States With the Most Gun Violence

June 26, 2014 by Thomas C. Frohlich

461924765As mass shootings continue to appear in the news, many Americans and state leaders are asking how to address the problem without restricting constitutional rights.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks the number of gun-related fatalities — including homicides, suicides, and accidents — in each state. The frequency of firearm-related deaths varies widely across the U.S. Firearms were associated with just 3.0 deaths per 100,000 residents in Rhode Island in 2011, the lowest gun-related fatality rate of any state. Louisiana, on the other hand, reported 18.8 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 residents, the most of any state. 24/7 Wall St. examined the 10 states with the highest gun-related death rates.

Click here to see the states with the most gun violence

Suicide is the leading cause of gun-related deaths across the nation in recent years. Of the 32,351 firearm deaths in 2011, nearly 20,000 were suicides. In all but one state with the most gun-related deaths, suicide accounted for the majority of fatalities. Six states — Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, and New Mexico — reported more than 10.0 firearm-related suicides per 100,000 residents, versus the national rate of 6.2.

24/7 Wall St. discussed the CDC’s figures with John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy think tank. Roman explained the probability of accidents, suicides, and domestic violence goes up in homes with guns. Americans are “three times more likely to have a suicide in a home with a gun than [they] are in a home without a gun.”

According to Roman, “The overwhelming trend is that strong gun law states have seen dramatic declines in violence. Weak gun law states have not seen the same decline.” While stricter gun laws lead to less violence, Roman noted, this relationship is not exactly straightforward, because people may purchase a gun in one state and bring it into another. “As long as there are weak gun law states, even strong gun law states will see gun violence.”

Federal law controls some aspects of firearm regulation, but for the most part, state legislatures choose to what extent firearms are governed. None of the states with the most gun violence require permits to purchase rifles, shotguns, or handguns. Gun owners are also not required to register their weapons in any of these states. Meanwhile, most of the states with the lowest rates of gun deaths require a permit to purchase a handgun.

In a number of these states homicide and violent crime rates were also particularly high. Gun-related homicide rates in all but three of the 10 states with the most firearm death rates were above the national rate of 3.6 homicides per 100,000 residents. Louisiana, the only state on this list where homicide accounted for more gun-related deaths than suicides, reported 9.4 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2011, more than in any other state.

Although not necessarily gun related, violent crime, overall, was higher in many of these states. Seven states reported at least 420 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2011, versus the national rate of just 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 residents that year. There were more than 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Alaska, second only to Tennessee. Some specific crimes were even more likely in many of these states. Six of the 10 states reported more than 3,500 incidents of property crime per 100,00 residents, for example, versus a national rate of just 2,908.

According to Roman, politics and culture often influence gun ownership. In fact, a majority of the states with the most deaths from guns are politically conservative. They are also states with residents that tend to be comfortable with carrying and owning guns.

Economic factors also appear to be related to firearm death rates. The poverty rate in seven of the 10 states with the most gun violence was above the national rate of 15.9%. New Mexico and Mississippi, the states with the first and second highest poverty rates in the nation of more than 20%, were among the states with the most gun violence.

Educational attainment rates also tended to be lower in states with the most gun violence. The percentage of residents who had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2012 was lower than the national rate in all of the 10 states with the most gun violence.

Based on CDC data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the most firearm-related deaths in 2011, including suicides, homicides, and accidents.Firearm death rates represent the CDC”s age-adjusted figures, to avoid distortion in states with large populations of young people. We also considered 2012 data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATF) on the time between a gun’s purchase and its involvement in a crime. Violent crime data are for 2011 and are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report. Poverty and income figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. Information on firearm policies for each state are from the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Institute for Legislative Action.

These are the states with the most gun violence.

