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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Violent crime in St. Louis has become deadlier in the past decade or so and the use of guns is on the rise, according to an analysis of police data.

From 2015-16, 94 percent of homicides in St. Louis involved a gun, as opposed to 78 percent in 2004, according to a recent study released by researchers with the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Guns also were involved in more than 60 percent of assaults and robberies from 2015-16, compared with 43 percent in 2004.

"Whatever is driving the use of guns is likely to have more lethal consequences," Janet Lauritsen, criminology professor, said of the study she co-authored with criminology doctoral candidate Theodore Lentz.

The researchers examined years of St. Louis Police Department data that also indicated the number of homicides per robbery or assault has spiked in the past eight years, from 23 homicides per 1,000 incidents to 36, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The scholars cited the increased use of guns in St. Louis as a likely influence. Shooters are firing more bullets, including those of a higher caliber, which have now made the shootings more lethal, Lauritsen said.

She added the spike in homicides could also be attributed to shooters being more determined to kill.

The city has struggled with violent crime for years. FBI statistics released in September revealed St. Louis had a murder rate of 66.1 per 100,000 people in 2017, the worst rate in the United States.

"It used to be long ago, 30 years ago, no one carried a gun unless they were a shop owner or they had a reason," St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said. "Now, in the state of Missouri, you don't have to even have a permit to carry a gun. That relaxation of gun laws has caused policing to be much harder."

Lauritsen said she doesn't want the study to trigger panic, but the limited available information makes it difficult to determine which violent interactions are increasing in deadliness. She said they hope their study leads to more research on what caused the surge in fatal violence.

It was published online in May and will be included in the July edition of the academic journal "Homicide Studies."

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