JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's lax gun laws have led to an increase in gun violence throughout the state, according to a new study by a Johns Hopkins University professor.
The issue of gun violence has been a major theme in the General Assembly and on the national stage since last year's deadly mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut. Missouri Democrats who, like President Barack Obama, want stricter gun control measures are fighting an uphill battle given the state's and Missouri Republicans' gun-friendly tilt.
The study's author, Johns Hopkins University professor and researcher Daniel Webster said this week that while gun violence has declined across the country, Missouri's has increased. The study shows that between 2008 and 2010, homicides involving firearms in Missouri have increased 25 percent, while the national rate declined by 10 percent.
"No other state is changing in that way or in that direction," he said.
Missouri's 2007 repeal of its "permit to acquire" law as part of an omnibus crime bill is at least partially responsible for the increase in violence, he said. The study was not focused on the repeal, but Webster used it as an example of how loosening gun control can increase violence.
Prior to the law's repeal, people seeking a permit to acquire a gun had to pay $10 and meet certain criteria. Permits were not given to people under 21, alcoholics, drug users, people previously committed to a mental institution or those convicted of a crime with a sentence greater than one year.
Also, Missourians buying a gun from a licensed dealer or in a private sale were required to get their permit from the local sheriff's office, a process that included a background check, fingerprinting and showing photo identification.
Currently, licensed dealers still must do an instant federal background check, but private citizens involved in handgun sales are no longer required to do so. That opens the possibility of someone being able to buy a handgun without a background check.
"Now, there is no legal obligation for anyone in Missouri ... if you got the money then you got the gun," Webster said.
At the time, supporters argued that repealing the permit would not aid criminals because they probably didn't follow the law anyway. But Webster's research could contradict that argument.
He found that "sale-to-crime" rates have doubled since the state repealed its permit law. Typically, guns found at crime scenes have been purchased at least a decade before their use in a crime. But Webster guns are being used in crimes that were purchased less than a year before.
Webster's research probably won't convince the Republican-controlled legislature to even consider, much less act on gun control.
Republicans have considered numerous "pro-gun" measures this year and remain largely convinced that gun control measures impede the ability for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves. One Republican lawmaker responded to a Democratic proposal to ban assault weapons by filing legislation to send colleagues to prison for even proposing gun control and on Wednesday, a House committee adopted a measure that would nullify any future federal laws that restrict firearms.
"A firearm is like a parachute. If you need one, and you don't have one, you probably won't need it again," said Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles.