Missouri should be ground zero in the debate over stricter background checks for gun purposes.
That’s what Johns Hopkins University researcher Daniel Webster told a U.S. Senate subcommittee last month during compelling testimony that debunked most of the arguments the National Rifle Association makes against reasonable gun policies that its members actually support.
Chief among these common-sense policies is improving the nation’s background check laws, primarily by making every gun purchase go through some sort of a permitting process.
To help make his case, Mr. Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told senators of Missouri’s experience. He pointed to the Legislature’s 2007 repeal of what was a very reasonable gun permitting law. It required any purchaser of a handgun, whether from a licensed or unlicensed dealer, to obtain a permit from the local sheriff.
At the time, gun dealers and NRA-types had argued that gun owners had to wait too long to get their guns. The law, they said, was a hassle. What happened next was predictable. Gun sales boomed.
Unfortunately, the law was a boon to criminals. Mr. Webster found that the ability to get legal handguns into the hands of criminals increased exponentially.
“Immediately following the repeal of the law, the share of guns recovered by Missouri police agencies that had an unusually short time interval from retail sale to crime indicative of trafficking more than doubled,” Mr. Webster told the Senate, explaining his research. “Importantly, the sharp increase in short time-to-crime guns coincided with the length of time between the repeal of the law and a crime gun’s recovery by police.”
In other words, criminals took advantage of the fact that they could now more easily get guns than they could when the law was stricter.
Mr. Webster compared the increases in Missouri in the “time-to-crime” category and found that the increases after repeal of the 2007 law were significantly higher than national trends.
He has since expanded his research and concluded that the repeal in the law directly led to more homicides in Missouri.
It is this sort of fact-based analysis that lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures should be studying as they consider stricter gun laws in the wake of the horrendous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.
If the nation can’t require a simple, common-sense move like reinstating background checks for all gun purchases, an idea supported by a vast majority of Americans (including gun owners), and clearly supported by the academic research, then we’ve lost our way.
In January, Mr. Webster and 19 other top gun researchers gathered in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins for a Summit on Reducing Gun Violence in America. The researchers agreed to a list of 31 policy prescriptions that involved better licensing and background checks, improved mental health checks, an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a rewrite of some existing laws to make them more effective.
The researchers didn’t suggest taking away anybody’s guns. They didn’t seek to repeal or weaken the Second Amendment. Based on research, they sought to do one thing: save lives.
Not so long ago, Missouri had a law that did just that. Yes, it was slightly more difficult to purchase a handgun in 2007.
Oh the horror.