More Americans passed away from firearm-related injuries in 2021 than any other year on record. Of the 48,830 people lost, 54% were from people taking their own life, 43% were homicides, and the remaining 3% were from accidental or undetermined circumstances.
This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data is troubling. And based on the current state of America, it’s reasonable to assume these numbers may not improve once researchers sort through recent statistics.
Gathering the Data
World Population Review ranked the most dangerous states in the U.S. according to firearms fatality rates. These numbers paint a different picture than homicide-only incidents, which they rank separately.
Alaska has the highest firearm fatality rate in America, with 23 firearm victims per 100,000 people. Sadly, this isn’t a new statistic for Alaska; it’s had the highest firearm mortality rate in the U.S. since at least 1999.
Some experts suggest that Alaska has such high firearm fatalities because firearms are used as tools in rural areas; they’re a part of survival equipment. Therefore, Alaskans have a higher firearm ownership rate than residents in many other states.
Alabama’s firearm fatality rate is 21.4 per 100,000 people, placing it well below Alaska but still far too high for comfort. The state is notorious for weak firearm laws, with straw purchasing (the act of someone legally buying a firearm and giving it to someone who can’t legally have it) contributing to Alabama’s firearm violence.
Louisiana’s firearm mortality rate is 21.2 per 100,000 people. Residents blame high poverty rates due to poor education and many unemployed people as factors causing so many life-taking firearm incidents.
To some, Mississippi’s 19.8 firearm fatality rate per 100,000 people seems obvious. Firearm carriers aren’t required to hold a license, nor do they need to undergo a background check. Openly carrying certain firearms is permitted in most areas, contributing to Everytown Research ranking Mississippi as #50 in the country for the worst firearm law strength.
Oklahoma’s firearm mortality rate is barely better than Mississippi’s, with 19.6 incidents per 100,000 residents. As High Plains Public Radio puts it, Oklahoma has an affinity for firearms dating back to the frontier days in the 19th century, when residents lived far from their nearest neighbor, using firearms to protect their families from the harm that came with frontier life.
Montana’s firearm fatality rate is 19 per 100,000 people. According to Everytown Research, Montana has the highest firearm ownership rate in the U.S. Its legislature leans towards being firearm-friendly, with laws passed to allow firearms on college campuses.
Missouri has a firearm mortality rate of 18.8 per 100,000 people. Locals can open carry without a permit as long as the carrier doesn’t display their firearm in an angry or threatening way. That said, some localities ban open carry.
8: New Mexico
New Mexico’s firearm fatality rate is 18.2 per 100,000 people. The state stands out as improving its firearm policies in recent years. Recent additions to New Mexico’s laws include passing a background check, domestic violence protections, secure storage laws, and an Extreme Risk law legislature.
Policymakers are hopeful these changes will help New Mexico fall lower on the list of firearm fatalities in the coming years.
Arkansas has a firearm mortality rate of 17.7 per 100,000 people. Everytown Research ranks Arkansas as the second worst state in the country for firearm law strength.
10: South Carolina
South Carolina’s firearm fatality rate is 17.2 per 100,000 people. This high rate could be attributed to the state only having 11 out of 50 key firearm policies in place. That said, South Carolina has some laws against dangerous public carry, including prohibiting firearms in K-12 schools.
Kentucky has a firearm mortality rate of 17.5 per 100,000 people. A survey by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati revealed that 55% of Kentucky adults said they have firearms in or around their homes. That’s higher than the national average of 42% of Americans with a firearm in their house.
12: West Virginia
West Virginia’s firearm fatality rate is 17.5 per 100,000 people, tying it with Kentucky. In 2022, data revealed that West Virginia reported higher firearm sales per capita than almost any other state in the U.S.
Wyoming has a firearm mortality rate of 17.5 per 100,000 people, just like Kentucky and West Virginia. Some people attribute this to many Wyoming residents living in rural areas, with the culture being to own a firearm for hunting and safety.
Tennessee’s firearm fatality rate is 17 per 100,000 people. From 2011 to 2020, people passing away at the hands of firearms in Tennessee increased by 48%. Like so many states, it’s made national news for shootings, calling some locals to pressure the government to make legislative changes.
