States with Weak Gun Laws and Higher Gun Ownership Lead Nation in Gun Deaths
Washington, DC — States with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation, according to a Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis of new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Meanwhile, states with the lowest overall gun death rates have lower rates of gun ownership and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation. However, even in these states the human toll of gun violence remains unacceptably high and far exceeds the gun death rate in most Western industrialized nations.
The VPC analysis is based on data newly released this week and refers to overall gun death rates in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
The five states with the highest per capita gun death rates in 2011 were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana. Each of these states has extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership. The state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation was Rhode Island, followed by Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and has a lower rate of gun ownership.
“Gun violence is preventable, and states can pass effective laws that will dramatically reduce gun death and injury,” states VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann. “Our analysis also shows that states with weak gun violence prevention laws and easy access to guns pay a severe price with gun death rates far above the national average.”
“Lawmakers in every state should roll up their sleeves and pass stronger legislation to prevent needless deaths from gun violence,” states Sue Hornik, executive director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national umbrella group for state gun violence prevention organizations. “The safety of our families and communities is at stake.”
A table of the states with the five highest gun death rates and the five lowest gun death rates is below. For a list of gun death rates in all 50 states, see http://www.vpc.org/fadeathchart14.htm.
The nationwide gun death rate was 10.38 per 100,000. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire rose to 32,351 in 2011 from 31,672 in 2010.
America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of most other Western industrialized nations. The gun death rate in the United Kingdom in 2011 was 0.23 per 100,000 while in Australia it was 0.86 per 100,000.
State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence. The VPC defined states with “weak” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public.
States with “strong” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is absent from federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restricting the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.
State gun ownership rates were obtained from the September 2005 Pediatrics article “Prevalence of Household Firearms and Firearm-Storage Practices in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: Findings From the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002,” which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.