Missouri citizens debate gun accessibility

Just how easy is it to buy a gun in Missouri? We headed to a gun shop to find out.

By Christine Tannous

ST. LOUIS In Missouri, a state ID can buy you an AR-15.

You need no permit, no training and in some cases, no background check.

Missouri received an F rating in gun safety from the Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The center ranked Missouri the third worst state in strictness of gun access. As the nation’s leading gun policy organization, the center provides assistance to people who aim to enact gun safety measures for gun violence prevention.

Missouri law dictates any person over the age of 18 can purchase a rifle or shotgun. The minimum age to purchase a handgun in the state is 21.

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Guns for rent at Sharpshooter Gun Range. You must be 18 to rent long guns such as the AR-15.

Jonathan Scott, a gun show vendor, said he enjoys owning guns for both sporting and protection. He said if something were to happen, he would have the ability to use his firearms as self defense.

“I don’t want to be out driving around with my family somewhere and someone carjacks me with my kid in the backseat,” Scott said. “The very last option is that gun.”

Representative Deb Lavender is the state representative for District 90 in Missouri. She said over the last decade, laws have been expanded to make it easier for people to access firearms.

“This just keeps taking us down a path where guns are going to be more available to more people resulting in more violent deaths,” Lavender said.

Buying a gun at a gun show

At least five gun shows were held in Missouri through the month of April. Over the 2018 summer, seven more will take place around the state.

Scott sold flashlights and accessories at the 2018 Independence, Missouri Gun & KnifeGun Access Graphic show in April. He said the process of buying a firearm at a gun show depends on whether the dealer is licensed.

Buyers purchasing from licensed dealers in Missouri must first fill out Form 4473 which asks for basic background information. They must pass a background check run through the National Instant Check System (NICS) before purchasing. The purchaser is then allowed to buy the gun. With no waiting period in Missouri, they can immediately take it home.

“The background check will come back with a pass, delay or deny,” Scott said. “If it comes back a pass, they let the gun go.”

For private dealers or dealers who do not regularly sell firearms, the process varies. However, eligible buyers are not subject to a background check. Essentially, if a seller believes the buyer is allowed to possess a firearm, they can legally sell them one.

Lavender said she believes allowing unlicensed sellers to bypass background checks is a problematic loophole.

Scott said he thinks giving private sellers access to NICS could limit the potential harm done by purchasers with ill intent. He said while he does not think it will solve all gun violence issues in Missouri, it could be a start on decreasing them.

“We could have the option to call up and say ‘hey, my name’s ‘John’ and I want to sell this gun to ‘Bob’, can you run a background check?,’” Smith said. “I don’t know if it’s the end all, be all, but I think that’s one step towards something we could do to help out.”

Mike LaFavor sold guns as a licensed dealer at the show. He said criminals are the main driver of gun violence, not the guns themselves. LaFavor said he worries about a citizen’s ability to protect themselves if laws limiting gun accessibility are passed.  

“It sounds like a really utopian idea, but what do you think Hitler did when he tried to take over?” LaFavor said. “He got everyone’s guns and no one could defend themselves.”

Buying a gun at a gun shop

Scott said the process of getting a gun at a gun show is similar to getting one at a gun shop. Gun shops are owned by licensed FFL dealers. To buy a gun, you must fill out Form 4473 and pass a background check.

Andrew Biedenstein has worked at Sharpshooter Indoor Range since its opening five years ago. He described purchasing a firearm in Missouri as simple.

“It’s the same as when a cop pulls you over and looks at your ID,”  Biedenstein said. “Technology does pretty fantastic things for us.”

Biedenstein said he does not see a problem with Missouri gun laws the way they are. He said he has no issue with a person purchasing a firearm, as long as they have a clean background.

Biedenstein said he does not worry about crime committed with firearms accessed at Sharpshooter.

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Bill Posey hangs up the target as he prepares to shoot the AR-15.

“It’s no different than, you know, when I worked at Ace Hardware and somebody would come in and buy a kitchen knife,” Biedenstein said. “You can mess somebody up with anything.”

Remy Cross, a criminology professor at Webster University, said access to guns does not raise the amount of crime committed. However, using a gun allows the crime to be more deadly.

“What we like to talk about is the difference between getting in a bar fight when you just have your fist versus getting in a bar fight where there is a firearm present,” Cross said. “The chance you’re going to end up with a more serious crime is much higher.”

The solution to gun violence

Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ranked Missouri seventh out of fifty states in most gun deaths per capita.

Scott said taking away guns from responsible gun owners will not stop gun violence. He said criminals can have a weapon regardless of the law.

“It’s not guns. It’s the bad people that get their hands on a gun and do bad things,” Scott said. “If a bad person is going to get his hands on a gun, he’s going to get his hands on a gun.”

Lavender said she believes limiting access to guns will limit the presence of gun violence in Missouri. She said having more guns only increases the amount of gun violence in the state.

“We took off the ban on assault weapons not quite 10 years ago. And ever since then, the number of gun violence with assault weapons has gone up,” Lavender said. “So how can you say that more guns make us safer when we are only having more violence as we have more guns?”

Lavender said she has legislation in Missouri sponsored by fellow Democrat Stacy Newman called the ‘Extreme Risk Protection Law.’ Essentially, the law gives the opportunity for concerned family members to appear in front of a judge and ask for a restraining period for a person. If the judge decides a person is a danger to themselves or others, they can take away that person’s guns for up to a year.

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Bullets litter the shooting range at Sharpshooter.

Cross, the Webster professor, said focusing on gun laws will not solve gun violence in St. Louis. He said the issue is much bigger than just gun access in the state.

Cross said while changing easy access gun laws is a start, no easy way exists to get rid of all violent crime in the city. He said issues like deficits in spending, poverty and racial tensions all play a part in violent crimes.

“There’s no simple solution, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to try for things that look like they might be moving the needle in a positive direction,” Cross said. “I think what it comes down to is whether people have the patience to work on these things or whether they’re going to throw up their hands.”

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