Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, a heated debate has raged over gun laws in the country. Supporters of gun control measures argue that more gun control is necessary to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals. Opponents argue that stricter gun control laws will not solve violent crime problems and may even make law-abiding citizens easier targets by making guns harder to buy legally.
Each state has different sets of gun ownership laws. According to the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank that supports gun control, there appears to be a strong relationship between the strength of gun laws in the state and the amount of gun violence. In some states, gun violence exceeds the rest of the country by a wide margin. In Louisiana, between 2001 and 2010, there were 18.9 gun deaths for every 100,000 people, more than six times the rate in Hawaii, the state with the lowest violence. Based on the Center for American Progress report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the most gun violence.
The states on this list with higher gun violence tend to have much less stringent gun laws than other states with less violence like New Jersey, Connecticut and Hawaii. For instance, none of the states on with the highest gun violence require permits for handgun purchases. In the 10 states with the lowest gun violence, seven have this requirement, including all six states with the lowest levels of gun violence. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave seven of the 10 states an F for their gun control policies, with the remaining three receiving a D or D–.
Even as President Obama and leaders in states such as New York and Connecticut have pushed for tighter gun control following high-profile mass shootings in the past couple of years, these states have moved in the opposite direction.
For instance, Louisiana voters last month approved a constitutional amendment requiring a very high standard for gun control legislation to be enacted in the state. Louisiana has the highest rate of gun violence in the country. Alabama Senators voted earlier this month to allow gun owners to keep firearms locked in their car while at work regardless of their employer’s opinion.
Of course, not everyone agrees with the Center for American Progress. In states with looser gun laws, homicides could be higher since more people are able to use a gun to defend themselves, argues David Kopel, research director for the conservative think tank Independence Institute. He estimates that anywhere between 7% and 12% of homicides consist of self-defense, in addition to countless cases where law-abiding gun owners serve as a deterrent.
The Center for American Progress “only look at the harm of guns and refuse to take into account any deterrent or self-defense effect of firearms,” Kopel said in an interview.
Chelsea Parsons, associate director of crime and firearms policy at the Center and a co-author of this report, responded by saying the report measures all gun violence and not just homicides. “The numbers speak for themselves,” she said. She added that the fact that the states with fewer gun restrictions tend to have more gun deaths and injuries “is likely more than a coincidence.”
But stricter gun control laws alone may not solve these states’ gun violence problems. All but one state on this list had property crime rates in 2011 that were in the top half of all states. Seven of the states on this list are among the top 10 in terms of property crime, including all the top four states. The high rates of property crimes, which generally do not involve the use of firearms, indicate a more complex crime problem in these states.
Based on data provided by the Center for American Progress, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the 10 states with the most gun violence. These rankings were based on 10 different criteria, including 2010 firearm homicide deaths per 100,000 people and 2011 firearm-related aggravated assaults. Calculated by the Center, the average rank among all states for each criteria was used to determine the ranking. We also considered data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, such as a state’s crime rate per 100,000 people and property crime rates, as well as the crime rates for large metropolitan areas. Gun laws by state were compiled by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action and various news outlets. All data are for the most recent available years.