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In 2007, Missouri repealed its purchaser licensing and background check requirement, resulting in a 25% increase in firearm homicides and an overall 14% increase in murders over the subsequent five years.


The rise in gun deaths is directly attributable to the repeal of the licensing and background check requirement as the firearm homicide rate during the same period did not increase in adjoining states nor did the national average rise.


How do we know this was due to the repeal of purchaser licensing?

* The study, conducted by the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, controlled for changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime.

* It also examined firearm homicide rates in border states and nationally, but only Missouri experienced a significant increase. In fact, over the same period that Missouri’s overall murder rate increased 14%, the U.S. murder rate declined 5%!

* After Missouri’s repeal, murders not involving a gun remained unchanged, meaning the sole cause of Missouri’s surging murder rate was the increase in firearm homicide. 

* Missouri state police also reported a huge increase in crime guns originating from within Missouri rather than from other states, proving that unfettered (easier) access to guns in Missouri leads to a greater loss of Missourian lives.

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Connecticut, however, continues to benefit from its handgun purchaser licensing law passed in 1994.  A new study estimates that the law led to a 40% decline in homicides committed with a firearm during the 10-years following the implementation of the licensing requirement.


* Compared with other states that did not adopt a handgun purchaser licensing law but had firearm homicide trends very similar to those of Connecticut before it implemented the law, Connecticut experienced a much larger decline in firearm homicide rates during the 10-years after its law went into effect.

* Murders not involving a gun did not see a similar decrease, making it clear that the reduction in homicides in Connecticut were not due to social factors that affect all violence, but were specific to the target of the handgun purchaser licensing requirement.

* When compared to a weighted average of similar states that did not have handgun purchaser licensing, Connecticut’s reduction was more significant… providing additional proof that handgun purchaser licensing  bolsters a state’s ability to keep handguns out of the wrong hands.

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2States Short VersionMissouri repealed its handgun purchaser licensing requirement and has paid dearly for it, seeing its firearm homicide rate increase 25%. Connecticut, however, has only benefited from its firearm purchaser licensing requirement, seeing its firearm homicide rate decrease 40%.

These percentages equate to real people whose lives have been saved or needlessly lost. While both states are great places to live, there is no question that Missourians are less safe today than they were when licensing was required on handgun purchasers.

We all deserve to be safe from gun-related crime. With more than 90% of firearm homicides being committed with handguns, it’s time for all states to enact handgun purchaser licensing and background checks on all handgun sales. And it’s politically feasible!



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In 2013, Maryland became the most recent state to enact life-saving handgun purchaser licensing legislation. The Firearm Safety Act of 2013 requires that all handgun purchasers must first go through a fingerprint-based background check, safety training and get a license from the state police before purchasing a handgun. As we know from the experience of other states, these measures will keep handguns out of the wrong hands and save lives. Although it is too early to measure the full impact of the new law, we do know that in the first eleven months of 2014, there was 21% decrease in gun deaths in Maryland compared to the first 11 months of 2013 (the law took effect on October 1, 2013).

AdFundraiserMaryland was able to enact this life-saving measure because of a broad coalition of the faith community, community groups such as the NAACP and law enforcement leaders. A letter was sent to the Maryland General Assembly by the top Christian faith leaders in the state, the Ecumenical Leaders Group, strongly endorsing the fingerprint licensing provision. In addition, polling showed that the vast majority of Marylanders, including 68% of gun owners, supported fingerprint licensing of handgun purchasers. This popular support was reflected in many calls and emails received by lawmakers in support of the measure and a highly successful rally of gun violence prevention supporters in the state capitol of Annapolis.

Clearly, in Maryland, fingerprint licensing was good policy and good politics. Further evidence of both can be seen in the fact that the gun lobby did not challenge this provision either at the polls or in court. After the Firearm Safety Act passed in the Spring of 2013, the gun lobby could have obtained the signatures to put the law on the ballot in 2014. They chose not to even try to do this because they knew they would have lost. Further, although the gun lobby filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the assault weapons ban in the Firearm Safety Act, they did not event challenge any other provision of the law, including the fingerprint licensing provision, in court. They knew they would lose there also.

Now, Marylanders need other states to follow their example. When a state like Maryland enacts fingerprint licensing of handgun purchasers, over time more and more of the guns traced to crime in that state will tend to come from other states because it becomes so much harder for criminals to get guns bought in the state with fingerprint licensing. For example, in New Jersey, which has had fingerprint licensing since the 1960’s, 80% of guns traced to crime come from other states. So, the best thing for Marylanders, and for the rest of the country also, would be for every state to enact life-saving fingerprint licensing of handgun purchasers.

U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland has introduced federal legislation to incentivize states to adopt licensing of all handgun purchasers. The Trace provides a great overview of Rep. Van Hollen’s bill and the power of handgun purchaser licensing (also called “permit to purchase”) – check out their piece here. Our favorite snippet:

“In the past, some advocates of tougher gun laws have rallied around measures — such as assault-weapons bans — that hold more symbolic power than they do violence prevention benefits. Legislation like Van Hollen’s is built on a different criteria: What actually works?”