Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found a direct link between Missouri's repeal of a law requiring background checks for gun buyers and an uptick in murder rates. The findings should be enough to make states seriously consider implementing background check laws, but there's no reason to think they actually will.
According to the study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Urban Health, Missouri's murder rate went up by 16 percent from 2008 to 2012, in the years following the state's block of its permit-to-purchase (PTP) handgun law. Under that law, each Missouri resident buying a handgun would first need a license showing that she has passed a background check. The authors write that a number of guns purchased in Missouri were recovered by police in bordering states that had not repealed their PTP laws, showing that the ramifications of poor gun laws extend beyond state lines. They also found that a larger number of guns were diverted to criminals after the gun regulation was loosened.
According to lead author Daniel Webster, the results are pretty black and white:
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.
Though the report may offer the most robust support of background checks, its findings are not at all surprising. It's reasonable to want people to undergo basic security checks before allowing them to purchase a firearm, just as it would be reasonable to deny individuals with a history of violence, criminal activity or mental illness access to deadly weapons. But as former Violence Policy Center analyst Tom Diaz tells the New Republic, “I don’t mean to diminish the value of the study, but I don’t think it could have made a difference last year, and I don’t think it will now." He adds, "The debate is just unhinged from the facts.”
Not only is the debate unhinged from the facts, but it's unhinged from viscerally frightening anecdotal evidence that gun violence is out of control. Like say, a Florida man shot to death for texting in a theater, teenage girl shot to death for pulling a prank, teenage boy shot to death for playing loud music, and so on. There's also public opinion, according to the study, a 2013 Johns Hopkins poll found that 89 percent of Americans support a mandatory background check for firearm sales. So why aren't evidence, fear and public opinion enough to pressure lawmakers to enact potentially life-saving legislation?
If you guessed "the NRA," you're right. The New Republic explains there's very little federal money allotted to gun control studies and that the NRA had a heavy hand in limiting these funds:
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, found that the shortage of data stems from a shortage of funding — especially federal funding. In 1996, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby pushed Congress to eliminate the $2.6 million appropriation that underwrote the Center for Disease Control’s research on firearm injuries. President Barack Obama ended the funding freeze last year.
The gun lobby, on the other hand, has plenty of money to proliferate their cause. Think Progress reported in 2012 that the NRA pushed hard for Florida's stand-your-ground law, introduced by then-Senator Durell Peaden in 2005, calling the legislation a correction for "a serious problem for citizens who chose to protect themselves in the face of attack by violent criminals." The bill was portrayed as legal defense for homeowners who shot invaders in self defense, and other citizens in similar situations. The law was later used to defend George Zimmerman's killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
And gun enthusiasts are also very vocal about their rights. According to the Washington Post, people who own guns are more politically engaged than people who don't, so their voices are more likely to be heard. The Post reports:
One in five gun owners say they've called, written or emailed a public official to express their views on the gun issue. Just one in 10 of those in households without a gun say the same. The disparity is even greater when it comes to making donations to organizations involved in the issue; 19 percent of gun owners say they've given money while just 4 percent in non-gun households say the same.
The Post points out that this means representatives are more likely to vote to loosen gun laws (even though they likely wouldn't take a political hit if they voted to strengthen them.) Between moneyed interests and a vocal minority, a research study doesn't stand a chance.