Sunday, January 10, 2016

Big Shots in the Show Me State

The National Rifle Association tells us that looser gun laws make us safer, just as they have fomented legislation to limit state and federal agencies from compiling statistical information and conducting research into gun homicides. Some broad-stroke numbers do break through, and private organizations laboriously culling through public records have been able to conduct research. Without fail, the numbers tell us that the more guns permeate any state, the easier it is to get weapons, the more sophisticated the arms, the more people die. A knife is pretty inefficient if killing is your preference (messy and not always fatal) and bombs are really hard to make and detonate without putting the bomber at risk. Guns, well, really effective.
Missouri used to be relatively normal when it came to gun deaths. Then the legislature made so much easier to buy guns. “Missouri began changing its gun laws after the Republican Party won control of the State House in 2002 for the first time in years. But many Democrats also supported relaxing the restrictions… In the past decade, Missouri has been a natural experiment in what happens when a state relaxes its gun control laws. For decades, it had one of the nation’s strongest measures to keep guns from dangerous people: a requirement that all handgun buyers get a gun permit by undergoing a background check in person at a sheriff’s office.
“[The] legislature repealed that in 2007 and approved a flurry of other changes, including, in 2014, lowering the legal age to carry a concealed gun to 19. What has followed may help answer a central question of the gun control debate: Does allowing people to more easily obtain guns make society safer or more dangerous?...
“It is difficult to isolate the impact of gun laws in a single state, given the pervasiveness of interstate trafficking and illegal markets, but a variety of measures, including a marked increase in police seizures of guns bought in-state, suggest the changes in Missouri’s laws have had some effect.
Research by Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that in the first six years after the state repealed the requirement for comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, the gun homicide rate was 16 percent higher than it was the six years before. During the same period, the national rate declined by 11 percent. After Professor Webster controlled for poverty and other factors that could influence the homicide rate, and took into account homicide rates in other states, the result was slightly higher, rising by 18 percent in Missouri.
“Federal death data released this month for 2014 showed a continuation of the trend, he said. Before the repeal, from 1999 to 2006, Missouri’s gun homicide rate was 13.8 percent higher than the national rate. From 2008 to 2014, it was 47 percent higher. (The new data also showed that the national death rate from guns was equal to that from motor vehicle crashes for the first time since the government began systematically tracking it.)
“Other measures suggested that criminals had easier access to guns after the permit law was repealed. Professor Webster analyzed data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and found that the share of guns that were linked to crimes soon after they were bought doubled in the state from 2006 to 2010. The portion of guns confiscated by the police in Missouri that had been originally bought in the state — ordinarily a very stable statistic — rose to 74 percent last year, from 56 percent before the law changed.” New York Times, December 21st.
Strangely enough, this concern over guns may have been spurred by the spate of mass killings over the past few years, but of the more than 30 thousand gun deaths every year, only 2% of those fatalities fall into those multiple victim shootings category. “Rigorous scientific research on universal background checks is sparse, in part because federal funding for it is practically nonexistent. [Thank you NRA.] A number of states toughened their laws after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., but the changes were too recent to evaluate the effects. Missouri was the only state in recent history to repeal a law requiring background checks and permits for all handgun sales, and Professor Webster said he had been drawn to study the aftermath because many had considered that type of law to be the most effective at keeping guns from people who should not have them. In 1995 Connecticut enacted a law similar to the one Missouri repealed, and gun homicides declined by 40 percent in the 10 years that followed, he found…
“The changes tapped into profound differences between rural and urban Americans about guns. The state legislature is predominantly white, rural and suburban, but the effects of the laws it makes are felt largely in Missouri’s cities, where gun homicides are one of the biggest causes of death for young black men. In Professor Webster’s analysis, the gun homicide rate rose by 20 percent in metropolitan areas of Missouri, but was up by just 1.6 percent in rural areas. However, gun suicides, largely a rural, white problem, rose by about 16 percent in the years after the repeal, he found.” NY Times.
As I have stated repeatedly, the notion of open and relatively unrestricted use of guns is distinctly a rural value once the hallmark of our pioneering days. But today, despite the gerrymandering that has placed predominantly rural values Republican legislatures and governors into a majority of our states, the United States is, according to the U.S. Census, is over 80% urban. It is a perfect mismatch. Common sense would tell you that more guns, especially high-killing efficiency semi-automatic weapons with oversized magazines, will result in more gun deaths.
Where statistics can be gathered, the theory has become a whole lot closer to confirmed fact. And the more dense the population (like people living close to each other in cities), the greater the potential for friction and criminal gun deaths. The June 19th Washington Post presented a detailed study that provided that for every justifiable gun homicide, there are 34 gun criminal deaths, 78 suicides-by-gun and two accidental gun fatalities.
NRA VP, Wayne LaPierre’s maxim – "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun." – is wrong. Dead Wrong. We need fewer guns, less lethal guns and a whole lot of checking before a few legitimate weapons should be allowed. And each and every one of us needs to pressure our state and federal representatives to move toward common sense. Impossible? A career killer for any politician espousing making the United States safer? It will take a huge grassroots response. We just need to try and keep trying until we stop killing ourselves with these weapons.
I’m Peter Dekom, and for any American who has traveled virtually anywhere and spoken to locals about U.S. gun policies knows they think we are out of our minds, atavistic cowboys that just don’t fit into a modern world.

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