The notion that arming more Americans will protect people from being shot (the “good guy with a gun” theory) is a common refrain of the gun industry and the powerful lobby that supports it in the United States.
The slaughter of nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina church on June 17 was swiftly followed by a National Rifle Association board member suggesting publicly that if the church pastor had supported more lax gun laws, church-goers would have been armed and might have survived, for example. Armed citizens are standing “guard” outside of military recruitment offices around the country after the Tennessee shooting that killed four last week (and occasionally accidentally firing their guns).
Following the latest US mass shooting, which killed two people plus the shooter himself and wounded nine at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, the gun control debate is likely to flare up again. And a look at US gun ownership and gun death statistics casts some doubt on the “good guy with a gun” theory.
Complete and recent breakdowns of gun ownership by state are difficult to find, in part because the National Rifle Association has long pushed to stifle funding for research on guns’ impact on American society. Even based on limited information, though, there appears to be a relationship between high rates of gun deaths and high rates of gun ownership.
The most complete state-by-state ownership data comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics, from a 2005 report using data from a 2002 survey. Overall, America average household gun ownership rate is 32%, but that varies widely by state:
The most complete, most recent data on state-by-state deaths related to guns comes from the US’s latest National Vital Statistics report, released this February and using 2013 data, which has been broken out by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation:
Or, here’s another way to look at it. These are the 10 states with the highest rate of gun deaths in the country:
These states all have much higher rates of gun ownership than the average, and are among the top 20 US states when ranked by gun ownership rates (with the exception of New Mexico, which is one of the US’s deadliest and ranks 27th):