KNAU and Arizona News
11:12 am
Wed June 27, 2012

AZ Gun Deaths Among Highest in Nation

You are twice as likely to die from a gunshot in Arizona as in New York City or in Los Angeles.

According to recent research from the Violence Policy Center, Arizona’s gun death rate is among the highest in the nation.  

The Center reports Arizona has a rate of 13 gun deaths for every hundred thousand people.

That may not sound like a lot, but Houston’s rate is 13. And Chicago’s is 15

Among states, Arizona ranks 15th highest in per capita gun deaths.

Kirsten Rand, the Legislative Director at the Violence Policy Center, said “If you have a state that does have a rate that’s higher than a major city, that’s an indicator that state does have a very serious problem,”

The Center advocates for stricter gun control laws.

In 2009, the most recent year national data were available, Arizona had 856 gun-related fatalities.

Rand argues that Arizona’s high rates stem from looser gun policy.

 “It’s a simple equation,” Rand said. “The more people are exposed to firearms, the more likely they are to be the victim of a firearm related death or injury.”

Not everyone agrees.

Alan Korwin, an outspoken gun rights activist, responded, “It’s not about guns and it’s not about shootings. It’s about social policies--that’s causing enormous destruction and needs to be addressed.

Korwin runs the website gunlaws.com.

He says Arizona faces a crime problem, not a gun problem.

The high gun death number is not news to Phillip Stevenson, the Director of the Statistical Analysis Center at the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

“From 2009 to 2010, we did see a bump in both the number and rate of homicides in Arizona and that is certainly something to be concerned about,” said Stevenson.

Statistics show that nationally gun ownership and gun violence have gone down.

But in Arizona, both have remained steady.

Gun rights proponent Korwin says that higher crime rates make owning a gun a necessity.

He believes guns act as deterrents

“We’re heavily armed and the police are armed, and the criminals know if they break into a house with somebody in it, they might get shot. It’s a deterrent,” said Korwin.

Research shows there is a relationship between more guns and more gun deaths. 

But, it’s a complicated relationship.

Richard Rosenfeld teaches criminology at University of Missouri, St. Louis where he specializes in patterns and firearm related crime.

“Where overall levels of criminal violence are high, one tends to see increases in gun ownership,” said Rosenfeld. “It is also true, in other research, that where you see high levels of gun ownership, you also see high levels of firearm related fatality.”

However, Rosenfeld said the correlation isn’t clear.   

Are there more guns because there is more crime-related death?

Or are there more deaths because there are more guns?

But violent crime isn’t the whole picture.

Of Arizona’s 856 gun deaths, over two thirds of them were suicides or accidental discharges.

 “There are just horrendous tragedies,” said Rand. “People think they’ll get a gun for protection, and what happens? They leave their gun in the car and their toddler finds it and kills themselves, they leave it in their pocket and it accidentally goes off and kills a child. People need to understand the risks assumed when they carry a gun with them.”

CDC data show that, among the states, Arizona has the 9th highest rate of gun suicide.