What Missouri’s gun law change did
February 21st, 2014
03:06 PM ET

What Missouri’s gun law change did

By Daniel Webster, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel Webster is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The views expressed are his own.

Many Americans have a built in bias when they’re considering the potential for gun laws to reduce violence. After all, our TV screens are regularly filled with stories about gun violence – a gang member suspected in a triple shooting in South Chicago, an estranged husband murders a woman and then commits suicide, a shooting at local night club, scores dead and injured after a gunman opens fire in a crowded movie theater.

So it might seem logical that with so many dangerous people apparently determined to kill, and so many guns already in circulation and available to those individuals, that efforts to prevent killings through gun laws are futile. It’s an idea encouraged by the rhetoric of the National Rifle Association and others who argue that criminals, by definition, won’t obey gun laws.

But our perceptions of reality can be distorted by the things that we don’t see every day – what the media does not or cannot report.  For example, aside from the FBI’s records of the number of individuals who don’t pass background checks when attempting to purchase a firearm, we simply cannot know how many people don’t even try to buy a gun because they are disqualified from possessing guns.

That’s where a closer look at some of the data that isn’t widely publicized is crucial – and one state in particular offers some of the clearest evidence yet that gun laws can, in fact, make a difference.

But first, some important background. A study of Chicago’s underground market, led by Duke University economist Philip Cook, revealed that the vast majority of criminals did not have guns, and that those considering acquiring guns often had considerable difficulty linking up with suppliers – not because there weren’t enough guns in circulation, but because they had trouble finding trusted suppliers.  This matters to potential buyers because a seller you don’t trust could be sticking you with a gun that, through standard ballistics tests, has been linked to prior shootings.  Or someone “on the street” could be setting you up to be robbed and killed, or they could be an undercover cop.  Such findings were consistent with what I learned when my study team interviewed incarcerated young people in Maryland.

And this goes to the crux of the challenge in assessing the effectiveness of gun laws – because there is no reliable way to identify specific homicides prevented by gun sales regulations, the only thing we can do is look at rigorous studies of how homicide rates do or don’t change in response to changes in gun laws to estimate a policy’s effects on homicides. Such studies do exist – and there important lessons that we could be drawing.

More from GPS: The real tragedy of America's gun violence

Look at Missouri. Handgun purchaser licensing allowed the state (and several others) to close a gaping hole in federal gun laws by extending background check requirements to handguns sold by those not licensed to be gun dealers. And as the only state to change its policy on handgun purchaser licensing in recent years, Missouri offers a valuable opportunity to study the impact of loosening gun restrictions.

On August 28, 2007, the state repealed its purchaser licensing law and, as a result, private sales of handguns no longer required purchasers to undergo a background check. Following the repeal, my research team found a two-fold increase in the share of guns recovered by police in Missouri that had recently been sold by a licensed gun dealer, and an increase in the flow of guns from Missouri to the neighboring states of Illinois and Iowa, both of which have handgun purchaser licensing laws. In addition, there was a large increase in the share of crime guns that had originated with a retail sale within Missouri. All signs, then, suggest that repealing this law increased the flow of guns to criminals.

Simply put, the consequence of more criminals getting guns was more deaths from guns in Missouri. Data from death certificates indicated that firearm homicide rates in Missouri rose dramatically in 2008, the first year after the law’s repeal, and were 25 percent higher than pre-repeal trends through the end of 2010. This change was at odds with national trends in firearm homicide, which declined by 5.5 percent during that period.

Importantly, changes in non-firearm-related homicides in Missouri did not vary from national trends.

This was not a regional phenomenon. The aggregated firearm homicide rates for the eight states that share a border with Missouri were down 2.2 percent from baseline trends. Nor was it a result of new gang wars or some type of breakdown in law enforcement in one of Missouri’s cities. Firearm homicide rates rose dramatically in both the St. Louis and Kansas City area, as well as in suburban counties.

So, what else might explain why firearm homicides in Missouri increased so dramatically following the repeal of its handgun purchaser licensing law – was it changes in policing levels, incarceration, unemployment, poverty, or other changes in state laws such as Stand Your Ground laws or Right-to-Carry laws? We collected data on these factors and statistically controlled for each one. After doing so, we estimated that the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law was associated with a 23 percent increase in firearm homicide rates and had no impact on homicides by other means.  Using data from police records rather than death certificates allowed us to extend the study period through the end of 2012. Our analyses revealed a 16 percent increase in overall murder rates over the first five full years the law was no longer in place.

