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Home » These States Have the Highest Rates of Gun Violence and Deaths

These States Have the Highest Rates of Gun Violence and Deaths

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  • A shooting at Texas elementary school has left 19 children and two teachers dead.
  • Past research has found that states with lax gun laws tend to have higher rates of violence and deaths related to firearms.
  • The US ranks 20th for the highest number of firearm deaths in the world.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the firearm homicide rate in the United States grew by 35 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Counties with greater poverty levels saw the largest increases in firearm homicides, according to the report.

In 2020, there were approximately 45,222 gun-related deaths in the U.S., which amounts to about 124 people dying from a gun-related injury each day and the highest number of gun-related deaths ever recorded in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Data shows that states with stricter gun laws — such as California, Hawaii, New York, and Massachusetts — generally experience lower firearm mortality rates.

There are also higher rates of mass shootings in states with higher rates of gun ownership, research suggests.

Though it is often hard to measure the impact local regulations have on gun violence — due to the type of data that’s accessible and bleeds over from states with weak gun laws — available evidence suggests that gun regulations reduce overall gun mortality rates.

“The evidence is clear that when you can take a firearm out of the hands of somebody that is in distress or has committed an act of domestic intimate partner violence, that those laws save lives. And that when we enact licensing requirements for owning a firearm, those save lives,” George Tita, Assistant Professor, Criminology, Law & Society School of Social Ecology at University of California, Irvine, told Healthline.

Gun deaths hit an all-time high in 2020. More than 45,000 Americans died by firearms in 2020, making firearm injury the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S.

In 2020, firearms were involved in 79 percent of all homicides and 53 percent of all suicides.

Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri and Alabama have the highest firearm mortality rates in the country, according to the CDC.

Alaska, New Mexico, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Montana also have high firearm mortality rates.

The states with the lowest gun death rates include Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York.

In 2018, the U.S. was ranked as having the 20th highest firearms death rate in the world.

“The international comparison studies that have been done show that after controlling for things like rates of mental illness, demographics (poverty rates), levels of education, and money spent on the mental health and education, the only thing that makes the US stand out with its extremely high rates of homicide is the sheer number of firearms available,” says Daniel Flannery, PhD, director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

Research suggests that lenient gun laws are associated with higher numbers of unintentional gun injuries that end in hospitalization. In addition, data shows that gun-related suicide attempts are more common in states with relaxed gun laws.

A report from Everytown for Gun safety identified a direct correlation between states with weak gun laws and higher rates of firearm mortality.

Eight states — California, Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey — have the strictest gun laws and the lowest rates of gun violence.

Thirteen states — Kansas, Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Arizona, Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas, Montana, Idaho and Mississippi — are categorized as national failures for having the weakest gun laws along and highest rates of gun violence.

According to the Everytown findings, the 13 states categorized as “national failures” have three times as many gun deaths as the eight states with the strong gun safety profiles.

A study published in The BMJ in 2019 found that states with higher gun ownership rates experience higher rates of mass shootings.

According to the BMJ report, a 10 percent increase in gun ownership was associated with a 35 percent higher rate of mass shootings.

Another report, published in in 2016, found that statewide gun ownership rates were strongly associated with firearm suicide rates.

“The studies that have been done to date show that stricter laws in a state are related to lower levels of gun violence and homicide, and that universal background checks, checks for ammunition purchases and ID requirements are related to lower rates of firearm injury morbidity and mortality, and that there are more mass shootings in states with higher levels of gun ownership, and more firearm related homicides in states with permissive conceal carry laws,” Flannery said.

Overall, the evidence on gun laws and their impact on gun violence rates is limited as it predominantly accounts for gun license purchases via federal dealers, which only tracks the number of background checks, not the amount of firearms bought in a single background check, according to Flannery.

In addition, data on private gun sales, gun show purchases, illegal sales, stolen guns, and ghost guns is not readily available, Flannery added.

Tita says even if a state has strict gun laws, they can still have high rates of violence due to nearby states with weaker gun laws.

“If you do something in one jurisdiction and you have lax laws and no enforcement in neighboring jurisdictions, we can see bleed over of the trafficking of firearms from low regulation to high regulation places,” Tita said.

This makes it even more difficult to measure the impact policies have on gun violence activity, Tita noted.

Caterina Roman, a criminal justice professor at Temple University, says that gun violence not only varies across states and cities, but within cities as well.

Through her research, Roman has found that the presence of a drug market is significantly associated with an increasing rate of violence.

“Drug markets are disorganizing, generate and attract violence, sow the seeds to spread violence, and inhibit the generation and maintenance of pro-social networks that embody social cohesion” Roman said.

According to Roman, it’s important for policymakers to understand the factors that contribute to gun violence on a hyper-local level.

“Understanding neighborhood-level variation in gun violence can help inform solutions because research on neighborhood variation helps pinpoint the potentially changeable factors that are may cause violence,” Roman said.

At a higher level, universal background checks, background checks for ammunition purchases, and identification requirements for firearms could have the greatest impact on firearm mortality, according to a 2016 report published in The Lancet.

Research estimates suggest that universal background checks could reduce the national firearm mortality rate from 10.35 to 4.46 deaths per 100,000 people.

Background checks for ammunition purchases could reduce it to 1.99 deaths per 100 ,000 people and identification requirements could lower it to 1.81 deaths per 100,000 people.

According to Flannery, many gun violence researchers support a public health approach to gun violence prevention that requires background checks, licenses to purchase handguns and bans on assault-style weapons.

Tita would like to see more regulations on ammunition purchases. Background checks on ammunition purchases could help limit gun activity.

There are also no limits on the amount of ammunition someone can purchase, and introducing restrictions on how much ammunition someone can buy could potentially help further curb gun violence.

“That’s where we can recognize some benefits in terms of the regulations,” Tita said.

Research suggests that states with weaker gun laws generally see greater rates of gun violence. Gun violence researchers say that universal background checks, regulations on ammunition purchases and identification requirements can help limit gun activity. Gun violence activity also vary within cities, and experts believe that policymakers need to understand local contributing factors to reduce gun activity.

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