© Josh Sager – February 2014
The United States is currently suffering from a gun murder epidemic that kills and maims thousands of Americans every year. This epidemic is unique in the developed world, both in the number killed and the number of guns flooding the country.
Efforts to reduce gun murder rates have been stymied by a well-funded gun lobby (the NRA) and a motivated contingent of extreme, misguided and paranoid gun fetishists. These people fight against every effort to enact gun control (and to kill gun-restricting laws already on the books) and would have people believe that guns have no relationship to murder rates.
Unfortunately, these extremists have been very successful in shredding gun control in many areas, resulting in immense harm to many Americans—however, the small silver lining of this situation is that there is now enough statistical data available to scholars to conclusively debunk the NRA’s talking points.
Permit for Purchase Repealed in Missouri
In 2007, the Missouri legislature—under lobbying by the National Rifle Association—repealed the law requiring that all gun buyers verify that they have a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon before they make their purchase. Additionally, this repeal eliminated the requirement that individual sellers of a firearm have a background check done on the person who they are selling a gun to.
The repeal of this permit requirement went almost completely under the radar, as no politicians in Missouri dared to take on the NRA by making it an issue—unfortunately, this lack of pushback has helped kill over 300 Missouri residents and continues to threaten hundreds more in the coming years.
According to a recent study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, the repeal of the Missouri “permit to purchase” firearms law has led to between 55 and 63 more murders each year. When making this calculation, the study’s authors controlled for all relevant factors (including policing changes, unemployment/poverty, and incarceration rates) and also utilized surrounding states as controls.
The general conclusion of this study was summarized by Professor Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins during a BBC interview:
“Coincident exactly with the policy change, there was an immediate upward trajectory to the homicide rates in Missouri. 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.”
Put simply, this study proves true what gun control advocates have been saying for decades: lax gun control laws lead to more murders.
The consequences of repealing the Missouri permit for purchase law have ramifications for national gun policy that go well-beyond the state’s boundaries; only 12 states have such laws still on the books (MA, CA, CN, HI, IO, IL, MD, MI, NJ, NY, NC, and RI), thus the increase in murder that Missouri has experienced recently is just a micro-look at a macro problem.
When the conclusions of the Missouri study are extrapolated across the 37 other states that lack a permit for purchase law, the death tolls become extremely significant—the 60 more murders a year in Missouri (a state with about 1.9% of the total American population) extrapolates upwards to hundreds, if not thousands of Americans needlessly losing their lives every year.
At the end of the day, this study confirms the assertions of many pro-gun control activists and disproves the propaganda of the NRA. That said, it doesn’t speak directly at the legal or democratic aspects of the gun debate (if the public is willing to accept these murders, then there is no overriding constitutional protection that prevents them from weakening gun laws).
When debating gun control, advocates of more control must stress that the statistics prove that lax gun controls lead to more murders—this re-aligns the debate from the murky realm of personal vs. collective liberty to a simple debate between those who think that making it more convenient to buy guns is worth the cost of these addition murders and those who do not.
I have no doubt that many gun extremists are perfectly willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocent Americans a year so that they will be allowed to keep their guns (in anticipation of the “imminent” collapse of civilization, landing of the black helicopters, alien abduction, marauding band of Mexican cartel soldiers, etc.), but that is likely not a belief shared by large portions of the population.
Once people realize that their family member may be one of those unlucky sacrifices to easy gun access, they will likely reject the gun extremists and call for sane gun laws. If enough people reach this realization, even the money and motivation of the NRA will fail to hold back the tide of public opinion and new gun controls will be passed.