Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich makes a facile comparison between “two gun cultures” in America and claims that gun violence is largely limited to urban areas. However, high levels of gun death exist throughout America, and many of the states with the highest rates of gun death are rural states with weak gun laws.
In one gun culture, Pavlich claims firearms are used “to celebrate American history, for collection, personal protection, hunting and sport” while the other gun culture “can be found in the inner city of Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and others.”
In publishing today's column, Pavlich joined a growing chorus of conservatives in media scrambling to deny the link between firearm availability and gun violence in the wake of the murder-suicide involving NFL player Jovan Belcher. From her column:
Historically in America we've had a deep respect for firearms. The vast majority of people have used them to celebrate American history, for collection, personal protection, hunting and sport. We see American gun culture celebrated each year when dads take their kids elk hunting for the first time. We see it when women head to the range to safely practice shooting their new pink pistols. We see it when a mother shoots an intruder while she is home alone in order to protect her children. We see it practiced when thousands of people sign up for concealed carry permit and hunters' safety classes each year. Not to mention, the multi-billion-dollar firearms industry employs millions of people and provides the government with billions in tax revenue every year.
The other gun culture in America can be found in the inner city of Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and others. Ironically, violent gun culture is found within gangs in cities with the strictest gun laws. It is the same culture promoted in Hollywood films made by liberals, glorified by rappers whose music is worshiped in violent gang plagued neighborhoods and disrespectfully joked about at NBA parties.
Pavlich seems satisfied with simply marginalizing the problem of gun violence to big cities. Gun violence is tragic wherever it may occur. But beyond that, an insidious falsehood lurks beneath Pavlich's comparison; an idea that in non-urban America there are no negative outcomes involving firearms. In reality, the rate of firearm death in the United States is shockingly high in both urban and rural areas, especially when compared to other high-income nations.
According to Centers for Disease Control data analyzed by the Violence Policy Center, the five states with the highest rates of gun death are Alaska (20.64 per 100,000), Mississippi (19.32 per 100,000), Louisiana (18.47 per 100,000), Alabama (17.53 per 100,000) and Wyoming (17.45 per 100,000). The states with the lowest rate gun death are Hawaii (3.18 per 100,000), Massachusetts (3.42 per 100,000), Rhode Island (4.18 per 100,000), New York (4.95 per 100,000) and New Jersey (4.95 per 100,000). The VPC did not rank the District of Columbia which had a rate of 21.7 per 100,000.
In The Atlantic, senior editor Richard Florida analyzed a number of economic, social and political factors to see which one had the strongest correlation with gun death rates. The strongest predictor of whether a state would have a high level of gun death was if it went for Sen. John McCain -- who largely captured rural America -- during the 2008 presidential election.
While gun violence disproportionately occurs in metropolitan areas, firearm homicides are a national epidemic. For example, the cities that Pavlich cites -- Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles -- accounted for approximately 8.6 percent of all gun homicides and roughly 4.9 percent of the United States population, based on a Media Matters review of crime data from 2010. Using serious violent crime as a proxy for gun violence, the results are similar. According to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, the serious violent crime victimization rate in 2011 was 9.7 per 100,000 in urban areas, 5.7 per 100,000 in suburban areas and 6.7 per 100,00 in rural areas.
A 2010 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children living in urban and rural areas in the United States were equally likely to die from gunfire:
Children in the most-rural US counties had firearm mortality rates that were statistically indistinguishable from those for children in the most-urban counties. This finding reflects a greater homicide rate in urban counties counterbalanced by greater suicide and unintentional firearm death rates in rural counties.
Pavlich's claim that “violent gun culture is found within gangs in cities with the strictest gun laws” ignores that higher levels of gun violence are found wherever gun ownership is most prevalent. Research conducted at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide.”
Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, we examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. We found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.
The VPC similarly concluded that states with the highest rates of gun death often have the weakest gun laws.
Media Matters located 2010 gun homicide data for Chicago, the District of Columbia, New York City and Los Angeles, and compared it to the most recent available gun homicide figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System to approximate the proportion of gun homicides that occur in those cities.