By Emma Thomas
One bullet is all it takes to change someone’s life forever. For Jennifer Longdon and her fiance, it was five. Jennifer and David, who was her fiance at the time, were sitting in a drive-thru getting dinner. Out of nowhere, a truck sideswiped their car and opened fire on them. Both were near death once the firing ceased. Their lives were permanently altered after that day. Gun violence affects the people of the United States every single day. It continues to worsen as gun laws continually become weaker. Missouri is one of the states with the weakest laws and some of the worst gun violence. To save innocent people from the trauma that gun violence brings, Missouri’s current gun laws need to be reviewed, and new, stronger laws should be enacted.
Citizens of the United States own the largest number of guns in the world. In fact, 84.1 million adults own at least one gun, with some of these adults owning even more. When comparing the numbers of guns held by civilians in ten countries, people in the United States have 393,300,000 guns, which is five and half times more firearms than the second-place country India. The gap is even greater between the United States and China, Pakistan, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Over the course of 2021 alone, 18.8 million guns were sold in the U.S. The Trace states that of those 18.8 million guns there were “11.3 million handguns and 7.5 million long guns.” Some of the firearms purchased and sold in our country have been used for homicides, school shootings, and mass shootings.
The United States has the highest gun homicide rate in the world. The gun homicide rate in 2014 was “29.7 per 1 million people.” Canada’s gun homicide rate is 5.1 per 1 million people, and Switzerland’s is 7.7 per 1 million people. This was eight years ago, and the gun homicide rate in the US has most certainly increased. In 2021, 20,726 people lost their lives to guns. Of that number, 643 people were citizens of Missouri. For 2022, 90 people have died from gun violence thus far. Seven of these people were just teenagers; they were still young and had lives ahead of them. Teenagers are often the targets of shootings, specifically school shootings.
Since the first known school shooting happened in 1764, gun violence in schools has continued to grow. In fact, in the last few years, a spike in the number of school shootings has occurred. So far, in 2022, there have been 39 school shootings in Missouri. Schools are making kids stay in the building for a bit longer during fire drills, in a lockdown situation, because school shooters may have pulled the fire alarms to get students and teachers out of the classrooms to make it easier to shoot them. A study done by the Pew Research Center says, “Overall, 57% of teens say they are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school, with one-in-four saying they are very worried.” Kids go to school worried for their lives because of the gun violence in the United States. Some parents are even scared to send their kids to school.
Mass shootings, like school shootings, are also on the rise. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 116 mass shootings in Missouri since 2014. One such case occurred in Kansas City, Missouri in 2020. A 29-year old man named Jahron Swift became engaged in a disagreement with other people waiting outside a club. While looking for his lost cell phone, he was shoved by someone standing in the line. After tripping and getting up, Swift went to his car and returned carrying a Draco AK-style rifle. He fired on the crowd. Witnesses said he kept pulling the trigger, even after the bullets had run out. That night sixteen people were injured, and one young woman was killed, leaving behind her seven-year-old daughter. In 2021, there were 693 mass shootings in the United States. Around twenty of those occurred in Missouri. Thus far, in 2022, there have been four.
Why has there been such an increase in gun violence? There are many reasons for this. Many gun laws are being removed or altered, rendering them weaker. Missouri has removed many laws over the years, and as they have been removed, the gun violence has gotten worse. Another thing that plays into this is the lack of crackdown on illegal firearms. According to The Trace, only 1.6 percent of gun dealers with violations had their licenses revoked from 2010-2019. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have, “routinely downgraded punishments for dealers who were found to be breaking the law, and revoked licenses in only the most egregious cases.” Of course, the number of guns in the United States, Missouri more specifically, plays a role in the violence taking place particularly since there are no limits as to how many guns a person can own.
In 2007, Missouri’s lawmakers removed the law that required a person to have permit to purchase a handgun. Johns Hopkins did research on firearm deaths and it showed, “that one piece of legislation led to anywhere from 49 to 68 additional firearms deaths each year in Missouri over the following decade.” The research also showed, “The repeal of permit to purchase led to at least a 25%, and as much as a 47%, increase in firearms homicides and a 23.5% increase in firearms suicides in Missouri in the years since it passed.” This was the turning point. From that point on, gun violence has only gotten worse. The gun laws in Missouri continued to be weakened following 2007.
The year 2016 was when the law allowing permitless concealed carry passed. This law allowed people to carry concealed guns without a permit. It also created a loophole, allowing people who have been convicted of domestic abuse to have firearms. Nothing has been done to fix this loophole, even though people are aware of it. Victims of domestic abuse live in fear already, but now they have to fear for their lives and their loved ones’ lives because their abusers are now legally allowed to have and carry firearms. Permitless concealed carry will also enable people like Jahron Swift to commit mass shootings. In the same year, another gun law was passed.
The “Stand Your Ground” law, also passed in 2016, “allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense rather than retreat when faced with a threat to their life.” There are instances where this law will be used as intended, but others may use it as an excuse or justification for pulling a gun on someone. It is hard to determine whether a person was in actual danger or just saying that to get away with committing a crime. It is a situation of one person’s word against another. It is difficult to honestly say what could happen during events in which this law would come into play. Since this law has been implemented, Missouri’s gun homicide rate has spiked. Even with this result, some Missouri lawmakers tried to expand the law, nicknaming it the “Make Murder Legal Act.” This expanded law was voted down in February 2022.
Missouri continued to remove regulations on guns after the 2016 legislation. In 2021, Governor Mike Parson signed a new law, the Second Amendment Preservation Act. This law states that “federal laws and regulations “that infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment … must be invalid in this state.” Missouri is at the point of declaring federal laws invalid. Now the state is being sued by the Department of Justice and police departments all over Missouri. This law undermines federal laws and impacts the way police officers do their jobs.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act also allows people to sue a police department if they feel like, “their rights to firearms have been infringed, and collect up to $50,000 if their case is persuasive.” This makes it difficult for police departments to do their job. They have a tough time cracking down on gun violence and solving violent crimes. Police departments are no longer working with the federal government because of the fear of being sued, hindering their investigations. It stops them from confiscating guns from domestic abusers. Police officers feel like they are letting criminals go off easy. Blue Springs Police Chief Bob Muenz says, “I don’t want criminals to go free because we’re having to reduce what we do or maybe we’re not doing what we do for fear of being sued for violating this statute.” They have no idea what they can and cannot do, so it is keeping them from doing their jobs properly.
The right to bear arms has been a heated topic for decades. Gun violence in the United States has increased, particularly in Missouri. Missouri has undergone gun legislation changes since 2007, resulting in weaker laws and higher rates of homicides, school shootings, and mass shootings. Law enforcement officials have been impacted by legislation, making their jobs more difficult in the wake of the increased violence. Countries like Japan, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Canada have more strict rules for gun ownership and lower incidences of gun violence. Lawmakers would do well to look at these countries and enact firearm legislation that keeps weapons from dangerous individuals, makes criminals accountable for their actions, and protects innocent people’s lives.