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Mountain West states’ high firearm death rates stand out in new database

A close-up photo of a man holding a gun and revealing an empty revolver chamber to another man in the background.
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In 2020, there were nearly 14 firearm deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S., according to RAND Corporation.

A new database reveals the rates of firearm deaths in each state, and some of the highest levels are in the Mountain West.

In 2020, there were 13.7 firearm deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S., according to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit policy think tank. In Wyoming, the rate was 93% higher than the national average at 26.4 firearm deaths per 100,000 people. That also ranked as the second-highest level in the nation, trailing only Mississippi (27.6 deaths per 100,000).

Other Mountain West states with firearm death rates above the national average were New Mexico (22.7 per 100,000), Montana (22.0), Idaho (17.6), Nevada (17.4), and Colorado (15.9). The only state in the region below the national rate was Utah (13.2).

“In the Mountain West, what is driving the high rate is unusually high rates of firearm suicide,” said Terry Schell, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND. “Most of those states have firearm suicide rates that are around twice the national average.”

RAND’s interactive map, built from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, lets users not only see how firearm death rates vary across the U.S., but also explore how changes in firearm policy might reduce them. States that adopt laws to prevent children’s access to firearms would have the greatest impact on lowering death rates, according to the think tank.

In the Mountain West, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Montana have child-access prevention laws, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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