Guns Around the Country: Tougher State Laws Linked to Fewer Shooting Deaths

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 07, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After last week's Oregon community college campus shooting, President Obama gave a speech calling for more gun control. He said that stricter regulations lead to fewer gun deaths, a fact that probably came from a 2015 National Journal investigation.

The investigation concluded that there was a direct relationship between loose gun laws and more gun deaths. But not every state fits neatly into the paradigm. Let's take a look at the research and the data and see how deep the connection between the two goes.

Seven Questions Make up the Data

The investigation compared various prohibitions on gun purchases and the number of gun deaths in a given state per 100,000 people, adjusted for age and based on information from 2013. These are the questions it asked, and upon which the conclusion that tough gun laws lead to fewer gun deaths was based:

1. Is a permit required to purchase a handgun?
2. Are there universal background checks on handguns?
3. Must handguns be registered?
4. Does some form of "stand your ground" law [for self-defense]exist?
5. How difficult is it, generally, to obtain a concealed carry permit?
6. How difficult is it, generally, to obtain an open carry permit?
7. Is there a waiting period for obtaining handguns?

Top Six States for Fewest Gun Deaths

1. Hawaii has the most prohibitions on guns and the fewest gun deaths. It requires the following: a permit for handgun purchases, universal background checks, and handgun registration. It has no "stand your ground' law, makes obtaining a concealed or open carry permit difficult, and has a 14-day waiting period for gun purchases. Hawaii has the fewest gun deaths per 100,000 people at a rate of 2.5.

2. Massachusetts rules differ from those of Hawaii insofar as there is no handgun registration or waiting period for gun purchases. The rate of gun-related deaths per 100,000 is 2.9.

3. New York has all the same prohibitions as Hawaii but bars open carry permits altogether and has no waiting period. The gun rate death per 100,000 people in New York is 4.1.

4. Connecticut has the same requirements as Massachusetts but does make it slightly easier to obtain an open carry permit. The gun death rate per 100,000 is 4.3.

5. Rhode Island requires no handgun permit or registration but otherwise resembles Connecticut. It has a gun death rate of 5.2 per 100,000.

6. New Jersey has no handgun registration requirement and a seven-day waiting period. It's gun death rate is 5.7.

The Six States With the Most Gun Deaths

Wyoming, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alaska have the dubious distinction of the most gun-related deaths in the nation per 100,000 people, ranging from 16.7 to 19.8, respectively. All have stand your ground laws, although in Arkansas and Alaska these are newly enacted and do not impact the gun death data.

Interestingly, the two states that are not attached to the nation geographically have the lowest and highest gun-death rates. Hawaii has the least and Alaska has the most.

A Notable Exception

New Hampshire is a notable exception to the National Journal's general findings. It has the least restrictive gun laws but also the seventh lowest gun death rate, suggesting that citizens there take to heart the state motto, Live Free or Die.

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