Do Gun Background Checks Work? Yes, According To Compelling New Analysis

It's official: a statewide study has found that credible evidence that background-check gun laws save lives, according to the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The center examined the state of Missouri, which in 2007 struck down a law that had required gun buyers to present a permit proving they'd passed a criminal background check. The result? Buying a gun became easier in Missouri, and the state then saw a 16 percent increase in its murder rate.

That's an extra 55 to 63 killings per year, from 2008 through 2012. The John Hopkins Center also found evidence of a spill-over effect into Missouri's neighboring states, finding "large increases" in Missouri-bought guns turned up by out-of-state police.

Still, the study had some problems conclusively linking cause to effect. In the same year Missouri repealed the background-check law, the state launched its own "stand your ground" law, which complicates the findings. But the idea that the law saved lives is bolstered by a corresponding uptick in a specific and crucial area: The rate of guns being sold from dealers directly into the hands of criminals, which is essentially the sole preventative ideal of the background check.

And thanks to the so-called "gun show loophole," the majority of states allow private person-to-person gun selling without any background checks.

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The John Hopkins study is a major step in assembling a practical case for background checks as a useful form of gun control. Background check laws are generally popular with Americans, according to polls (gun-owner or not, people love 'em.) But gun-control activists have had a tough time of late, especially in California, where earlier this week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned much of the state's existing regulations on concealed guns.

Tom Diaz, former director of the Violence Policy Center, told The New Republic he's skeptical whether the John Hopkins findings will make any difference, given the broader political climate.

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. ...The debate is just unhinged from the facts.