10. South Carolina
> Firearm death rate: 14.8 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 6,132 (19th highest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 571.9 per 100,000 (3rd highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 18.3% (9th highest)

There were more than 700 gun-related deaths — including homicide, suicide, and accidents — in South Carolina in 2011, or 14.8 per 100,000 residents when adjusted for age. Overall crime rates were also particularly high in South Carolina. More than 570 violent crimes were committed per 100,000 people in South Carolina during 2011, behind only to Alaska and Tennessee. That year, there were 5.5 firearms related homicides per 100,000 residents in South Carolina, up slightly from the year before and more than in all but three other states. Firearm-related crimes are usually committed many years after the purchase of the associated weapon. In South Carolina, however, nearly 28% of crimes occurred within two years of the gun’s registration, among the higher rates in the nation for crimes committed so shortly after their purchase.

9. New Mexico
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 14.8 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 2,964 (20th lowest)
> 10 yr. annualized death rate: 15.1 per 100,000 (9th highest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 567.5 per 100,000 (4th highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 20.8% (2nd highest)

Like most of the nation, suicides accounted for the majority of gun-related deaths in New Mexico, where the firearm suicide rate was also particularly high. There were 10.5 suicides by firearm in 2011, more than in all but a handful of states. The state also reported 3.7 gun-related homicides per 100,000 residents that year, roughly in line with the national rate. Despite the relatively low gun-related homicide rate, violent crime has been an issue in the state. Nearly 570 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents were reported in New Mexico in 2011, more than in all but three other states. Poor socioeconomic conditions may partly explain the higher crime rates. More than one in five New Mexico residents lived in poverty in 2012, more than every state except for Mississippi.

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8. Alabama
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 16.0 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 7,713 (15th highest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 420.1 per 100,000 (16th highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 19.0% (7th highest)

While homicides accounted for less than half of all firearm-related deaths in Alabama, the homicide rate was among the highest in the nation. There were more than six gun-related homicides per 100,000 residents in Alabama, more than every state except for Mississippi and Louisiana. Yet, gun deaths due to homicide declined compared to 2007, during which there were eight deaths per 100,000, second-highest in the nation at that time. Overall deaths from firearms also decreased somewhat. In 2007, there were 17.2 gun-related fatalities per 100,000 residents versus 16.0 per 100,000 residents in 2011. Like a majority of states with the most gun violence, Alabama struggles with high poverty. In 2012, 19% of residents lived below the poverty line, more than in all but six other states.

7. Arkansas
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 16.0 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 4,341 (24th lowest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 480.9 per 100,000 (10th highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 19.8% (4th highest)

There were 145 gun-related homicides in Arkansas, or 5.2 per 100,000 residents, among the highest rates nationwide in 2011. When suicides and accidents were taken into account, there were 16 firearm-related deaths in Arkansas that year, slightly higher than in 2007. Gun violence in Arkansas puts female residents particularly at risk. The state had among the highest gun-related murder rates of women in 2011, with 2.3 homicides of women per 100,000 residents. Like nearly all the states on this list, Arkansas’s gun laws are relatively permissive — the purchase of rifles, shotguns, and handguns does not require a permit. Arkansas also shares an exceptionally high poverty rate with the majority of states with high numbers of gun deaths. Nearly 20% of residents lived below the poverty line in 2012, the fourth highest rate nationwide.

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6. Montana
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 16.3 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 1,476 (12th lowest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 267.5 per 100,000 (17th lowest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 15.5% (25th highest)

Known for its outdoors culture, many of Montana residents use their guns for hunting. Although guns are likely a part of daily life in Montana, homicide and accidents accounted for relatively few gun deaths in 2011. There were just 1.2 firearm-related homicides per 100,000 people in Montana, among the lower rates nationwide. Suicides, on the other hand, accounted for a large number of gun-related deaths in the state. Montana led the nation with 14.7 firearm-related suicides per 100,000 residents, more than double the national rate. Montana’s high suicide rate may be due in part to extremely low population density. According to the American Psychological Association, suicide rates tend to be higher in rural areas for a variety of factors, including “greater access to firearms, high rates of drug and alcohol use and few health-care providers and emergency medical facilities.”

