In the wake of recent deadly shootings across the nation, the accessibility of firearms is certainly something that calls for serious examination. In the span from 1982 to 2012 there have been at least 70 mass shootings; 33 have occurred since 2006. The first five months of 2014 saw more unthinkable violence: in Fort Hood, Texas, and in northern and southern California. In that same time span, killers possessed a total of 143 guns; more than ¾ of the weapons were obtained legally. What’s more, many of the killers were carrying semi-automatic weapons.
The argument surrounding gun control is a complex one. Those in favor of guns cite the Second Amendment, which states that Americans have “the right to bear arms.” Those against guns say that the original intent of the Second Amendment has been distorted, as the purpose was to enable citizens to defend their country “in a well regulated militia,” rather than to allow individuals to arm themselves against potential attackers. Regardless of how it is interpreted, however, it seems unlikely that the amendment will be overturned. Thus, if guns are available for purchase, it is necessary that states have well-regulated gun control laws. For instance, background checks before obtaining gun licenses is one important step. In the case of mass shootings, many of the perpetrators were mentally troubled, and had shown signs of it before setting out to kill – stricter controls around gun licenses, controls which would conceivably identify this risk, could limit such incidents. Indeed, it’s probably not a coincidence that states with the strongest gun laws are also those with the lowest gun-death rates.
Of course, the regulation of weapons in the United States become more and more relevant as the years progress, especially since it epitomizes the shifting power dynamic between local and federal governments. The stance Washington takes on the matter, and how the Second Amendment should be applied to the modern world, is a matter for contemporary debate. If you have yet to form an opinion on the matter, or you simply want more information, the following list – drawn from data compiled by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention via 24/7 Wall Street – innumerates firearm death rates per 100,000 people in individual states between 2002 and 2011.
10. South Carolina (14.8)
There were more than 700 gun-related deaths – including homicide, suicide, and accidents – in South Carolina in 2011. Interestingly, firearm-related crimes are typically committed many years after the purchase of the weapon. However, in South Carolina, nearly 28% of crimes occurred within two years of the gun’s registration. South Carolina does not require firearms owners to obtain a license or register their firearms. However, South Carolina law does require retail firearms dealers selling handguns to obtain a state license and imposes a melting point test – a form of design safety standard – for handguns.
9. New Mexico (14.8)
As with many states in the nation, the majority of New Mexico’s gun-related deaths were suicides. There were 10.5 suicides by firearm in 2011, significantly more than in most states. The state reported 3.7 gun-related homicides per 100,000 residents the same year, which is roughly aligned with the national rate. That being said, New Mexico still has a high violent crime rate; nearly 570 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents were reported in New Mexico in 2011, more than in all but three other states. Local governments in New Mexico generally lack authority to regulate firearms and ammunition. New Mexico requires local law enforcement to issue a concealed handgun license to any applicant who meets certain basic qualifications.
8. Alabama (16.0)
There were more than 6 gun-related homicides per 100,000 residents in Alabama, which is more than every other state except Mississippi and Louisiana. In 2009, Alabama ranked fifth among the states in the rate of crime gun exports. In 2013, the state passed a law that strengthened requirements regarding sending mental health records to NCIS; however, this was one of the few laws passed to strengthen gun regulation. The state also proposed an amendment to the right to bear arms provision in the Constitution requiring that any firearms law be subject to strict scrutiny.
7. Arkansas (16.0)
There were 145 gun-related homicides in Arkansas, or 5.2 per 100,000 in 2011, among the highest rates nationwide in that year. It’s troubling that gun violence in Arkansas puts females particularly at risk. The state had one of the highest gun-related murder rates of women in 2011, with 2.3 homicides of women per 100,000 residents. Arkansas’s gun laws are generally permissive, as the purchase of rifles, shotguns, and handguns does not require a permit. It also does not require registration of a purchased firearm, nor does it regulate unsafe handguns (handguns that are not on the US roster of handguns safe for sale). In 2013, a number of laws passed in Arkansas weakened gun regulation. One law allows pregnant women to use deadly force to protect their unborn child. Yet another allowed guns in houses of worship (if approved by the head of the house of worship).
