An alarming number of high-profile mass shootings in the last decade, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Orlando, have reignited the debate over gun control in the United States. Studies have established a link between access to firearms and gun deaths — there tend to be more shooting fatalities in places with greater access to firearms. However, the best way to honor the Second Amendment while addressing the growing problem is far from clear.
The incidence of firearm-related deaths varies considerably across the country. In Hawaii, the state with the fewest gun-related fatalities, there were just 2.7 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. In Alaska, on the other hand, there were close to 20 gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents, the most of any state. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the most gun violence based on the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks the number of gun-related deaths in each state. Fatalities include homicides, suicides, and accidents.
Firearms were used in 8,124 of the 11,961 murders in 2014, or in slightly more than two-thirds of all homicides. The next most common murder weapons are knives and cutting instruments, which were used in 1,567 homicides.
As the weapon of choice in 5,562 of the 8,124 gun murders, handguns are by far the most widely used murder weapon. By contrast, rifles such as the AR-15 — one of the best-selling rifles in the United States — were linked to 248 homicides, or 2.1% of all murders in 2014. Murder victims were twice as likely to be killed by hands, fists, and feet — which were linked to 660 murders in 2014 — as rifles.
Mass shootings, homicides, armed robberies, acts of self-defense, and other criminal or legal acts that can involve firearms are actually less common than the form of gun death that receives perhaps the least attention: suicide. Americans use guns to take their own lives about twice as often as they use guns to kill others. There were 21,334 suicides by gun in 2014, nearly double the 10,945 homicides by gun that year. Of all people killed with guns in 2014, 63.5% were suicides.
Numerous countries around the world have lowered gun deaths in recent decades by dialing up gun restrictions. In the United States, however, not only are legislative efforts to curb gun violence politically unfeasible, but past laws have also been largely ineffective.
For example, the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004, has been widely criticized for relying on arbitrary distinctions between weapons — so-called cosmetic features that do not increase the lethality of the weapon. As a result, gun manufacturers were able to redesign their weapons to meet legal requirements without sacrificing performance. So over the 10 years through 2004, a number of powerful rifles such as the AR-15, the model used in the Sandy Hook and numerous other shootings, were banned. However, similarly powerful weapons such as the Hi-Point 995, the model used to commit the Columbine massacre in 1999, were still available.
The question of whether certain types of weapons should be considered more dangerous than others — and banned as a result — has been left largely unanswered in the United States. Under current federal gun controls some weapons such as machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, as well as grenades are heavily regulated. Guns are also restricted on school property. Since the vast majority of U.S. gun owners use their weapons responsibly, the question of who is and who is not dangerous is also of utmost importance.
There are numerous reasons why passing gun legislation in the United States has been difficult. Not least of which is the lack of quality data and research into the causes and prevalence of gun violence. In 1996, after one CDC study found the presence of guns in households to increase the likelihood of violence, the NRA accused the CDC of advocating for gun control, calling it propaganda. As a result, Congress cut CDC funding by the amount dedicated to gun research at that time, and passed legislation which barred government-funded research organizations such as the CDC from advocating for gun control. Now, at risk of funding cuts and violating the rule, scientists shy away from any research that might be interpreted as advocating for gun control.
To determine the states with the most gun violence, 24/7 Wall St. examined 2014 firearm-related deaths data from the CDC. We also considered violent crime rates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2014 Uniform Crime Report. From the U.S. Census Bureau we reviewed poverty rates by state for 2014. Information on firearm policies for each state are from the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. Gun ownership rates for each state as of 2013 were obtained from a study published in 2015 from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The number of licensed gun sellers per 1,000 business establishments for each state are current as of 2015 and came from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
These are the states with the most gun violence.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the weapon used in the Orlando shooting as an AR-15. A SIG Sauer MCX was used in the shooting, not an AR-15.