Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Missouri Accidentally Made the Case for Gun Background Checks

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Missouri Accidentally Made the Case for Gun Background Checks

Article excerpt

In May 2007, the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 62, extending the so-called "castle doctrine" of armed self-defense from the home to anywhere a person legally had the right to be. Essentially it was a "stand your ground" law, touted as a response to the shooting deaths of 32 people on the Virginia Tech University campus the previous month.

It wasn't, really. Then as now, except for law enforcement officers, carrying weapons is banned on college campuses in Missouri. For that matter, the same policy still applies at Virginia Tech. But pro-gun laws are not passed because they are good policy. They're passed because lawmakers believe in gun myths or fear losing their job to someone who does.

Then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, signed SB 62 and it went into effect in August 2007. Since then Senate Bill 62 may have been responsible for as many as 544 homicides in Missouri gun killings that had nothing to with the castle doctrine or standing your ground. They happened because of a part of SB 62 that went almost unnoticed.

The bill eliminated a provision that had been in Missouri law since 1921, requiring buyers of handguns to get a permit from their county sheriff or police department. The sheriff had seven days to review the application and conduct a background check on the buyer.

After that provision was eliminated, gun homicides went up 25 percent in Missouri, a study at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Gun Policy and Research has found. That's anywhere from 49 to 68 extra gun killings a year. Applying that over eight years, that's 392 to 544 more homicides.

The study was completed in December 2013. It is getting new attention as Congress, in the wake of the Oct. 1 killings of nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., once again considers a federal background check law. The Roseburg incident was at least the 18th public mass shooting taking four or more lives since the Virginia Tech tragedy. There were 90 such incidents between 2006 and 2012.

Background checks would not have stopped most of them; the killers got their guns legally. But checks might have prevented a few thousand of the individual killings that don't get big headlines.

According to Gun Violence Archive, another private tracking effort, through Oct. 19 of this year there have been 10,544 gun killings in the United States. If the data for the Missouri study were applied across the board, a 25 percent reduction would mean 2,636 fewer killings this year alone. It probably would be less than that, as 16 states still require some form of background checks.

Still, even if it's "just" 2,000 or 2,200, isn't it worth trying? Over a full year, we might save almost as many victims as died in the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11, 2001.

Daniel W. Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins, was lead author of the Missouri study published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Urban Health. …

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