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February 19, 2014

Background Checks Do Prevent Gun Deaths

Patrick W. Allen

Requiring a background check on all gun sales is a common sense approach to reducing gun violence that does not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.


In the ongoing dialog about guns and gun violence in America, one thing consistently comes out: Americans favor background checks for gun purchases.


A 2013 Washington Post-ABC News poll [1] found that 91 percent of all Americans and 71 percent of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support expanded background checks. Yet, Congress has done nothing.


A likely reason is that the NRA, which used to support background checks, now opposes them. It offers reasons ranging from “they’re an invasion of privacy,” to “they don’t work because criminals don’t submit to background checks.”


However, a new study suggests that background checks are a reasonable, effective method of keeping guns out of the wrong hands.


Researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Policy and Research did a study of Missouri, where a background check law was repealed in 2007. They found that since the repeal, there was an increase of between 55 and 63 murders by gun per year from 2008 to 2012. Daniel Webster, lead author of the study, says:


“This 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.”


Missouri’s background check law was effective.


Until 2007, Missouri had a “permit to purchase” background check law. Under the law, someone who wanted to purchase a firearm would visit a local sheriff for a background check. The sheriff would do the check, then issue a “permit to purchase,” which the person could take to the gun dealer of his or her choice to purchase a weapon. This law had been in place since the 1920s. After the law was repealed, unlicensed sellers no longer needed proof of a background check before a sale.


The findings of the study are dramatic. According to Mr. Webster:


“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.”


In other words, after the background check law was repealed, the homicide rate in Missouri went up. In the rest of the country it declined by about five percent over the same period of time. Last year, Missouri was ranked eighth on a list of states with the most gun violence. In an interesting footnote, none of the 10 states on the list require a permit to carry a handgun.


The NRA and its supporters will no doubt find some way to attack this study. However, that could prove tricky to do, as the researchers carefully controlled other factors. They took into account things such as “changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime.”


As outlined in the study’s findings, in addition to the increase in homicides, following repeal of the law:


Jon Vernick, co-author of the study, says: “Because many perpetrators of homicide have backgrounds that would prohibit them from possessing firearms under federal law, they seek out private dealers to acquire their weapons.”


Further, Mr. Vernick states: “Requiring a background check on all gun sales is a common sense approach to reducing gun violence that does not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners”.


As noted, overwhelming majorities of Americans support background checks in poll after poll. Police chiefs support background checks. Gun dealers support background checks. Even — gasp! — 53 percent of Republican men support background checks.


So, why don’t we have a comprehensive background check system for all gun purchases?


You’ll have to ask Congress and the NRA.


Sources and References




States With Most Gun Violence:


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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