The reality is that policy researchers don’t have the ability to field randomized studies (assigning one state a specific gun law and withholding the law from another state) in order to test hypotheses about cause and effect.  The best we can do is use the most rigorous research methods to see if and how things change in response to public policies and then rule out hypotheses that the changes are due to factors other than the policies being considered.

All this means that this new study is certainly not the last word on the effects of gun control laws on public safety – more research is needed to fully understand how gun laws affect the ability of dangerous individuals to access guns. But at least in Missouri, the evidence seems clear – the state’s handgun purchaser licensing law was preventing homicides.  Now that it has been repealed, more people are being murdered.

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Topics: Gun Control • United States

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. TPaine7

    So someone from the Bloomberg School of Public Health does a study showing that Bloomberg's policy preference is sound policy? That's not exactly surprising.

    Imagine an alternate universe where Johns Hopkins got their money from a different source, and the LaPierre School of Public Health published a study. Imagine heads exploding–the heads of the same people who expect everyone to uncritically accept your findings, convenient as the are to your school's namesake.

    Your study might be scientifically sound, but it is unrealistic for to expect non-experts to accept it at face value.

    Let us know when the LaPierre School of Public Health replicates your findings.

    February 22, 2014 at 3:40 am |
    • Billy Thomas

      Trouble is that the NRA put pressure on Congress so they stopped any public funding for gun research. If they are so confident of their case, why have they done so much to try to prevent research. So I get your point, but that's why universities have to rely on private money for funding, because they can't get public money. http://www.salon.com/2012/07/25/the_nras_war_on_gun_science/

      February 22, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
      • TPaine7

        In 1994 Rosenberg, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention, a division of the National Centers for Disease Control, laid out his plan to use taxpayer dollars to make guns like smoking—“dirty, deadly-and banned.” He had plenty of company in the medical profession. You can read about the history here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/02/12/why-the-centers-for-disease-control-should-not-receive-gun-research-funding/

        The CDC admitted 9 years later in 2003 that their tasks force had “found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.” http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5214a2.htm . So clearly Rosenberg's crusade was not based on data.

        Science starts with hypotheses, but it relies on data. The CDC and fellow travelers started with the conclusion and shoehorned carefully crafted “studies” into supporting their predetermined policies.

        Only by leaving out this inconvenient history can Slate and other publications leave honest people with the impression you got.

        February 23, 2014 at 12:22 am |
      • TPaine7

        I meant "Salon" not "Slate".

        February 23, 2014 at 12:31 am |
      • Herschel Smith

        Wrong. What the NRA managed to accomplish was prevention of my tax dollars from funding such research. You can still pay your own money voluntarily to fund this "research." I'm sure that they will give you the address for sending your check in. I'll keep my own money, thank you.


        February 23, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
      • Chris W

        And Herschel Smith, we are back to the "we dont believe the results of research funded privately" argument. The circular logic you guys have is amazing.

        April 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm |
    • Troy Scott

      People that work 40 or more hours a week are less likely to commit crime. This is just common knowledge but can be confirmed by the FBI or the CDC if you so choose. Now this article points the finger at this legislation as the cause for increased GUN crime. However there was a parallel increase in all crime. Advocates of gun control tend to leave out such info. Interesting is that if you look at the unemployment rate http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/missouri/. You find that crime rates actually follow the unemployment rate very closely. They also use the Australian gun laws as a good example of why gun laws work. They use all kinds of charts and statistics. However in 1992 when the gun ban was put in place they had an unemployment rate of 11% over the next 15 years it dropped to 4% and gun crimes dropped as well. Now they are facing increasing unemployment. The interesting thing is that even though they have not laxed any gun laws they are now seeing an increase in gun murders. Truly amazing

      February 23, 2014 at 9:59 am |
  2. chrissy

    Exciting isn't it lol?

    February 22, 2014 at 4:13 am |
  3. Triple Lindy

    "ohn Lott's 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime. Enough said.

    February 22, 2014 at 9:52 am |
    • Billy Thomas

      Actually, researchers found Lott's study had an error in the coding of the data set that means is numbers in that book are worthless. Easy to find that information if you Google it. Also, look at the murder rates in other developed countries and compare them with the U.S. Very, very easy to find the numbers online and they show clearly that the murder rates in evry country with strict gun control are MUCH lower than the U.S. Like I said, the numbers for homicide rates per country are very easy to find, so you'll be able to see for yourself.

