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.
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.
> 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.
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.