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U.S. Gun Death Rate Jumps 17 Percent Since 2008 Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller Decision Affirming Right to Own a Handgun for Self-Defense

Latest Edition of Annual Violence Policy Center Analysis Also Ranks States by Their Overall Gun Death Rates.

WASHINGTON - Gun deaths in the U.S. have jumped 17 percent since the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is a right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense, according to a new analysis by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) of just-released 2016 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention. Nationwide, the overall gun death rate (suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings) increased from 10.21 per 100,000 in 2009 (the year after the Heller decision) to 11.96 per 100,000 in 2016. 

VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand states, “In the years since the Heller decision, gun policy on the federal level and in too many states has gone in the wrong direction. These numbers show that as a nation we are facing an escalating gun crisis.”

(Please see http://www.vpc.org/state-gun-death-rates-and-percent-change-2009-to-2016/ for a table listing the gun death rates and percent change from 2009 to 2016 for all 50 states).

The VPC analysis also reveals that, as in prior years, in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available) states with higher rates of gun ownership and weak gun violence prevention laws had the highest overall gun death rates in the nation. In addition, states with the lowest overall gun death rates had lower rates of gun ownership and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation. A table of the states with the five highest gun death rates and the five lowest gun death rates is below. For a list of gun death rates in all 50 states, see http://www.vpc.org/state-firearm-death-rates-ranked-by-rate-2016/.

States with the Five Highest Gun Death Rates

Rank   State              Household Gun Ownership             Gun Death Rate Per 100,000

1          Alaska                        56.4 percent                           23.86

2          Alabama                     49.5 percent                           21.51

3          Louisiana                    49.0 percent                           21.08

4          Mississippi                  54.3 percent                           19.64

5          Oklahoma                   46.7 percent                           19.52

States with the Five Lowest Gun Death Rates

Rank   State              Household Gun Ownership             Gun Death Rate Per 100,000

50        Massachusetts           14.3 percent                          3.55

49        New York                   22.2 percent                          4.56

48        Hawaii                        12.5 percent                          4.62

47        Rhode Island              15.9 percent                          4.64

46        Connecticut                 22.2 percent                          4.81

The state with the highest per capita gun death rate in 2016 was Alaska, followed by Alabama. Each of these states has extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership. The state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation was Massachusetts, followed by New York. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership.

Nationally, the total number of Americans killed by gunfire increased to 38,658 in 2016 from 36,252 in 2015. The nationwide gun death rate in 2016 was 11.96 per 100,000, an increase of 6.0 percent from 2015’s gun death rate of 11.28 per 100,000. The increase in the overall firearm death rate was driven largely by firearm homicides, which increased by 10.4 percent (from a rate of 4.04 per 100,000 in 2015 to 4.46 per 100,000 in 2016). The firearms suicide rate was up 3.6 percent from 2015 to 2016.

State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

The VPC defined states with “weak” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public. States with “strong” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is absent from federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restricting the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.

State gun ownership rates were obtained from the October 2014 American Journal of Public Health article by Michael Siegel et al., “The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Stranger and Nonstranger Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981-2010,” which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.

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The Violence Policy Center is a national tax-exempt educational organization working for a safer America through research, investigation, analysis, and advocacy. The VPC provides information to policymakers, journalists, organizations, advocates, and the general public.

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