Special Report

America's Most Violent (and Peaceful) States

Detailed Findings

The FBI calculates the violent crime rate based on the number rapes, robberies, murders, and aggravated assaults in a given year for every 100,000 people.

While the U.S. violent crime rate of 386 incidents per 100,000 people in 2016 is a marked improvement from the peak of 758 incidents per 100,000 in 1991, rates vary considerably from state to state. In Alaska, for example, there were 804 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in 2016, the most of any state and more than the national rate in the most violent year recorded by the FBI.

Meanwhile, there were only 122 violent crimes in Maine for every 100,000 people in 2016, the fewest of any state and less than the lowest national violent crime rate on record of 158 per 100,000 in 1961.

In the most violent states, violence involving guns appears to be more common, as evidenced by rate of deaths by firearm. Nationwide, there were 11 deaths by firearm — including suicides — for every 100,000 people from 2012 to 2016. Firearm death rates exceeded the national rate in each of the 10 most violent states. Meanwhile, North Dakota was the only state to rank among the 10 least violent with a higher firearm death rate than the national figure.

Gun deaths appear to be affected by access to firearms, as handgun ownership — proxied by the share of suicides carried out with a firearm — was a factor in the ranking. Though some of the least violent states — including Maine and Vermont — also have few restrictions on gun ownership, generally, the most violent states have among the least restrictive gun laws in the country.

Another factor that seems to impact the prevalence of violence is education as states with well-educated populations tend to be less violent. Only two of the 10 least violent states are home to a smaller share of college-educated adults than the U.S. as whole. Meanwhile, each of the 10 most violent states is home to a smaller share of college-educated adults than the 31.3% share nationwide.

Violence is also less common in areas with more economic opportunity. Of the 10 least violent states, eight have a lower May unemployment rate than the 3.8% national rate. Meanwhile, in half of the 10 most violent states, joblessness is more common than it is nationwide.

Methodology

To identify the most and least violent states, 24/7 Wall St. created an index based on four measures: the murder rate, the violent crime rate excluding murder, small arms ownership, and the incarceration rate. We were inspired by the 2012 United States Peace Index from the Institute for Economics and Peace. We gave full weight in the index to two of the measures: the number of murders and the number of violent crimes (excluding murder) per 100,000 people, both of which came from the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report. Incarceration rates, which capture state prisons only, were given a three-quarter weighting and came from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Firearm suicides as a percent of total suicides are for 2012 through 2016 to adjust for outliers and are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This component received a one-quarter weight. These data sets are frequently based on disparate and inconsistent population totals, so all state rates for the purposes of this index were calculated based on 2016 one-year Census American Community Survey population counts. The annualized suicide and firearm suicide rates for 2012 to 2016 used the CDC’s population count as the denominator. Data on crime for cities and metropolitan areas also came from the FBI and incorporates the FBI’s population estimates.

Poverty rates, median household income, and the percentages of adults with at least a high school diploma or with at least a college degree in each state also came from the ACS. Unemployment rates came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are seasonally adjusted for May 2018.

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