U.S. states with the least restrictive gun laws are among those with the highest rates of firearm-related violence such as homicides, suicides and assaults, according to a study of national crime data.
Eight of the 10 states with the weakest gun-control laws, including Louisiana, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana and Oklahoma, are among the 25 with the highest rates of violence, according to a study by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based group that favors tougher weapons curbs. Those with the strictest, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, were among the least violent, according to a ranking based on 10 criteria.
“While the strength of a state’s gun laws is just one factor in the prevalence of gun-related violence in the state and cannot alone account for gun violence, there is a clear link between weak gun laws and high levels of gun violence across the United States,” wrote Arkadi Gerney, Chelsea Parsons and Charles Posner, the authors of the study.
Gerney is a former adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The mayor is the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
The study is the second in the past month to suggest that stricter gun laws can improve public safety as Congress and states debate whether to impose more hurdles to firearm ownership following the December school shooting in Newtown Connecticut that left 20 children and six educators dead.
An article published by the American Medical Association in March found lower rates of gun-related homicides and suicides in states with the most firearms laws.
President Barack Obama is seeking to press the case for new gun-control measures that have stalled in Congress amid opposition from owners and lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association.
State gun-control efforts have also been slow to advance. While more than 600 bills aimed at restricting access to firearms were introduced this year, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, few have become law.
New York and Colorado have both approved new gun-control laws this year, while Connecticut lawmakers today approved bans on semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the Newtown shooting. Other states have moved to expand the rights of firearm owners, including South Dakota, where the legislators enacted a law allowing school workers to carry guns on the job.
In New York City, Bloomberg said today that mandatory 3.5-year prison sentences for illegal gun possession and police strategies targeting problem neighborhoods and gangs had driven down the rate of teens carrying guns to an all-time low of 2.3 percent in 2011. That’s less than half the national average of 5.1 percent and a decline of 36 percent since 2001, the mayor said, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Michael Hammond, a lawyer with the Gun Owners of America, a Springfield, Virginia-based group that lobbies against firearm restrictions, said he doubted the link cited in the Center for American Progress study, mentioning Chicago as an example of a place where gun laws haven’t stopped homicides.
“The most dangerous areas in the country are those with strong gun laws,” he said.
Firearms laws aren’t the only factor that explains the prevalence of violence in states and that some didn’t follow the trend, according to the study. For example, Michigan, with some of the strictest legislation, was the 25th most violent state in the study. Vermont, with some of the most permissive rules, was also among those with the fewest gun-related incidents.
“A state’s gun laws are but one of many factors that influence the rate of gun violence in a state,” the authors of the study wrote, citing other influences, such as the economy and gun trafficking across state lines.
Still, they said, “the correlation between the relative strength or weakness of a state’s gun laws and the rate of various indicators of gun violence in the state, however, should not be overlooked.”