      February 22, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
      • Triple Lindy

        Don't compare apples to oranges. In the study of logical reasoning terms, this is called conflation, the treatment of two different concepts as one. The USA cannot be compared to any other country.
        Please post a link to the errors of Dr. Lott's research. And I mean a real academic work, not something like Media Matters or Paul Krugman's blog. There is a whole list of studies available have duplicated his research on gun control. Do a search, you will find it.

        February 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm |
      • Billy Thomas

        Triple Lindy – here you go. A discussion on this with links to a Stanford study on Lott's claims that appears to show a habit of changing data to suit. http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2003/04/25/0426/
        And why exactly can't we compare the United States to other countries? Because it doesn't suit your argument? Surely when every other developed country shows a certain pattern, that might say at least SOMETHING about the United States, no? If every other developed nation shows a pattern, why would the U.S. be the only one where the ruled son't apply? By your logic, no country can learn anything from the way it is done somewhere else. I think we should be learning lessons from wherever we can on any issue. I'd say any country that thinks they are so unique they have nothing to learn from anywhere else is pretty dumb, to be honest.

        February 23, 2014 at 3:55 pm |
      • Billy Thomas

        Triple Lindy – Sometimes common sense is that for a reason. It just makes sense because it's reality. If you stand in the middle of a busy road, you're more likely to get run over. If you juggle with sharp knives, you are more likely to cut yourself. If someone who wants to hurt other people walks into a cafe, they are more likely to be able to kill people with a gun than a baseball bat. Countries like Britain have very similar rates of violent crime to the United States, and yet the murder rate in the U.S. is two or three times higher in the U.S. That is just a fact. And common sense says that is because guns are deadlier than a knife. And any gun owner who tries to dispute this should then tell me why they don't just keep knives in their house rather than a gun?

        February 23, 2014 at 4:01 pm |
      • Triple Lindy

        So your answer to using a logical fallacy is to offer another logical fallacy and claim it is common sense? I give up, have a nice life.

        February 23, 2014 at 5:54 pm |
      • Billy Thomas

        Triple Lindy – Not everything you disagree with is a "logical fallacy." It's nice and all that you have learned a new phrase. But sometimes when someone disagrees with you it's called basic reasoning.

        February 24, 2014 at 8:47 am |
      • Contrarian

        Yup – I looked it up...this is what I found:

        "Britain's violent crime record is worse than any other country in the European union, it has been revealed.

        Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa – widely considered one of the world's most dangerous countries."


        Oh – wait - isn't that what you meant?

        March 9, 2014 at 7:50 pm |
      • Chris W

        The daily mall article is very interesting – claims it is "official figures" but then says it was complied by Tories. And no links to the actual research. Look it up – Here's a great article that breaks it down for you. http://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2013/01/12/fact-checking-ben-swann-is-the-uk-really-5-times-more-violent-than-the-us/

        April 18, 2014 at 5:22 pm |
      • Chris W

        Oh wait, yes, that is what he meant...

        April 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm |
  4. Symbol of Unity

    It is a proven certainty that guns are a convenient tool for hunting, but clearly also a weapon for people to keep the peace, defend themselves, or kill one another. This is not by any means a mistake, it is entirely by design. The next time you see a large marching parade of soldiers with their rifles in military pomp on some street or some square somewhere, just think..... one small bomb can cleanly wipe out every one of them and all their guns in about a second. And a larger bomb will not only do that, but completely obliterate the entire city where they happen to be marching, and then some. So, who's your daddy?

    February 22, 2014 at 10:00 am |
  5. Perry

    How scholarly a presentation am I reading when I see "data that isn’t widely . . . " instead of "that aren't"?

    February 22, 2014 at 11:35 pm |
    • TPaine7

      The word "data" can be either plural or singular. Both uses are proper English.

      February 23, 2014 at 12:30 am |
      • Eduardo

        Datum is singular, Data is plural. Perhaps "common" English regards Data as a singular noun, but the scientific community does not.

        February 25, 2014 at 11:55 am |
  6. wii ned moar gunz

    wii ned moar gunz 2 pertek uz frum pepl wit moar gunz dan wii gat. demokrates unly wunt 2 tayk awey r gunz n jezuz 2. demokrates wunt 2 raz taxiz fer skools 2. wii kin bii hom skoold lyk wii r dun sowt. iv demokrates raz mi taxiz i wunt bii abl 2 bi er dubl wyde tralr.

