers, and Missouri law requires a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

But the repeal of the permit-to-purchase law enabled guns to change hands in private sales with no permit or check. And once that happened, researchers say, gun violence and murders increased throughout the state.

The full study, to be reported in the Journal of Urban Health, isn’t out yet. But advance news reports indicate that the study was thorough and accounted for a number of variables, including policing levels, incarceration rates, burglary trends, jobless rates and poverty.

As Webster told

BBC News

: “That upward trajectory did not happen with homicides that did not involve guns; it did not occur to any neighboring state; the national trend was doing the opposite — it was trending downward; and it was not specific to one or two localities — it was, for the most part, state-wide.”

Shortly after the law was changed, researchers counted a doubling of recently purchased handguns found at crime scenes or taken from criminals, indicating that, in the absence of the sheriff’s permit safeguard, more firearms were finding their way into the hands of criminals.

Webster will argue that the Missouri study is “compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence.”

And logical as that may seem, don’t expect it to hold any sway among the majority of Missouri lawmakers. They favor a vigorous gun market, and no amount of research or evidence is going to convince them otherwise. They won’t give credence to a study that says relaxed gun laws are responsible for approximately 60 additional murders a year in Missouri, no matter how careful and reputable that study may be.

It’s notable, though, that Missouri used to have a law similar to what the U.S. Senate refused to even vote on last year — background checks for private sales — and that this study showed the repeal of it led to an upswing in violence. I wish I could say that solid research may prompt lawmakers to reconsider. But too often emotion trumps evidence, especially on the gun issue.