The 10 States With the Least Gun Violence

June 21, 2016 by Thomas C. Frohlich

No Firearms Allowed
Source: Thinkstock
Violent death is a problem in the United States. Not only are mass shootings seemingly routine, but also U.S. firearm-related homicide and suicide rates are much higher than in other wealthy countries.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine this spring, the gun homicide rate in the United States is more than 25 times higher than the rate in other high-income nations. Among 15-24 year olds, the rate is nearly 50 times higher. Of all gun fatalities in the 23 countries the researchers reviewed, 82% occur in the United States.

The incidence of firearm-related deaths varies considerably across the country. In Hawaii, there were 2.7 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. While this is the lowest of any state it is still well above the rates in other high-income nations — all of which are under 1 per 100,000 people.

Click here to see the 10 states with the least gun violence.

Click here to see the 10 states with the worst gun violence.

These relatively safe states still have higher rates of gun fatalities than that of every other high-income nation, but gun deaths are far less of an issue in states like Hawaii and Rhode Island than in other states like Alaska, where there are close to 20 firearm deaths per 100,000 people. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the least 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.

In contrast with the states with the highest gun death rates, the states on this list tend to have fewer guns, more restrictive gun laws, higher incomes, and less poverty. For a host of reasons, government-funded research into firearm fatalities is highly limited. Therefore, while there appears to be a strong connection between social and economic conditions such as poverty and gun fatality, such a relationship is poorly understood.

Nationwide, an estimated 30% of adults own at least one firearm. In six of the 10 states with the lowest incidence of gun death, the ownership rate is lower than the national rate. In some states it is much lower. In Rhode Island, for example, only 5.8% of adults report owning at least one firearm. Gun laws in no state are especially restrictive compared to firearm regulations in many other nations. In all but two of the states with the least gun violence, however, a license, permit to purchase, and registration for all types of guns are required.

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 also past laws have 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 style gun, the model used in 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.

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 are as of 2013, and 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 as of 2015 and comes from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

These are the states with the least gun violence.

10. Wisconsin
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
8.5
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 5,185 (25th highest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 290.3 (21st lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 34.7% (20th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.2% (19th lowest)

Wisconsin has one of the lowest rates of firearm deaths in the country at 8.5 yearly deaths per 100,000 people. Lower rates of gun violence tend to coincide with lower gun ownership rates. In Wisconsin, however, 34.7% of adults own a gun, higher than the national ownership rate of 29.1%. States with less gun violence also tend to have stricter gun regulations than states with more gun violence. Wisconsin, however, is one of just seven states in the country, and the only state on this list, that do not require a license to carry a handgun. Wisconsin residents do not need a license or a permit to buy or own a long gun or a handgun, nor is registration required for these weapons.

9. Iowa
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
7.8
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 2,307 (15th lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 273.5 (16th lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 33.8% (22nd highest)
> Poverty rate: 12.2% (15th lowest)

Iowa’s 7.8 gun-related fatalities per 100,000 people in 2014 is one of the lowest in the country. Over the last 10 years, the state had an even lower annual rate of gun violence, reporting less than 7.0 firearm deaths per 100,000 people.

Gun violence tends to be more common in states with higher rates of gun ownership, but roughly one-third of Iowa’s adults own a firearm, higher than the national share of 29.1%. The state also has a relatively high number of gun dealers. There are roughly 27 licensed firearm dealers per 1,000 establishments in the state, one of the higher proportions of all states and well above the national proportion of 18.7 per 1,000 establishments.

8. California
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
7.6
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 34,640 (the highest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 396.1 (17th highest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 20.1% (9th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.4% (17th highest)

California has more gun deaths each year than any state in the country. Gun homicides, suicides, and accidental death totalled nearly 35,000 people in the state over the last 10 years. This means that nearly 10% of all fatal firearm incidents nationwide happened in California over the last decade. However, adjusted for population, California actually has a relatively low incidence of gun deaths, at 7.58 per 100,000 residents, compared to the national rate of 10.5 gun deaths per 100,000 people annually.

Suicide accounts for, by far, the largest share of gun-related fatalities in the U.S. California’s gun suicide rate of 4.1 per 100,000 people is the sixth-lowest in the country. California has among the stricter gun laws in the country. The state, for example, has banned assault-style weapons, and firearm purchasers in California must pass a written firearm safety test.

7. Minnesota
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
6.91
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 4,051 (21st lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 229.1 (10th lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 36.7% (17th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.5% (9th lowest)

Minnesota’s gun regulations are more restrictive compared to laws most states, which may partially explain the low gun fatality rate. At fewer than 7.0 deaths for every 100,000 Minnesotans, it is one of the lowest in the nation. The regulations, however, are also not as restrictive as in some other states. Minnesota does not require background checks before gun transfers between unlicensed parties; firearm dealers are not required to obtain a license; nor are gun owners required to obtain a license, register firearms, or report stolen weapons.

