Group says states with weak gun laws and high ownership lead nation in deaths

Published: Feb. 24, 2020 at 11:03 AM CST
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Just-released WISQARS data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control show that states with the highest rates of overall gun death in the nation are those with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership according to a new Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis.

In addition, states with the lowest overall gun death rates have some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation and lower rates of gun ownership.

The VPC analysis refers to overall gun death rates in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. The deaths include gun homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. 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


The state with the highest per capita gun death rate in 2018 was Mississippi, followed by Alabama, Wyoming, Missouri, and Louisiana. 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 Rhode Island, followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, and New Jersey. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership.

The total number of Americans killed by gunfire in 2018 was 39,740, a slight drop from 39,773 in 2017. The nationwide gun death rate in 2018 also decreased slightly to 12.15 per 100,000 from 2017’s gun death rate of 12.23 per 100,000.

“Reduced exposure to guns, coupled with strong gun laws, saves lives,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “Each year, the data consistently show that the states with the lowest rates of gun death have effective gun violence prevention laws and low rates of gun ownership. Conversely, those states with the highest gun death rates have weak gun violence prevention laws combined with higher rates of gun ownership.”

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 restrictions on the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.

State gun ownership rates were obtained from the July 2019 American Journal of Preventative Medicine article by Aaron J. Kivisto, et al., “Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S.,” which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.