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Where gun violence is concentrated: It's not where you might think

December 20, 2012|By Dan Turner
  • A Sig Sauer handgun is seen at CJI Guns store in Tucker, Ga.
A Sig Sauer handgun is seen at CJI Guns store in Tucker, Ga. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA )

Despite Friday's slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Conn., it turns out that gun violence isn't particularly common in that state. Per-capita firearm homicides are about average compared to other U.S. states, and Connecticut actually gets high marks from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose score card rates it fifth best in the nation for its legislative efforts to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals.

As Congress and the states examine ways to toughen gun laws in the wake of the elementary school rampage that left 20 children and seven adults dead, figures like that aren't very encouraging. If horrors like the Sandy Hook massacre can happen even in states that do a decent job of controlling guns, what's the point of forcing states with looser laws to crack down? Researchers have for years been trying to answer the question of whether gun violence drops in states that approve strict gun laws, only to produce studies that contradict each other or provide mixed results.

The problem probably stems from the fact that the United States is a patchwork of 50 governments with widely differing ideas about how to regulate firearms; and there is such a thing as interstate commerce -- if you can't buy a gun in your home state, you can drive across the border to a more permissive one. This is an argument for strong federal rather than state restrictions, but of course the power of Congress in this area is limited by the 2nd Amendment.

Even if statistics don't point to a cure for America's gun epidemic, they do show some interesting things about where gun violence is concentrated. It's not where you might think. Urban states with heavy gang populations such as California and New York aren't particularly high up on the list of per-capita gun killings, though of course in terms of absolute numbers, they look like murder capitals because of their big populations. Mid-size Southern states seem to be the places people are trigger-happiest -- and where, of course, political opposition to gun control often runs strongest. Perhaps that's because most of the bloodletting happens in Southern cities, and it's in rural areas -- where gun violence is slight -- that gun rights are held most sacred.

The 10 states that follow are ranked based on the number of gun homicides per 100,000 population. For the crime statistics, I used this chart from the FBI, which has pluses and minuses; on the plus side, it's more up to date than most of the gun-crime data available, using murder rates from 2011. On the minus side, two states are missing from the chart, apparently because the FBI couldn't get the numbers from them: Alabama and Florida.

SLIDESHOW: The 10 trigger-happiest states in America

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