    February 23, 2014 at 1:34 am |
    • CommonSense5201

      And which radical left shadow organization funded this post?

      February 23, 2014 at 8:42 am |
  7. Benedict

    Strict control,less deaths!;simple as THAT!!!!.

    February 23, 2014 at 2:40 am |
    • Contrarian

      Except that it's not ...simple I mean. In states that began allowing their population to carry a firearm for protection, violent crime dropped. Time after time, state after state.

      Chicago has [had, as now they are required by SCOTUS to change] over 4gun deaths in 2012.
      "This past week, my city achieved a melancholy landmark: 500 murders have occurred here this year. 87% percent of these murders, or 435 of them, were committed with guns. " http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2012_12/500_murders_in_chicago_in_2012042087.php

      March 9, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
  8. CommonSense5201

    Is this the same 'scientific' study that intentionally failed to reference that the 17% raise was in contrast to the 32% raise prior? In other words, that it was actually a reduction in rate of growth? I am certainly not saying that it is clearly causal or that it isn't ... merely asking for a wee bit of integrity from those determined to push their own agenda ...

    February 23, 2014 at 8:41 am |
  9. Ivan

    lol all this talk bout guns makes me want to go buy another. I'm thinking an AK for the reliability factor. and the bigger round. never been a huge fan of m4s.

    February 23, 2014 at 9:25 am |
    • Troy Scott

      The AK 7.62 is good at close range but not a distance shooter. The Mini 14 has got better reliability and uses the same ammo as the AR/M4. Yes the accuracy is just slightly less but I stress just slightly since they upgraded the barrel on the new ones. As for firepower it is identical. The real funny thing is that the Mini-14 is legal in New York. I guess it just does not have the look. If you really want both the firepower, range, and accuracy and you have the thick pocketbook go for the Socom 16. Good luck

      February 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
  10. Ron

    This is a good article. It points out that even for criminals getting guns is not necessarily easy. In a more important sense – the article points out that there is a lot we don't know: " But our perceptions of reality can be distorted by the things that we don’t see every day – what the media does not or cannot report." If both sides could just agree on using the scientific method: hypothesis and test, to determine the truth we can find some common ground.

    February 23, 2014 at 12:47 pm |
    • Ross

      Ron, you are one of the "sheeple". Yahoo has gone so left wing that I'm looking for another email somewhere else. Yahoo puts up anti-gun articles by the hundreds, but never the many, many stories about people who have used a gun in self-defense to save their lives, or someone else's. Like all left wingers, Yahoo never tells the full story. One so-called study means nothing. Crime rates have fallen in many areas. As far as buying illegal guns goes, you can buy an illegal gun on the streets of just about every city in America. And, if guns were outlawed, as with prohibition, illegal guns would be smuggled to the criminals. Canada has severe gun laws, but the gangs in Vancouver have them–all they want, in fact. You need to read the American Rifleman once in a while and read about all the people who have saved their life and others because they used a gun.

      February 23, 2014 at 8:26 pm |
  11. chrissy

    Hmm most "left wing" people i know are pro gun. Odd huh?

    February 23, 2014 at 9:19 pm |
    • Contrarian

      Decidedly. Keep the faith. 🙂

      March 9, 2014 at 7:58 pm |
  12. Roland33

    I think Americans hate gun laws because they usually do not make sense and are little more then a ineffective and expensive nuisance.If gun crime goes down by limiting availabiliity you cannot have laws that just restrict say, magazine capacity or restrict the length of a gun or whatever else they come up with.I also think that if there was a outright ban and citizens see the streets being cleaned of guns and gun crime go down they will be less hesitant to give up their own.I live in a country where guns have been banned since before the first world war,and I have never felt the need to own a gun because gun crime is so rare the only time I imagine I might want a gun is with some type of invasion.

    February 24, 2014 at 4:40 pm |
  13. chrissy

    So true @ Roland33, personally im not a fan of guns. However i do understand why responsible gun owners are upset. The previous gun laws, and there are many, havent been enforced! How is adding more going to make it better? If the government wants to be proactive they need to enforce the laws they presently have dont add more! Another case where more is not always better!

    February 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm |
  14. RedstarBear

    We are not and never will be British we proved that in 1776 Roland33. Laws are followed by the law abiding wouldn't you agree. Criminals just as the "crazy" right wing NRA suggests by definition do not follow laws. Think they just talking out of their butts? Pick up the Oxford dictionary and look up "criminal ".

    February 25, 2014 at 2:01 am |
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