KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The nation’s murder rate saw a 30% increase just between 2019 and 2020, one of the largest year-over-year increases on record, recent FBI data reveals.
Of these violent crimes, data shows gun-related deaths made up the majority of both homicides and suicides, with 51.2% of suicides across the country involving a firearm and 76.4% of homicides being gun-related.
But in Jackson County, Missouri, the statistics are far more alarming.
According to a new report from Background Checks, Jackson County ranks third for highest rate of gun deaths in the nation among mid-sized counties. The county has a rate of 34.6 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, nearly an 87.1% difference from the national gun-related death rate of 13.6.
Data used in Background Checks’ report was taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention WONDER Database.
“A gun is a lethal weapon, whether you’re a well-meaning person or not a well-meaning person,” said Judy Sherry, founder of Grandparents For Gun Safety, a non-profit organization focused on gun safety education and improving gun regulation. “It can kill beyond a drug deal, it can kill when your kid finds it lying on the couch.”
Gun-related deaths in Missouri
Between 2019 and 2020, Jackson County, saw a 6.6% increase in the total number of gun-related deaths. Nationwide, the number of gun-related deaths spiked 13.9%.
The report reveals 57% of suicide deaths and 90.7% of homicides in Jackson County during this time were gun-related.
Nationwide, these figures are much smaller. In the U.S., 51.2% of suicides are gun-related, nearly an 11% difference from Jackson County. For homicides, 76.4% in the U.S. involve a firearm, a 17% difference with the county.
Just across the state, St. Louis City ranks first among all small counties for most gun-related deaths, with a rate of 66.2 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people. Greene County, where Springfield is located, ranks 15th with a rate of 23.1.
St. Louis County, ranks No. 5 among large counties for gun-related deaths, with a rate of 26.4.
Sherry said the rise of gun-related deaths in Kansas City is unsurprising.
She said lenient firearm legislation has created a hideous concoction of fear and anger among Missouri residents, something she believes has led to more resistance and violence than she could ever predict.
“We’re not out to take guns away from anybody,” Sherry said. “Have your guns.”
“Some people collect them, some people like to hunt, they like to target shoot, it’s all fine. All we’re asking for are safety measures, a background check, and that’s not too much to ask.”
Missouri legalized permitless concealed carry several years ago, identifying locations where gun owners still need a permit and permission to carry a concealed weapon, like schools and churches.
“When you have permitless carry, you’re going to have more people with guns, hence more deaths by suicide and more homicides,” Sherry said.
But on Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that allows concealed weapons on public transportation and lifts prohibition in houses of worship, leaving firearm safety advocates baffled.
“Our laws in Missouri, all they (legislators) do is loosen them,” Sherry said. “The House just passes them.”
“They made concealed carry just fine on public transportation, synagogues and churches. Why would anybody think that that’s the society we should be living in? If there are more guns, of course, the homicides go up. We’ve got unemployment, so many things that are so bad, and so darn many guns.”
Sherry said the more the state loosens gun laws, the slipperier the slope to more homicides, suicides and accidental deaths.
“As far as the Second Amendment, that exists and it’s not going away,” she said. “So, you try to mitigate the damage of so many people owning guns willy-nilly, with no permits.”
Firearm safety efforts
The best way to push back against gun violence is to combat loosened legislation with as many gun locks and firearm safety resources as one can distribute, Sherry said.
“Educating people to the fact that a firearm kills, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own one, it just means that you should understand that it kills and you have to be safe,” Sherry said.
She also said she is actively working to get Ethan’s Law passed in the House. The bill proposed to the Connecticut General Assembly in May 2019 requires gun owners to secure their firearms through gun storage or by using safety device if a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without permission, or if another person at the place of residence cannot legally possess a firearm.
The law followed the death of 15-year-old Ethan Song of Guilford, Connecticut, who accidentally shot himself while playing with a gun at a friend’s house.
“We’re just trying to get a law passed – it did pass in Connecticut – that there’s a modest fine for somebody if you leave a gun lying around in a home with kids 18 and under, you’re gonna pay a fine,” she said.
She said gun locks are the best way to secure a firearm, therefore, securing someone’s life.
“We just want some accountability,” she said. “You have to be accountable for your actions and when you own a lethal-anything, you should be.”
Those interested in obtaining a free gun safety lock can visit a local police department, or Children’s Mercy hospital in Kansas City.