6. Montana (16.3)
Since Montana has a strong outdoor culture, many purchased guns are used for hunting. There were just 1.2 firearm-related homicides per 100,000 in Montana, among the lower rates in the nation. Suicides, however, accounted for 14.7 deaths by firearms per 100,000 people, the highest in the nation. The high suicide rate could be tied to the state’s low population density. According to the American Psychological Association, suicide rates tend to be higher in rural areas with “greater access to firearms, high rates of drug and alcohol use, and few health-care providers and emergency facilities.” Montana does not regulate unsafe handguns or require the licensing of gun owners. It recently passed a law in 2013 that makes information about concealed weapon permit holders confidential.
5. Oklahoma (16.6)
There were 16.6 firearms deaths per 100,000 people in Oklahoma. Much like other states with high incidences of gun violence, Oklahoma does not require a state permit to purchase or possess a handgun, shotgun or rifle. OK does not require the reporting of mentally ill individuals to the database used for firearm purchaser background checks, nor does it impose a waiting period on firearm purchases. Alarmingly, in 2013 the state passed a law that allows one to carry a concealed or unconcealed handgun in a private school or on a private school bus, provided the school has adopted a policy to allow it, and another law that allows firearms at government meetings.
4. Wyoming (16.7)
Although Wyoming reported just 96 firearms deaths in 2011, among the nation’s lowest, this is because Wyoming is also the nation’s least populous state, with just over 567,000 residents (as of 2011). Per capita, its firearm death rate is the fourth highest in the United States. Wyoming does not require gun owners to obtain a license, register firearms, or report lost or stolen firearms. It also does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at a time. Gun dealers are not required to possess a license. In 2013, a law was passed that said a judge can have a weapon in a courtroom and can determine if another person in his or her courtroom may carry a weapon.
3. Alaska (16.9)
The gun-related homicide rate was actually very low in Alaska, at just 2.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2011. Most of these gun fatalities were suicides: Alaska had 13.5 firearm-related suicides per 100,000 state-residents. Despite the low homicide rate, however, Alaska’s violent crime rate was extremely high: there were 606.5 violent crimes reported per 100,000, second highest in the nation next to Tennessee. Alaska does not regulate state ammunition sales nor does it allow local governments to regulate firearms. In 2010, Alaska had the highest number of gun deaths per capita among the sates. According to data published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Alaska ranked fourth among number of crime guns exported to other states per capita.
2. Mississippi (17.9)
Mississippi had more than 7.7 gun-related homicides per 100,000 residents in 2011, more than double the national rate of 3.6. The state’s suicide rate involving firearms was also surprisingly high: in 2011, there were 8.9 suicides involving a firearm per 100,000 people, among the higher rates in the nation. Mississippi does not require the licensing of gun owners or impose registration requirements on firearms. In 2013, Mississippi passed a number of new permissive gun laws. For example, a law passed that makes concealed weapon permit records confidential. Furthermore, it is legal to carry a loaded weapon in public without a license so long as it is wholly or partially visible. In 2009, Mississippi had the highest rate of crime gun exports among all of the states – this means that crime guns originally sold in Mississippi were recovered after being used in crimes in other states.
1. Louisiana (18.8)
Louisiana ranks first, with a firearm death rate of 18.8 per 100,000. In 2011, there were more than 19 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 residents in Louisiana, more than any other state in the country. Louisiana also led the nation with a murder rate of 11.2 per 100,000 people in 2011, which falls shockingly far above the country’s average rate of 4.7 per 100,000. Overall, there were more than 8,500 firearm related deaths in Louisiana between 2002 and 2011, which is among the highest number of fatalities in the nation. Louisiana does not require background checks prior to the transfer of a firearm between private, unlicensed parties. It also does not require firearm dealers to possess a state license nor does it require firearm owners to obtain a license or regulate their weapons. In 2013, the state passed a law that made concealed weapon permit records confidential. It also repealed state machine gun regulations, deferring to federal law regulating machine guns.