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So you've made the decision to purchase a handgun. You've even got a nice piece in mind, a Smith & Wesson six-shot revolver with a blued-steel barrel. The law says you can't just fork over the dough, take the gun and walk. You have to jump through several hoops first. How to make it legal? In St. Louis County, applications are submitted to the county police at 7900 Forsyth Blvd. In the city, applications are handled through the Sheriff's Department, in the Civil Courts Building. Both agencies ask for a current Missouri picture ID. Both require a waiting period so that they can conduct a national criminal-information check on the prospective gun buyer. Both require a $10 permit fee on approval of the application.

But above and beyond these requirements, city residents must (1) produce two character-reference letters from a non-family member, (2) supply a notarized certificate of city residence from the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners and (3) provide proof of purchase of a trigger lock or locked container for each gun permit issued.

If these measures seem stringent, you might be grateful you don't reside in certain European countries where gun laws are really restrictive. Claus Langfred is a professor in the Olin School of Business at Washington University and a former Danish army officer. He and both of his parents are avid target shooters. Says Langfred: "I've never actually as a private citizen owned a gun in Denmark. The one I had was issued by the military, but I know that my parents had to go through all kinds of obstacles. You can't just decide you'd like a gun for self-protection and go get a permit. That wouldn't fly with the police. They'd say, 'Sorry, you don't need your own gun -- we'll defend you.' The only way you can own a handgun in Denmark is if you're an active member of a shooting club.

"If you want a permit, you first approach the club. If the members think that you seem serious about sport shooting and they get the impression you'll be an active shooter, then they can make a determination that they will sponsor your application to the police. Of course, that application can be turned down by the police for any number of reasons, but if it is approved and you get the permit, then you can go buy a gun -- as a member of the shooting club that sponsored you. And if, at any point, you stop going regularly, then the club will inform the police, who will simply revoke your permit and either take your guns away or force you to sell them. If your reason for absence seems valid -- you hurt your wrist or you're out of the country for a while -- then your gun will be stored at the police station or the shooting range. Some shooting clubs prefer that you keep your gun at the range even if you are an active member. If you do keep a gun in your home, it must be disassembled and the various parts stored under lock and key.

"Incidentally, there is an additional restriction that, for civilian use, there is allowed a set number of permits for each type of handgun. A 9 mm pistol, for example -- the kind we officers were issued -- the number of available civilian permits was, as I recall, 360. That's for the entire country of Denmark. If you're a civilian and you wanted to own a 9 mm pistol for target practice, and all the permits were taken, you would have to wait until someone died or allowed their permit to lapse."

-- Wm. Stage

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