Do tough gun laws prevent firearm deaths? Here’s a state-by-state look

Gun homicides vary among states with strict gun laws

A Bay Area News Group analysis of recent gun death data from 2015-2019 shows there’s a strong correlation between strict state gun laws and lower overall firearm fatality rates. But nearly two-thirds of those deaths were suicides, and only about a third were homicides.

Looking just at homicides, there’s a wide range of gun death rates among states with weak as well as strict gun laws. A similar picture emerges when looking just at mass shootings in recent years.

Firearm Death Rates

The annual firearm death rate in the United States, from 2015 through 2019, was 11.9 per 100,000 residents. Of those deaths 4.3 were homicides, and 7.2 were suicides. You can see how each state ranks by sorting by all firearm deaths, or by firearm homicides. The Giffords Law Center rating for each states’ gun laws is included for reference.

To gun-rights advocates, it affirms their argument that gun laws aren’t effective and even counterproductive.

“Gun control doesn’t save lives and doesn’t stop firearm-related crimes,” said Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, based in Virginia. “Gun control disarms law-abiding citizens who might otherwise equip themselves with the tools to fight back against criminals and mass murderers.”

To those seeking stricter and more uniform gun legislation nationally, the figures affirm that stricter gun laws work, even if some states that have them still see higher homicide and mass shooting rates.

“We know we have more work to do, but among the 50 states, California has the seventh-lowest rate of gun deaths in the U.S., so I think there’s a lot of evidence that California gun laws are working and saving lives,” said Kelly Drane, research 

But gun-rights advocates have their own arguments. Johnston says focusing solely on firearm fatalities and homicides ignores the other side of the equation — people who use a gun to defend themselves — something that’s not nearly as well documented.

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