Missouri among states with most firearm-related death

Nationally, the number of people dying from gun violence is rising.

And in 2017, Missouri was among the states with the most deaths by firearms per capita.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that at 21.5 deaths by shooting per 100,000 population, Missouri was tied for fifth-worst in that category - with Mississippi.

The four states with higher rates of gun deaths were Alaska, 24.5 per 100,000; Alabama, 22.9; Montana, 22.4; and Louisiana, 21.7.

Even worse, researchers said, small children are more often becoming the victims of the violence.

Despite data showing there is declining firearm ownership, the number of children ages 1-5 dying through gun violence is increasing rapidly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization studied data from 41 years, from 1976-2016.

In research released today, it looked at national trends in firearm ownership by type - long guns, such as rifles or shotguns, or handguns. It also looked at whether those firearms were in homes with small children.

Lastly, it considered whether the types of firearms, specifically handguns, were more strongly associated with young child firearm-related deaths compared to firearm ownership in general.

The rate of children who died because of accidents involving firearms declined from 1976 until after the turn of the century. However, the rate then "stagnated," according to the AAP report.

The trend appears to have reversed since that time, particularly among young children. From 2006-16, the rate of firearms taking the lives of young children has essentially doubled. In 2006, the rate was 0.36 lives per 100,000 population nationally. In 2016, it was about 0.63 per 100,000.

"Firearm-related injury is currently the fifth most common cause of injury-related deaths among this age group (101 deaths in 2016), behind drowning (425), motor vehicle-related deaths (334), suffocation (118), and fire and/or burn injuries (107)," the report states.

A possible explanation for the increase in the firearm-related deaths is an evolution in the types of firearms now in homes.

Shootings of young children are most often unintentional incidents. And small firearms, such as handguns, are easier for young children to handle than long guns. Research suggests, according to the report, that a child as young as 2 has the strength to operate a handgun.

"Relative to other firearms, like hunting rifles, handguns, because they are more likely to be purchased for personal protection, are more likely to be stored loaded with ammunition, unlocked, and in a more easily accessible place, such as a bedroom drawer," according to the report. "Indeed, states with larger proportions of gun owners who stored their firearms loaded and unlocked also had higher rates of unintentional firearm deaths among both children and adults."

Last week, the Violence Policy Center - a nonprofit organization that works to stop gun death and injury through research, education, advocacy and collaboration - released a report based on searches of CDC databases. The VPC pulled data from the CDC's web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting system to look at fatal injury data. It also graded states based on their gun laws and gun ownership rates.

The states with the weakest gun laws and highest gun ownership led the nation in gun deaths, according to the center.

In 2016, Missouri had the fifth-highest firearms death rate (21.38 per 100,000 population), according to the center's research.

It followed only Alaska, 24.33 per 100,000; Montana, 23.23; Alabama, 23.06; and Louisiana, 21.52. The rankings mirrored the rankings for household firearms ownership - Alaska, 56.4 percent; Montana, 67.5; Alabama, 49.5; Louisiana, 49; and Missouri, 43.9.

"Each of these states has extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership," the report states.

The state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation was Hawaii, followed by Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Kristen Rand, the legislative director for the center, said the most important factor in lowering firearms deaths is lowering exposure to guns.

"There is a stark difference between the gun laws in place in the states with the highest rates compared to those with the lowest rates," Rand said in an email to the News Tribune. "For example, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut all have either a permit to purchase system or a universal background check requirement. Most have assault weapons bans, and all allow law enforcement discretion regarding who may carry a concealed firearm. Missouri has none of those provisions. However, the more important factor in lower gun death rates is lower exposure to firearms as evidenced by gun ownership rates."

In general, the AAP report states, firearm ownership has declined in the United States over the decades - particularly among white families with young children. However, the proportion of those same families that have a handgun in the household is increasing.

"Handgun ownership has a stronger association with firearm-related fatalities among white 1- to 5-year-olds than (overall) firearm ownership," according to the report, "generally suggesting that changes in the types of firearms in the homes of families may be contributing to the rising firearm-related mortality rate among young children."