‘Permit-to-purchase’ law could have prevented church shooting, researcher says

A “permit-to-purchase” law could have prevented the shooting deaths of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month according to a researcher with the renowned Johns Hopkins University.

“If Dylann Roof lived in a state with a permit-to-purchase law, he would have had to go to local or state police to get a permit, and most likely he would have been denied because these agencies often have better access to records used in background checks,” said Daniel Webster, director the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a statement on July 16 about a grave error by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that allowed the shooter to obtain a gun despite drug charges.

“To get a handgun, he would have had to find a private seller who would be willing to break the law and make a sale to someone without a permit, or he would have had to procure one on the underground market,” Webster said. “Many people assume that dangerous individuals, like Roof, who want guns will invariably be able to get them regardless of handgun sales laws. But the research indicates otherwise.”

As the FBI explained last week, when the shooter, Dylann Roof, was arrested in March he admitted to officers of his illegal drug use, which would have disqualified him during a background check before buying a gun. But because the arrest record sent to the FBI listed the incorrect arresting agency, the bureau was unable to confirm details of Roof’s arrest in the 72-hour waiting period. The gun dealer was then cleared to sell the gun.

Webster, who has studied and written about the affects gun laws have had on crime and overall violence, cited his research to argue that purchase permit laws are one of the most effective tools available to reduce gun violence.

Supporting his claim, Webster cites a 1995 Connecticut law that requires gun buyers have a license in order to purchase a handgun was associated with a 40 percent reduction in the state’s firearm-related homicide rate.

“Dylann Roof was no criminal mastermind with extensive resources,” Webster said. “He was able to carry out his plot because our gun laws made it easy for him to do so.”

Economist John Lott, who is known for the controversial and often challenged study “More Guns, Less Crime,” refutes the claim that gun licensing works in his column for Fox News. In regard to the results of the study on the Connecticut licensing law, he said it was politically motivated, pushed by uncritical media, and fails to look at a wider data set.

While he agrees that the firearm homicide rate dropped in Connecticut after the law was introduced, he said that the drop began two years earlier. He adds that researchers of the study should compare the results to the 10 other states that have similar laws but different results.

“Why the authors of the study chose to ignore other violent crimes also becomes clear pretty quickly,” Lott said. “Relative to the rest of the United States, Connecticut’s overall violent crime rate as well as its robbery and aggravated assault rates were clearly falling prior to the prior to the 1995 law and rising afterwards.”