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Report: Missouri among worst states for gun violence, trafficking

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Missouri ranks among the worst 10 states with “the highest levels of gun violence” in recent years while its gun-control laws are relatively lax, a new study of gun violence indicators says.

The report by the liberal Center for American Progress think tank found a rough correlation between high levels of gun violence and weak state gun laws. But gun rights and libertarian groups criticized the report’s methodology as biased.

The category where Missouri ranked as the worst of 50 states was in the “time to crime” measure of how quickly a gun is used to commit a crime. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) says a “strong indicator” of illegal gun trafficking is when the time between getting a gun and using it to commit a crime is less than two years.

In Missouri, the percentage of guns used in crimes in 2009 that were in that short “time to crime” category was a whopping 40.2 percent, according to a Mayors Against Illegal Guns study. That contrasts with the national average of 22.6 percent, and Illinois’ 17 percent. The only other state anywhere close to Missouri’s level was Arizona, at 30 percent.

The CAP analysis said Missouri’s relatively lax gun laws “make Missouri a favorite state for gun traffickers to purchase guns.” In 2009, the report said, people or firms in Missouri “sold almost 600 guns that went on to be used in crimes in other states.”

Illinois scored lower than Missouri on most per-capita gun violence measures. Chelsea Parsons, a coauthor of the report who is CAP’s associate director of crime and firearms policy, noted in an interview that Illnois has stricter gun control laws than does Missouri, 

Illinois’ gun laws rank as the 16th strongest among states, compared to Missouri’s middling ranking of 24, Parsons said. While Illinois’ overall per-capita gun violence ranking is 36th, Missouri’s had the 8th highest gun violence level when all 10 indicators were taken into account.

“Missouri is ranked 8th overall for the worst state levels of gun violence across our indicators,” said Parsons. “And it ranks in the top 10 in some individual categories, in terms of the worst levels” of gun violence. “It was ranked fourth among the states for the highest level of gun homicides in 2010.”

Gun violence indicators differ for Missouri, Illinois

Those indicators, and the rank of Missouri and Illinois on them, include:

  • Firearm deaths among children up to age 17 from 2001-2010: Missouri ranks 6th highest (2.9 deaths per 100,000 children). Illinois ranks 14th highest (2.4 deaths per 100,000). The national average was 1.95 deaths. In 2010 alone, the report said 62 children in Missouri were killed by guns.
  • Firearm homicides, 2010:  Missouri ranks 4th highest (5.59 deaths per 100,000 persons.) Illinois ranks 11th highest (4.5 deaths per 100,000). The national average was 3.59 deaths.
  • Overall firearm deaths, 2001-2010:  Missouri ranks 16th highest (12.94 deaths per 100,000). Illinois ranks 37th highest (8.68). The national average was 10.33 deaths. In that decade, 7,525 people were killed by guns in Missouri. That is almost 50 percent more than the number of U.S. combat deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined, the study said.
  • Overall firearm deaths, 2010: Missouri ranks 14th highest (14.13 deaths per 100,000). Illinois ranks 41st (8.29). The national average was 10.26 deaths.
  • Aggregate rankings for “gun violence outcomes” across 10 categories:    Missouri ranks 8th highest, Illinois 36th.
  • Firearm suicides, 2010: Missouri ranks 22nd (9.17 deaths per 100,000). Illinois ranks 44th (3.44). The national average was 6.28 firearm suicides per 100,000.
  • Law-enforcement agents feloniously killed with firearms, 2002-2011: Missouri ranks 15th, with 11 killings (0.19 per 100,000). Illinois ranks 30th , with 16 killings (0.13). The national average was 0.02 per 100,000 persons.
  • Aggravated assaults with a firearm, 2011: Missouri ranks 5th (88.9 assaults per 100,000). Illinois is tied for 34th (23.43). The national average was 51.13 assaults.  With 5,290 cases in 2011, “there was an aggravated assault with a firearm in the state every one-and-a-half hours,” the study said.
  • Percentage of crime guns with short “time to crime” in 2009: Missouri ranks first (40.2 percent with short “time to crime” span). Illinois ranks 41st (17.1 percent). The national average was 22.6 percent.

The report’s Missouri summary is here. There is no separate report on Illinois because it did not rank in the top 10 states for gun violence.

Gun rights groups criticize CAP report

Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, generally dismissed the CAP study as using a flawed methodology that cherry-picked statistical data and did not take into account the impact of gun ownership on deterring crime.

“The real world experience of guns obviously is that they are harmful in the wrong hands and protective in the right hands,” policy analyst David B. Kopel of the libertarian Cato Institute think tank told the New York Times. “So you want to look at both effects.”

Kopel pointed out that high rates of gun violence in states with less stringent regulation of guns did not necessarily indicate higher overall crime rates. “Is Louisiana a low-control state with a lot of crime? Absolutely,” he said. “On the other hand, New York and California are clearly dangerous states in comparison to the rest of the country, and they’re also very high-control states.”

In an interview, Parsons defended the CAP study’s methodology and conclusions. “We looked at data from the FBI, the CDC and the ATF concerning various indicators of gun violence,” said Parsons, “and then we ranked the states, according to that data, on each of the 10 indicators in gun violence we looked at. We also came up with an aggregate ranking of the states across all 10 indicators.”

She said the correlation between state gun laws and level of gun violence was clear, although she conceded that such a correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

“Across the key indicators of gun violence that we analyzed, the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively have an aggregate level of gun violence that is more than twice as high — 104 percent higher, in fact — than the 10 states with the strongest gun laws,” Parsons said.

The state with the highest rate of gun homicides was Louisiana; it was rated as having the 5th weakest gun laws. The states with the lowest overall rates of gun violence – Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York – were among those rated as having the most restrictive gun laws.

Rating strength of gun laws in Missouri, Illinois

Every state takes a somewhat different approach to regulating firearms, so the CAP study used an extensive analysis by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to rate the relative strengths – and weaknesses – of states' gun laws.

That study examined 29 policy approaches to gun violence, with states getting points for strong laws that seek to prevent gun violence, such as requiring background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and requiring applicants to show the need to carrying a concealed weapons before getting a permit to carry one.

Missouri did not rank among the worst states (led by South Dakota and Mississippi), but Parson said its ranking of 24th indicated relatively weak gun laws. And the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave the state’s gun-control laws an F grade. 

In contrast, Illinois was ranked as having the 8th strongest gun laws among the states.

The specific report on Missouri’s gun laws said:

  • The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Missouri four out of a possible 100 points on its 2011 scorecard and ranked the state 39th out of 50 for the strength of its gun laws.
  • The state’s relatively lax gun laws “make Missouri a favorite state for gun traffickers to purchase guns.”
  • In 2009, firms or individuals in Missouri sold almost 600 guns that went on to be used in crimes in other states.
Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.