Missouri’s decision to repeal its law requiring all handgun purchasers to obtain a “permit-to-purchase” (PTP) verifying they passed a background check led to a 25 percent increase in the state’s firearm murder rate, a new study from Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has found. The additional gun murders occurred as the national and regional homicide rates decreased.
State legislators eliminated the permit requirement in June of 2007, as part of a larger firearms bill granting criminal and civil immunity to homeowners who use deadly force against intruders. Proponents of the change, which included the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, boasted that the measure would streamline the purchasing process, save residents the $10 processing fee, and reduce the wait times.
“It’s something we’ve advocated for some time,” Kevin Jamison, president the National Rifle Association affiliate in the state, told the Kansas City Star in August 2007. “This makes it easier for people to buy firearms. They don’t have to get permission first.”
Using state-level murder data for the time period 1999-2012, researchers concluded that removing the licensing requirement contributed to an “additional 55 to 63 murders per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012.” The increases occurred in the first full year after the repeal, during which the state saw “large increases in the number of guns diverted to criminals and in guns purchased in Missouri that were subsequently recovered by police in border states that retained their PTP laws.”
The analysts controlled “for changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime,” a press release for the study says.
“This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and the study’s lead author. “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.”
Federal law only requires background checks and record-keeping for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers, but 14 states and Washington D.C. also mandate checks for private handgun sales (10 of these states require that the buyers obtain a permit-to-purchase license). Research has found that states with more expansive background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults.
Update: A June 2015 study by the same group at Johns Hopkins provides further support for the initial findings. The study, which reviewed the homicide rate in the 10 years before and after Connecticut enacted their “permit to purchase” law, found that the licensing requirement led to a 40 percent reduction in gun-related homicides. During that same time period, there was not a similar drop in non-firearm homicides, confirming the correlation between the permit law and the drop in gun homicides.