It may come as a surprise to many that the most murderous place for black folks in the U.S. isn’t the big urban centers of New York, Los Angeles, or even oft-maligned Chicago.
No. This infamous honor goes to Middle America, specifically Missouri.
According to the Kansas City Star, a study by the Violence Policy Center has found Missouri to have the highest rate of black homicide victims in the nation.
And the horrifying designation isn’t new. The state has been No. 1 on this sorrowful list for most of the decade, the news site reports.
But in light of last week’s mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, the reason behind Missouri’s shame, according to experts, will probably come as no surprise: lax gun laws.
“If you want to hunt an animal in Missouri, you must attend a hunter’s safety education course and obtain a license,” Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith wrote in a blog post, the Star reports. “But recent state legislation has removed any requirements on carrying or using a gun around people.”
As the Star explains:
In recent years, Missouri has done away with the need to get a firearms permit or any training to carry concealed weapons.
Lawmakers lowered the age at which a person can carry concealed from 21 to 19.
Legislators approved a stand your ground law and passed a law prohibiting local government from banning open carry.
Gun owners are not required to complete a police report if their guns are stolen.
In addition, laws were passed that repealed a requirement that any handgun purchaser must obtain a permit from the local sheriff.
The results have had the most deadly impact on black folks, according to the Star.
More than 80 percent of the 90 people killed in Kansas City this year were black, and in Missouri as a whole, the homicide rate per capita for black people is nine times higher than the overall national rate.
The numbers are heartbreaking—and they highlight the need to reduce the opportunity for violence that easy gun access poses. As the Star reports:
Relaxed gun laws mean there are more guns in circulation, especially handguns, said Ken Novak, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Most gun crimes are spontaneous, opportunistic or retaliatory in nature, Novak said. As the number of guns in society increases, so too does the opportunity for violence, he said.
“I do not believe there is anything different about Missourians,” Novak tells the Star. “Missourians are not more violent, prone to using guns, but there are more opportunities for Missourians to possess guns, legally and illegally, and therefore more opportunities to use them for criminal activity.”