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Reporting on health care, criminal justice, the economy and other important issues in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Louisiana has 2nd highest U.S. gun death rate. A study blames weak laws, high ownership

A stock image of a handgun
Photo courtesy of Damien Goodyear
Flickr Creative Commons
A stock image of a handgun

A new study on gun death rates in the U.S. shows Gulf South states among the top five for the highest overall death rates for 2021, and it places the blame on weak gun laws and high rates of gun ownership.

The Violence Policy Center, a non-profit educational organization based in Washington D.C., used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the study, which it has published every year since 2006.

The study ranked Mississippi first of all 50 states with a gun death rate of 32.61 per 100,000 people. Louisiana ranked second with a rate of 28.42 and Alabama ranked fifth with a rate of 26.09. Each of the three states also had some of the highest household gun ownership rates in the U.S., according to a study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, at 50.9%, 46.6% and 48.3% respectively.

The nationwide gun death rate in 2021, the study said, increased to 14.71 per 100,000 people, up from 13.73 per 100,000 people in 2020.

“America is facing an unprecedented gun violence crisis,” Kristen Rand, VPC’s government affairs director, said. “The evidence could not be more compelling that our spiraling gun death rates are driven by exposure to firearms.”

Josh Sugarmann, the center’s executive director, said he's rarely surprised by the results anymore, especially when it comes to the South.

“The fact is that these states have virtually no laws on a statewide level that go beyond federal gun law,” he said. “And there's a reason for that …they're pro-gun states.”

Sugarmann said the south’s outlook contrasts with states on the east coast that have significantly lower gun death rates and ownership rates. For example, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, rank in the bottom five.

Communities in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana that do want stronger gun laws are at the mercy of their state governments thanks to firearms preemption laws, meaning no city or community can pass a gun law tougher than what is in effect statewide.

Sugarmann believes another issue these states have is that they are in denial that they even have a gun problem, with some trying to segment gun death. However, VPC uses the CDC’s data to analyze the total number of gun deaths. That number includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional deaths.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration among Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Alabama and WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR.

Taylor Washington is the reporting fellow for the Gulf States Newsroom.

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