On Jan. 10, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finalized their most recent statistics on firearm mortality in the U.S. In Alaska, 177 firearm related deaths occurred in 2016. This is equivalent to about 23.3 deaths per 100,000 residents — the highest rate in the nation.
In Alaska, the number of deaths is rising. In comparison to 2014 statistics, the absolute number of victims grew by 27 while the rate increased by 4.1 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Nationwide, similar trends can be observed. In 2014, the national average amounted to a rate of about 10 deaths per 100,000 residents; two years later, the rate increased by 2.
The recently finalized statistics prompted a response by the Violence Policy Center, a non-profit organization advocating for gun control in the United States. In a press release from Jan. 17, the organization expressed severe concern about the rising gun death rate.
“Gun policy on the federal level, and in too many states, has gone in the wrong direction. These numbers show that — as a nation — we are facing an escalating gun crisis,” Kristen Rand, legislative director of the VPC said.
In the press release. Alaska’s gun violence prevention laws are described as “extremely lax.”
Alabama and Louisiana placed second and third, with about 21 fatalities per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts registered the lowest rate in the United States at 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 residents.
The VPC defines states with weak gun violence prevention laws as those that “add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the… carrying of firearms.”
In the statement, the organization links the high victim numbers in these states to lax firearm regulations.
Dillon Pratt, aviation major at UAA, does not see a link between the legal setting and the state’s gun death rate.
“I am not fond of the amount of attacks or killings that weapons have played a part in,” Pratt said. “People keep saying that we need to… stop selling [guns], but honestly, I don’t think that will help.”
Pratt does not believe that additional laws would solve the fundamental problem, stating that with more restrictions, people would still find a way to acquire firearms.
“New regulations might slow [the increasing gun death rate] down, but they won’t kill the situation,” Pratt said.
According to data of the American Journal of Public Health, about 56 percent of Alaskan households own a gun.
Gabriel Garcia, associate professor of public health at UAA, regards the situation from a health expert’s perspective. He recognizes an increased probability for gun violence based on the permissive laws in Alaska.
“In public health, we are taught to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Garcia said. “The alternative is certainly true as well; that is, when you make it easy to access products that can cause harm, there is greater likelihood that people will be harmed.”
Garcia believes that there is a high chance that those who own firearms can cause harm, intentionally or not.
Alaska’s suicide rate is an additional factor playing into the alarming numbers for gun deaths. The most recent annual report of the Department of Health and Social Services ranks suicide as the sixth most common cause of death in the state.
“It’s not just caused by a single factor, but rather various factors at multiple levels,” Garcia said.
At the individual and interpersonal level, factors such as depression, substance abuse and social isolation can lead to suicide.
“At the environmental or macro-level, historical trauma, permissive gun laws, and lack of access to behavioral health services can contribute to the problem of suicide,” Garcia said.
The complete statistics for the firearm mortality rate by state can be found at cdc.gov.