Oct 16, 2023 - Health

America's highest gun death rates are in the South

Cities with the most reported gun-related homicides per capita, 2022
Data: Center for American Progress Action Fund; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The cities with the highest firearm homicide rates are clustered in the South, generally in red states with less restrictive gun laws, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: The report argues that the findings refute Republican narratives that progressive policies stoke more crime in cities.

  • In fact, there's a distinct gap between urban firearm homicide rates in blue states — which tend to have stronger gun safety laws — and those in red states, the report concludes.
  • The analysis used data from the Gun Violence Archive on the 300 most populous U.S. cities.
  • It comes amid a growing push to treat gun violence as a public health crisis, including New Mexico's controversial use of a public health order to ban open and concealed carry.

What they're saying: The analysis shows "we're really seeing two different Americas when it comes to gun violence," said Chandler Hall, the report's author and a senior policy analyst at CAP.

  • "There's already a lot that cities are trying to do to address gun violence locally … but when they're hamstrung by state policies and can't control the flow of guns or how guns are carried in their cities, there's only so much city officials can do," he added.
  • What's more, some blue-state cities, like Chicago, are bordered by red states with looser gun laws.

Zoom in: St. Louis had America's highest gun homicide rate in 2022, followed by Birmingham, Ala., New Orleans, Jackson, Miss., and Baltimore.

By the numbers: The average gun homicide rate in blue-state cities was 7.2 per 100,000 residents from 2015 to 2022, the analysis found. In red-state cities, it was 11.1 deaths per 100,000.

Yes, but: Gun homicide rates were higher overall in blue cities — as defined by the mayor's party affiliation — than in red ones.

  • The report argues that blue cities differ from red cities when it comes to factors like population size, poverty rate and inequality, and that contrasting them doesn't yield meaningful conclusions.

The big picture: Cities also typically don't have much control over gun laws, experts say.

  • "A lot of cities are bound by state-level policies," said Dan Semenza, an assistant professor at Rutgers and a member of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. "There's often little wiggle room for cities to be able to go far and beyond the policies that states have on the books because the cities are required to abide by those laws and policies."
  • Semenza was not involved with the CAP analysis and had not seen it before talking to Axios, so was not directly addressing its results.
  • He said that research has shown that laws to keep children from accessing guns and background checks paired with some kind of licensing or permitting can reduce gun violence. On the other hand, more permissive concealed carry laws increase the risk of violence.
  • "At the end of the day, it's just about guns and opportunities and that risk, and it goes up when more guns are available," he said. "It's not about individual intent. It's about population-level risk."
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