States with Weak Gun Laws and Higher Gun Ownership Lead Nation in Gun Deaths, New Data for 2013 Confirms (1/29/2015)
Alaska, Louisiana Have Highest Gun Death Rates in the Nation; Hawaii, Massachusetts Have Lowest
Washington, DC — Newly available data for 2013 reveals that 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 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 is far above the gun death rate in other industrialized nations.
The VPC analysis refers to overall gun death rates in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. 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/fadeathchart15.htm.
States with the Five Highest Gun Death Rates
States with the Five Lowest Gun Death Rates
Household Gun Ownership Gun Death Rate per 100,000 Rank State Household Gun Ownership Gun Death Rate per 100,000
1 Alaska 60.6 percent 19.59 50 Hawaii 9.7 percent 2.71
2 Louisiana 45.6 percent 19.15 49 Massachusetts 12.8 percent 3.18
3 Alabama 57.2 percent 17.79 48 New York 18.1 percent 4.39
4 Mississippi 54.3 percent 17.55 47 Connecticut 16.2 percent 4.48
5 Wyoming 62.8 percent 17.51 46 Rhode Island 13.3 percent 5.33
The five states with the highest per capita gun death rates in 2013 were Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Wyoming. 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 Hawaii, followed by Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership.
“Reducing exposure to firearms and having stronger gun laws saves lives,” says VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “Each year, the data consistently show that states with strong gun violence prevention laws and low rates of gun ownership have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. The highest gun death rates are in states with weak gun violence prevention laws and easy access to guns.”
“This report should be a wake-up call to state legislators,” says Cathie Whittenburg, communications director of States United to Prevent Gun Violence. “There is no higher priority for elected officials than enacting laws that keep families safe from death and injury.”
The nationwide gun death rate was 10.64 per 100,000. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire rose to 33,636 in 2013 from 33,563 in 2012.
America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of other industrialized nations. In 2011, the gun death rate in the United Kingdom was 0.23 per 100,000 and in Australia the gun death rate was 0.86 per 100,000. (Data for these countries is available at GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia).
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.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Fresh off a victory in Washington state, a leading gun control group backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg is hoping to make Oregon its next prize in a campaign to require gun sales to go through universal background checks.
Everytown for Gun Safety backed a voter-approved initiative in Washington last year that made the state the 17th in the country to expand background checks past the federal standard applying only to licensed gun dealers.
“This is our top priority,” said the group’s spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb.
The organization came out of a merger last year between Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It has been spending tens of millions of dollars on political operations.
Now its attention is on Oregon, where the state Legislature narrowly failed to pass legislation two years running to require background checks for private gun sales.
According to state records, Everytown spent nearly $600,000 on the 2014 election — $450,000 in contributions to candidates and committees, and $110,000 on other grassroots efforts.
Part of that was devoted to strengthening the Democratic majority in the state Senate, the key battleground.
Democrats ended up expanding their majority by two seats to 18-12 in the Senate. The party holds a stronger majority in the House. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, is a longtime supporter and is expected to sign the bill if it passes.
“There’s a loophole there that can be closed,” said Lamb.
Oregon voters extended background checks to require them for sales at gun shows in 2000.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, plans to introduce legislation to expand that to private gun sales. The bill would require anyone selling a gun privately to call state police for a background check on criminal history and mental illness. It would exclude sales among family members, inheritances and antique guns.
“I want to put closure on the only loophole we have on the background check law,” said Prozanksi, a native Texan who owns a few guns. “Most all of us gun owners, as well as the general public, believe we should take reasonable steps to stop felons from getting easy access to guns. This will do that.”
Opponents include Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and the National Rifle Association.
“The NRA is not privy to the specifics of the legislation, but Oregonians should not be fooled by the rhetoric from out of state gun control groups funded by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in a statement. “They are pushing an extreme anti-gun agenda that seeks to curtail Oregonians’ constitutional right to self-defense.”
Under federal law, background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System are required for sales by licensed gun dealers, but not at gun shows or private transactions. The checks target convicted felons, people under indictment, the mentally ill, drug users, people under restraining orders, dishonorably discharged veterans and people in the country illegally. But not all states report mental health records to the system.
About 40 percent of Oregon households have guns. And the state has had its share of horrifying shootings.
In 1998, Kip Kinkel went to his high school in Springfield with guns his parents bought to teach him to shoot. He opened fire on the cafeteria, killing two and wounding 25.
In 2012, three days before the deadly Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, Jacob Tyler Roberts took a stolen semi-automatic AR-15 rifle to the Clackamas Town Center mall outside Portland, where he killed two people and wounded one before killing himself.
Last June, high school freshman Jared Michael Padgett took his brother’s assault-style rifle to school. He killed a student and wounded a teacher before killing himself.
None of those shootings would have been stopped by background checks, said Johnson, the key opponent of last year’s bill.
“It puts law abiding citizens at a significant disadvantage,” she said. “And it does not touch the problem, which in most cases involves severely mentally ill, disaffected, alienated young people causing mayhem.”
State police currently conduct about 19,000 background checks a month and deny about 190 of them, Prozanski said.
While private transactions don’t require a check, sellers have an incentive to do them. If a gun they sell is used in a crime, they can be liable if no check was done. They are protected if a check was done.
Prozanski said he hopes that, with the increased number of Democrats favoring gun control in the Senate, he can overcome Johnson’s opposition. The gun control group contributed $75,000 last year to Democratic Sen. Chuck Riley of Hillsboro, who defeated a Republican incumbent opposed to expanded background checks, and $250,000 to the governor.
State records show the NRA made no contributions in the race, though it gave $21,700 to candidates overall.