Nevada has a firearm mortality rate of 16.7 per 100,000 people. In 2019 alone, 490 Nevadans died at the hand of firearm violence per day. That means that more than one Nevada resident passed away per day from firearm incidents.
Arizona’s firearm statistics look significantly better than the first 15 states on this list, with a fatality rate of 15.2 per 100,000 people. According to Everytown Research, over 70% of firearm incidents in Arizona are from people taking their own life.
Georgia’s firearm fatality rate is 14.9 per 100,000 people. The outlook for firearm incidents is looking grim for the state, with a 25% increase in people passing away from firearms between 2010 to 2019.
Indiana has a firearm mortality rate of 14.9 per 100,000 people. No licenses are required to purchase a firearm in Indiana. Furthermore, both open carry and concealed carry are legal for firearm holders without needing to apply for a permit.
Idaho’s firearm fatality rate is 14.6 per 100,000 people. There aren’t any laws regulating assault weapons or large-capacity magazines. Open and concealed carry is legal if an individual is at least 18 years old and hasn’t been previously banned from having a firearm.
Colorado has a firearm mortality rate of 14.3 per 100,000 people. To combat this high number, Colorado’s governor signed a bill in April 2023 to raise the firearm buying age from 18 to 21, create a three-day waiting period between when someone buys and receives their firearm, and establish a red flag law.
21: North Carolina
North Carolina’s firearm fatality rate is 13.6 per 100,000 people. While the state allows open carry without a permit, counties are permitted to regulate whether or not firearms are displayed on public roads, sidewalks, and other public spaces.
22: South Dakota
South Dakota has a firearm mortality rate of 13.5 per 100,000 people. There aren’t any key firearm laws established in South Dakota, including secure storage, waiting periods, or Extreme Risk laws. Some attribute this being the reason that 79% of people in South Dakota take their life by firearms, significantly higher than the national average.
Kansas’ firearm fatality rate is 13.3 per 100,000 people. Firearm laws are loose in Kansas, though as of 2018, the state included domestic violence protections in its regulations.
Ohio has a firearm mortality rate of 12.9 per 100,000 people. In June 2022, firearm possession laws changed. Individuals at least 21 years old and classified as “qualifying adults” may carry firearms publicly in Ohio without permits or background checks.
Utah shares Ohio’s firearm fatality rate of 12.9 per 100,000 people. As with Ohio, Utah has loosened its firearm laws. In 2021, they passed legislation saying that anyone over 21 years old who can legally own a firearm may carry a loaded, hidden one in public.
Florida’s firearm fatality rate is 12.6 per 100,000 people. The state has a 3-day waiting period mandate. However, individuals in Florida don’t need a permit to purchase a firearm.
Michigan has a firearm mortality rate of 12.2 per 100,000 people. The state has relatively strict firearm laws, signing several new reform laws into effect in April 2023. They include universal background checks, safe storage, and implementing extreme risk protection orders.
Texas’ firearm fatality rate is 12.1 per 100,000 people. Its firearm laws have faced scrutiny, given the number of firearm incidents that have made national news. While some argue that Texas’ firearm regulations have too many loopholes, Governor Greg Abbott firmly believes that Texans have a right to own firearms under the Second Amendment.
Virginia has a firearm mortality rate of 12 per 100,000 people. Everytown Research ranks Virginia 14 out of 50 for its firearm violence prevention laws. Some new laws passed in 2020 and 2021 include the relinquishment of domestic abusers under restraining orders and extending the background check completion period before transferring firearm ownership.
Pennsylvania’s firearm fatality rate is 11.9 per 100,000 people. The state requires firearm holders to be a minimum of 21 years old, and a license is required. However, Pennsylvania lacks several foundational firearm laws, including Extreme Risk and secure storage.
31: North Dakota
North Dakota shares Pennsylvania’s firearm mortality rate of 11.9 per 100,000 people. It’s a stray ranking on this list, for it only has ten out of 50 key firearm policies in its legislation. Of the firearm fatalities that occur, the majority are from people taking their own life.
Maryland’s firearm fatality rate is 11.8 per 100,000 people. It’s a shall-issue state, with state police managing the permits issued for concealed weapons. Receiving a state-issued permit to carry a concealed firearm is challenging, which may contribute to Maryland’s relatively low firearm fatality ranking.