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5. Oklahoma
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 16.6 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 5,002 (23rd highest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 454.8 per 100,000 (11th highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 17.2% (15th highest)

Gun-related homicide and suicide rates were both relatively high in Oklahoma. In 2011, 166 state residents were committed with the use of firearms, or 4.4 per 100,000 people, versus a national gun-related homicide rate of 3.6 per 100,000 people. There were 440 suicides using firearms in 2011, or 11.5 per 100,000, the fourth highest rate nationwide. Oklahoma does not require a state permit to purchase or possess a handgun, shotgun, or rifle. Like the majority of the states with high gun-related fatality rates, Oklahoma residents are also relatively poor. A typical household income was just $44,312 in 2012, considerably less than the national median household income of $51,371 that year.

4. Wyoming
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 16.7 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 844 (7th lowest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 219.3 per 100,000 (7th lowest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 12.6% (13th lowest)

In 2011, Wyoming reported just 96 firearms deaths, among the fewest of any state in the U.S. However, Wyoming is also the nation’s least populous state, with just over 567,000 residents as of 2011. As a result, Wyoming’s firearm-related fatality rate was fourth highest, amounting to an age-adjusted 16.7 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents. Additionally, there were 14.6 suicides per 100,000 residents that year, more than any state except for Montana and more than double the national rate of 6.2 firearm suicides per 100,000 people. However, by many measures, Wyoming is a relatively safe state. There were just 219.3 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2011, versus some 386 crimes for every 100,000 Americans nationwide.

3. Alaska
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 16.9 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 1,227 (10th lowest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 606.5 per 100,000 (2nd highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (2nd lowest)

Over the 10 years through to 2011, there were an average of 18.2 gun-related fatalities per 100,000 residents in Alaska each year, more than in all but one other state. Most of these fatalities, however, were not homicides. The gun-related homicide rate was exceptionally low in Alaska, however, at just 2.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2011, versus a national rate of 3.6 homicides per 100,000 residents. Despite the low firearm homicide rate, Alaska had nearly the highest violent crime rate in the nation, with 606.5 violent crimes reported per 100,000 in 2011, second only to Tennessee. Like the majority of the nation, most of the gun-related fatalities in Alaska were suicides. There were 13.5 firearm-related suicides per 100,000 state-residents in 2011, more than in all but two other states. Socioeconomically, Alaska was an exception. The state had among the highest educational attainment rates and median household incomes nationwide in 2012.

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2. Mississippi
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 17.9 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 4,965 (24th highest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 269.8 per 100,000 (18th lowest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 24.2% (the highest)

There were 7.7 gun-related homicides per 100,000 Mississippi residents in 2011, more than double the national rate of 3.6, and second only to Louisiana. This contributed substantially to the state’s high murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate. Eight Mississippi residents were murdered for every 100,000 people in the state, the second highest rate in the nation. The state’s suicide rate was also quite high. There were 8.9 suicides involving a firearm per 100,000 people in 2011, among the higher rates in the nation. Like many of the states with the most gun deaths, state residents frequently struggle with poverty. Mississippi led the nation with a poverty rate of 24.2% in 2012, and it trailed behind most states in other factors such as access to basic necessities, health care, and household income.

1. Louisiana
> Age-adjusted firearm death rate: 18.8 per 100,000
> Firearm deaths 2002-2011: 8,544 (13th highest)
> 2011 Violent crime rate: 555.3 per 100,000 (7th highest)
> Permit required to buy handgun: No
> Poverty rate: 19.9% (3rd highest)

There were nearly 19 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 residents in Louisiana in 2011, more than in any other state in the nation. Of that, 9.4 deaths per 100,000 people were gun-related homicides, the most nationwide. Louisiana also led the nation with a murder rate with 11.2 per 100,000 people in 2011, well above the national rate of 4.7. Additionally, suicide accounted for 8.2 fatalities per 100,000 residents, versus a national rate of 6.2 per 100,000. Overall, there were more than 8,500 firearm-related deaths in Louisiana between 2002 and 2011, among the higher number of fatalities in the nation. Louisiana residents also struggle with high poverty rates and poor educational attainment. Nearly one in five people in the state lived below the poverty line in 2012, the third highest rate nationally. Like other states on this list, Louisiana’s gun laws do not require residents to have a permit before purchasing a handgun.