Minnesota’s gun ownership rate of 36.7% is higher than the national rate of 29.3%, and it is exceptionally high compared with other states with the lowest gun death rates.

6. New Jersey
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
5.2
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 5,022 (25th lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 261.2 (14th lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 11.3% (4th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.1% (4th lowest)

States where gun ownership is more common tend to have higher rates of gun violence. In New Jersey, which has one of the lowest rates of gun deaths per capita, just 11.3% of adults own a gun, roughly a third of the national gun ownership rate of 29.1%.

There is a high correlation between violence and poverty levels. New Jersey’s poverty rate of 11.1% is fourth lowest in the country. Its gun death rate is sixth lowest. Like many states with less gun violence, New Jersey has relatively strict gun laws. The state requires a permit to purchase any handgun and prohibits those convicted of domestic abuse from owning or buying a firearm of any kind.

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5. Connecticut
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
5.2
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 2,049 (13th lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 236.9 (12th lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 16.6% (6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.8% (3rd lowest)

While the connection between financial security and gun-related violence is poorly understood, poor communities are victims of shooting deaths far more frequently than more prosperous communities. Connecticut is a case in point. The state’s poverty rate of 10.8% is third lowest in the nation, and its gun-related death rate is fifth lowest.

In 2012, 20 elementary school children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was the second-deadliest school shooting U.S. history. The debate over gun control took center stage following the massacre. After the shooting in Orlando, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut launched a filibuster in an attempt to force congress to revisit gun control legislation. Connecticut has among the most strict regulations on the purchasing and owning of firearms.

4. New York
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
4.4
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 10,601 (10th highest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 381.8 (19th highest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 10.3% (3rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.9% (19th highest)

New York had more than 10,000 total firearm deaths over the last decade. While this is more than most states, relative to its population, gun deaths are relatively uncommon in the state. The low gun death rate is likely at least partially due to limited access to guns, as well as the relatively few gun owners in the state. There are just 7.8 licensed gun dealers per 1,000 establishments in the state, the second lowest concentration in the country. By contrast, there are 18.7 gun dealers per 1,000 businesses nationwide. Also, barely 10% of New York adults own a gun compared to a national share of 29.1%.

The majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. New York’s gun suicide rate of 2.4 per 100,000 people is less than half the national rate of 6.7 per 100,000 people.

3. Massachusetts
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
3.4
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 2,504 (16th lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 391.4 (18th highest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 22.6% (12th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.6% (10th lowest)

The firearm death rate of 3.4 per 100,000 people in Massachusetts is barely a third of the national rate. Just 67 of the nation’s 10,945 gun homicides in 2014 occurred in the state, as did only 130 of the 21,334 suicides by firearm that year. This may be due in part to the state’s relatively strict gun laws. For example, the state bans some assault-style rifles, high-capacity magazines, and certain handguns considered especially dangerous.

The state actually has an above-average concentration of gun shops, with 23 licensed dealers per 1,000 establishments, higher than the national figure of 23 for every 1,000 businesses. However, gun ownership is still among the lowest in the country, with 22.6% of adults owning a firearm compared to a national ownership rate of 29.1%.

2. Rhode Island
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
3.2
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 478 (2nd lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 219.2 (9th lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 5.8% (2nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.3% (24th lowest)

States with relatively minimal gun violence tend to also have relatively few gun owners. Rhode Island is no exception as just 5.8% of the state’s adults report owning a firearm, about one fifth of the national share of 29.1% of adults who own a gun. Only Delaware has a lower gun ownership rate. Violent crime in all forms tends to be lower in states with fewer gun deaths. Rhode Island’s violent crime rate of 219.2 incidents per 100,000 people a year is the ninth lowest in the country.

Rhode Island has a number of strict gun control policies. The state requires a background check for firearm transfers between unlicensed individuals. It also requires a seven-day waiting period for all gun purchases. However, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are the only two states with the fewest gun deaths per capita that do not require a license, registration, or permit to buy either a handgun or long gun.

1. Hawaii
> Firearm deaths per 100,000 people:
2.82
> Total firearm deaths 2005-2014: 449 (the lowest)
> Violent crime rate per 100,000: 259.2 (13th lowest)
> Adult gun ownership rate: 45.1% (10th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.4% (7th lowest)

In no state are there fewer reported gun deaths relative to the population than in Hawaii. Nationally, there are 10.5 fatalities caused by guns every year, well over three times Hawaii’s gun death rate.

For a state with the least gun violence in the country, Hawaii is unusual in at least one key measure. Most states on this list have significantly lower gun ownership rates than the national share of 29.1%. However, more than 45% of Hawaii’s adults report owning a firearm, the 10th highest proportion in the country.

Click here to see the 10 states with the worst gun violence.