Gun control advocates and gun owners often disagree about what to do about the alarming rate of gun violence in our country. Amidst all the political back and forth, however, there is little disagreement about the desire to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. While no one tactic is absolute, background checks have proven to significantly reduce guns being sold to those who are deemed unfit to have them. Nearly 89 percent of Americans (and 84 percent of gun owners) support background checks for all gun sales.
A recent study shows what happens when background checks are not used.
In 2007, Missouri repealed its law that required licensing and a background check before purchasing a firearm. While federally licensed dealers were still required to perform background checks, private sales through unlicensed sellers no longer required them. In the aftermath, an average of 60 more people were killed by a firearm in every year since the repeal.
The study performed by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (named in honor of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s financial support) looked at murder data provided by the FBI, as well as death certificate data from the CDC. It was in the latter that showed the spike in firearm deaths, which had increased by 23 percent in Missouri from 2008-2012. The overall murder rate (from all sources) was down 5 percent in the United States overall.
While the data didn’t show a spike in murders in neighboring states, Illinois and Kansas both showed an increase in guns confiscated from criminals that had come from Missouri. In 2009, just two years after the repeal, Missouri ranked 37th in “crime guns” – a term used to describe firearms used in a crime after the original sale. Forty percent of Missouri’s guns are recovered in a crime within two years from the original sale.
The lead researcher on the John Hopkins study wrote that the study “provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence. There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed.”
In 2010, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns funded a project called Trace the Guns. The organization, founded in 2006 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, is a bipartisan coalition of mayors from across the country focused on keeping illegal guns off the streets. The Trace the Guns project identified what laws were in place in each state and the rate of illegal guns that flowed in and out.
The states with the fewest gun laws on the books and those that did not require background checks ranked high for the number of crime guns originating from the state. The project identified ten key laws that had been proven to curb illegal gun tracking, including three relating to background checks. Only 15 states require individuals purchasing handguns from unlicensed sellers to pass background checks.
For the record, Missouri has only one of the ten laws — giving law enforcement discretion when issuing concealed carry permits.
The study’s authors point out, “Because many perpetrators of homicide have backgrounds that would prohibit them from possessing firearms under federal law, they seek out private sellers to acquire their weapons. Requiring a background check on all gun sales is a commonsense approach to reducing gun violence that does not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”