Oregon has the same firearm mortality rate of 11.8 per 100,000 people as Maryland. Oregon ranks as #9 in the U.S. for firearm law strength. However, few of its laws target product safety and the firearm industry.
Illinois’ firearm fatality rate is 11.6 per 100,000 people. It has among the strongest firearm laws in the country. Critics point the finger at nearby states with looser laws as a reason for Illinois’ firearm mortality rates.
Wisconsin has a firearm mortality rate of 11 per 100,000 people. Despite being in the top 20 for the fewest firearm fatalities in the U.S., Wisconsin has weak firearm laws. They don’t have Extreme Risk regulations nor require background checks for all firearm sales.
Like Wisconsin, Vermont has a firearm fatality rate of 11 per 100,000 people. It lags behind certain other New England states, as it doesn’t have a secure storage law. However, Vermont has made strides to strengthen its firearm regulations, including banning high-capacity magazines.
Delaware’s firearm mortality rate is 10.9 per 100,000 people. The state has taken a firm stance to curtail firearm incidents; one of the most notable is passing a law to hold irresponsible firearm industry members accountable should their actions result in harm.
38: New Hampshire
New Hampshire has a firearm fatality rate of 9.3 per 100,000 people, making it the first state on this list to drop below double digits. Despite this, open carry and concealed carry are legal without a license as long as the individual is at least 18 years old and can legally possess a firearm under state guidelines, giving pro-firearm advocates support for their case.
Iowa’s firearm mortality rate is 9.2 per 100,000 people. Individuals must be at least 21 years old to open or concealed carry. However, despite Iowa’s relatively low firearm fatality rate, some people criticize the state for not requiring a waiting period or firearms registration.
Nebraska has a firearm fatality rate of 9.1 per 100,000 people. Its legislation has changed little recently. People must apply for a firearm permit, though they don’t have secure storage or Extreme Risk regulations in place.
Washington’s firearm mortality rate is 9 per 100,000 people. Residents don’t need a license to carry several types of firearms, though they must possess a license if they wish to carry a concealed one. Washington law states that it’s illegal to alter or modify a firearm.
Maine has a firearm fatality rate of 8.2 per 100,000 people. The state has relatively loose firearm laws, including lacking background checks for all sales and a waiting period. Some people attribute Maine’s low firearm mortality rate to its neighboring states, which have tighter laws.
California’s firearm mortality rate is 7.9 per 100,000 people. Everytown Research ranks it #1 in the country for firearm law strength. The fact that Californians have one of the lowest firearm ownership rates in the country could contribute to its low firearm fatality rate.
Minnesota has a firearm fatality rate of 7.6 per 100,000 people. This number could continue to decline as new legislation has arrived on Governor Tim Walz’s desk, requiring private firearm transfers to have background checks and authorizing extreme risk protection.
45: New Jersey
New Jersey’s firearm mortality rate is 5.5 per 100,000 people, a significant drop from Minnesota’s. That could be due, in part, to New Jersey being the first state to regulate untraceable and undetectable firearms comprehensively.
Connecticut has a firearm fatality rate of 4.6 per 100,000 people. The data coincides with strong firearm legislation and a low firearm ownership rate. Connecticut made quick strides to improve its laws after the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident in 2012.
Hawaii’s firearm mortality rate is 4.5 per 100,000 people. The state has a law requiring people wanting to apply for a license to carry a firearm to undergo firearms safety training.
48: New York
New York has a firearm fatality rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people. It takes one of the strongest stances on firearm possession in the country, and it’s passed a firearm industry liability law, allowing them to go after firearm manufacturers and dealers with dangerous business practices.
49: Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s firearm mortality rate is 4 per 100,000 people. They have strict laws against ghost firearms, high-capacity magazines, and domestic violence. However, many argue that there’s still a long way to go, for Rhode Island lacks protections against police abuse.
Massachusetts has a lot to boast about with being the last state on this list. Nevertheless, even one firearm fatality is too much, and Massachusetts has a rate of 3.4 mortalities per 100,000 people.
What Makes Massachusetts So Unique?
Interestingly, Massachusetts residents as young as 15 years old are permitted to legally possess, carry, and transport firearms as long as they obtain a license through their municipal police department. The state emphasizes firearm safety programs, which are led by individuals passionate about responsible firearm ownership.
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