States with Weak Gun Laws and Higher Gun Ownership Lead Nation in Gun Deaths, New Data for 2012 Confirms

For Release: Thursday, October 23, 2014

Washington, DC — States with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation, according to a Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis of newly available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Meanwhile, states with the lowest overall gun death rates have lower rates of gun ownership and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation. However, even in these states the human toll of gun violence remains unacceptably high and far exceeds the gun death rate in most Western industrialized nations.

The VPC analysis is based on newly released data and refers to overall gun death rates in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.

The five states with the highest per capita gun death rates in 2012 were Wyoming, Louisiana, Alaska, Mississippi, and 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 Hawaii, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws and has a lower rate of gun ownership.

“Year after year, the pattern is the same,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “States that passed effective gun violence prevention laws and have low rates of gun ownership also have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. In states with easy access to guns and weak gun violence prevention laws, gun death rates are far above the national average.”

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, please follow this link.

The nationwide gun death rate was 10.69 per 100,000. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire rose to 33,563 in 2012 from 32,351 in 2011.

America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of most other Western industrialized nations. The gun death rate in the United Kingdom in 2011 was 0.23 per 100,000 while in Australia it was 0.86 per 100,000.

States with the Five Highest Gun Death Rates

States with the Five Lowest Gun Death Rates



Household Gun Ownership Gun Death Rate per 100,000 Rank State Household Gun Ownership Gun Death Rate per 100,000
1 Wyoming 62.8 percent 20.29 50 Massachusetts 12.8 percent 3.51
2 Louisiana 45.6 percent 18.36 49 Hawaii 9.7 percent 3.67
3 Alaska 60.6 percent 18.07 48 Rhode Island 13.3 percent 4.00
4 Mississippi 54.3 percent 17.91 47 New York 18.1 percent 4.99
5 Alabama 57.2 percent 17.25 46 New Jersey 11.3 percent 5.01

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 September 2005 Pediatrics article “Prevalence of Household Firearms and Firearm-Storage Practices in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: Findings From the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002,” which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.


The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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