LISTEN: New Study Reveals Background Checks Really DO Prevent Gun Deaths

Gun background checks really DO prevent gun deaths, new study shows. Cagle cartoon Gun-O-Rama by Steve Benson.

A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins finds that the gun homicide rate in Missouri increased after the state repealed its background check law. Gun-O-Rama cartoon by Steve Benson via the Cagle Post.

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 found that 91 percent of all Americans, and 71 percent of 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. They offer 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Johns Hopkins University’s Center For Gun Policy and Research did a study of Missouri, where a background check law was repealed in 2007.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 to 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 This law had been in place since the 1920’s. After the law was repealed, unlicensed sellers no longer needed proof of a background check before a sale.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. Webster tells the BBC:

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 ten states on the list require a permit to carry a handgun.

Wesbster explains the effects of repealing the Missouri background check law.

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 for 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.”

Daniel Webster outlined the findings of the study in an interview with BBC News. In addition to the increase in homicides, following repeal of the law:

  • The number of recently purchased guns used in crimes and recovered by police doubled.
  • Guns were coming from Missouri into other states that had “permit to purchase” type laws.

Webster’s co-author, Jon Vernick, 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. 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.

And 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.

Here’s the audio with Daniel Webster’s interview with the BBC.