MSU expert explains state gun deaths ranking

Mississippi State University criminology professor David May

Deaths caused by firearms remain a pervasive problem across the country, with a recent report ranking Mississippi in the top five states with the most gun deaths.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) recently released its most recent analysis of gun deaths across the country, and reported 19.64 guns deaths in Mississippi per 100,000 people, which ranked the state with the fourth-highest total.

Alabama (2nd) and Louisiana (3rd) both finished with higher gun death rates per capita than Mississippi, with 21.51 and 21.08, respectively. Alaska was ranked as the state with the highest gun death rate per capita, at 23.86.

Mississippi State University criminology professor David May said higher levels of gun ownership leads to the increased availability of guns, which can lead to higher levels of accidental homicides by guns.

May’s recent research focuses on examining prisoners' perceptions of the punitiveness of incarceration, causes and consequences of school violence, and fear of criminal victimization, according to his MSU teaching profile.

He has also authored or coauthored four books in these areas.

With gun ownership higher in the Deep South, May said so is the homicide rate, a crime largely committed with firearms. 

May cited the FBI’s homicide rankings by region and state for 2013, which is the same year of the data provided by the CDC. 

“If my calculations are correct for that year, Mississippi (6.5 per 100,000) ranked 3rd in murder/non-negligent manslaughter behind Louisiana (10.8) and Alabama (7.2),” May said. “This excludes Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Thus, part of the reason the rate of gun deaths is higher in Mississippi is because the murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate is higher here also.”

Among the top five states with the highest gun death rate, Mississippi finished with the second highest percentage of households classified as gun owners (54.3 percent), while Alaska finished with the highest at 56.4 percent.

May said there are three primary reasons gun ownership is so important in the south: hunting, sporting, and a subculture of gun ownership where sporting/hunting is an important part of father and son relationships. 

“Because we have so much hunting land available, many fathers/sons hunt and shoot for sport,” May said. “Thus, males (and females, for that matter) are brought up with guns as an acceptable part of everyday life at rates far higher in the South than other places.”

Because firearms are so ingrained in southern culture, May said efforts to limit firearm use and ownership are rarely politically popular

“Gun shows, for example, are largely a southern/Midwestern phenomenon,” May said. “Guns are easily available for purchase, with relatively lax gun laws, in comparison to other parts of the country, and thus are widely available.”

Guns in Southern culture have also recently manifested in legislators pushing for sweeping concealed carry changes to public colleges and universities across the country.

The Starkville Daily News reported last week that a bill passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives could allow for expansion of open carry rules, including on college campuses.

House Bill 1083 passed the House by a margin of 81-29.

If signed into law, the measure, which applies only to those with enhanced firearm permits, would change the law to include “any other public property, or portion of public property” as places where concealed carry is allowed.

College dorms, stadiums and other buildings would be included under this definition.

Nationally, gun deaths have jumped 17 percent since 2008, according to findings presented by the VPC.

May then said the vast majority of homicides in the U.S. are not committed by people owning the gun they used in the homicide legally, because they are either too young to own the handgun they used in the murder legally (about 1 in 5 arrestees each year) or they stole, borrowed, or bought illegally the gun they used in the homicide. 

May previously wrote a book several years ago where his team surveyed juveniles incarcerated for serious violent crimes in Indiana.

“The vast majority said they could easily get a gun or already had one, and none of them could own a gun legally—other research supports this among adults as well,” May said.

The National Rifle Association, the foremost advocacy and lobbying group for gun rights in the country, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.