As deaths from gunshot wounds rose steadily in Georgia and most other states, the District of Columbia crafted a narrative-busting success story. Once one of the nation’s most violent jurisdictions, the District reduced firearms deaths by more than half, even as its strict gun-control laws came under attack in Congress and the courts.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of government statistics, insurance industry data and reports from state vital-records agencies found that Washington cut gun deaths by 58 percent over the past decade.
Besides D.C., only four states reported fewer gun deaths in 2013 than in 2003, the Journal-Constitution found: New York (down 17 percent), California (down 13 percent), Maryland (down 11 percent) and Illinois (down 3 percent). In New Mexico, the same number of people died from gunshot wounds in 2013 as in 2003.
Nationwide, gun deaths rose by 12 percent; in Georgia, the increase was 8 percent. Maine had the highest rate of increase: 93 percent. In all, nine states recorded increases in gun deaths of at least 25 percent. Those include Utah (up 47 percent) and Oklahoma (up 41 percent).
The Journal-Constitution compiled these statistics for a story Sunday reporting that gun deaths had become
more common than traffic fatalities in Georgia and 29 other states over the past decade.
The big decline in the District of Columbia — from 167 gun deaths in 2003 to 71 in 2013 — is especially surprising because the strictest of its gun control laws was overturned in a 2008 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In that case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the court said the 1975 Firearms Control Regulations Act violated the Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of an individual’s right to bear arms. The law had required that all privately owned firearms be kept “unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.” Private ownership of any handgun was forbidden unless the weapon was purchased before the 1975 law took effect.
The District’s gun control efforts took another hit in 2014, when a federal judge struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons. The judge ordered the District to issue concealed-carry permits to qualified applicants.
But as of last month, only a couple of dozen people had obtained a permit, according to The Washington Post.
That may have a lot to do with the District’s narrow definition of “qualified.” Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department requires applicants to prove they have completed 18 hours of training — and to demonstrate, in writing, why they need to carry a gun. The police department’s website says applicants must cite “a good reason to fear injury to themselves or their property.”
“The fact that an applicant lives or works in a high crime area, in and of itself, is not a sufficient reason for the issuance of a Concealed Carry Pistol License,” the website says.
Contrast that to Georgia, where anyone who is 21 years old, has a clean criminal record and has never been deemed mentally ill by a judge qualifies for a license.
In any event, the District of Columbia recorded 111 firearms deaths in 2009, the first full year after the Supreme Court’s Heller decision — down from 137 in 2008. In 2013, firearms deaths had fallen to just 71, less than half the number for 2003.
Republican members of Congress contend the numbers are down because of the easing of restrictions on gun ownership. Legislation introduced last month would require the District to issue gun-carry permits to anyone meeting minimal requirements and would prohibit local laws regulating firearms, the Post reported. The bill’s backers contend that strict gun control laws have long left the District’s residents and visitors vulnerable to being victims of violent crimes.
Regardless, in real numbers, the District still lags much of the rest of the nation in gun deaths. California, the most populous state, reported 3,026 deaths from firearms in 2013. Georgia, with the eighth-highest population, had the sixth-most gun deaths: 1,262.
Others in the top 10: Texas (No. 2 in both population and gun deaths), Florida (No. 3 in both categories), Pennsylvania (No. 4 in gun deaths, No. 6 in population), Ohio (fifth in gun deaths, seventh in population), North Carolina (No. 7 in gun deaths, No. 9 in population), Michigan (No. 8 and No. 10, respectively), Illinois (No. 9 in gun deaths, No. 5 in population), and Tennessee (tenth in gun deaths, but only 17th in population).
That list is most surprising for what’s not there: New York. The nation’s second-most populous state, home of the largest city in the United States, recorded only 863 gun deaths in 2013 — enough only to rank 15th.