Firearm deaths have surpassed car crashes as the number one non-medical fatality in the state Missouri. The Kansas City Star recently reported that the number of car crash fatalities have continued to decrease, with 781 deaths in 2013, while firearm deaths are on the rise, coming in at 880 for the year.
An increase in crimes involving firearms is also a local trend, according to Detective Tom O'Sullivan with the Boone County Sheriffs' Department.
"We are seeing more gun violence here in Columbia than we were twenty years ago," O'Sullivan said. "We've all seen an uptick in violence with firearms, particularly amongst young males."
Despite the increase in violence with guns, O'Sullivan does not think the solution lies in stricter gun control legislation.
"The solution is not keeping guns out of law-abiding citizens' hands. It's about punishing criminals who use firearms," O'Sullivan said. "It's not the law-abiding citizens or the hunters or the outdoorsmen. It's criminals with guns. That's the problem."
Another contributing factor to firearms taking the number one non-medical killer slot is that serious measures and changes have been implemented to make Missouri's roads safer. Lt. John Hotz, assistant director for the Public Information and Education Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, cites the increased presence of law enforcement and education in the lives of all drivers as a key factor in dramatically reducing automobile fatalities by 40 percent in the last ten years.
"Our enforcement and education efforts are certainly things that help reduce that number. Help educate people about the dangers of drinking and driving, driving inattentively, exceeding the speed limit. We also emphasize the importance of seatbelts," Hotz said.
Leanne Depue, highway safety director for Missouri Department of Transportation, emphasized the key role that engineering improvements played reducing fatal car crashes. Along with installing guard cables and rumble stripes along sizeable stretches of Missouri's highways to make roads safer, increased behavioral surveillance and enforcement has made the drivers safer as well.
"We have increased the number of impaired driving initiatives including trying to have about 500 sobriety check points per year which deter drivers from choosing to drink and drive," Depue said.
While there have been significant improvements made towards reducing the number of fatal car crashes, there are still areas that need significant change. Depue said that Missouri teens and the overall driving population are behind the national average for the state percentage of drivers that wear a safety belt. The national average is 87 percent, but Missouri teens use it only 67 percent of the time and adults only use it 79 percent of the time.
Missouri's increase in firearm deaths and decrease in automobile fatalities is a part of a nationwide trend.