As someone who has always protected the rights of individuals to own firearms, I am often dismissed lately as less than a reliable source based on the fact that I happen to live in Alaska (even though I’ve only lived here a few years). Of course Alaska has a reputation for being a very gun-friendly state with liberal firearms laws and a significant hunting culture. Or, as someone rather explicitly stated recently, we are a bunch of “gun nuts”. Yes, Alaskans own a lot of guns, but I would like to share some statistics that you might find interesting.
The State of Alaska is one of 17 states that participate in the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). Here are a few statistics from Alaska’s report:
- The rate of violent deaths in Alaska is higher than any of the other states reporting. Of the 611 violent deaths in Alaska from 2003-2005 69% were suicides, 19% homicides, 7% were of undetermined intent, 3% were unintentional firearms deaths, and 1% legal intervention.
- Alcohol use and drug abuse were reported in 40 percent of all suicides. No data on alcohol and drug abuse was reported on homicides or other violent crimes.
- On a nationwide level firearms are used in more than 50% of homicides, however, in Alaska less than 50% of homicides involve a firearm. The primary method in Alaska is the use of a sharp or blunt instrument.
- Homicides in Alaska resulting from firearm use involved a handgun in 82% of incidents. These deaths were not caused by automatic weapons or assault rifles.
- The highest homicide rates were in Northern Alaska.
- Intimate partner violence was related to 22% of homicides in Alaska and 15% nationwide.
These statistics allow us to develop a few hypotheses about the causes of violent death in Alaska, that might be helpful as we consider solutions on a national level:
- The prevalence of guns does not necessarily mean more gun violence in the form of homicides.
- Automatic weapons and assault rifles do not cause the majority of homicide deaths.
- Alcohol, drugs, and mental/emotional issues play a significant role in violent deaths. In Alaska this is evident in the suicide rates, the prevalence of homicides in Northern Alaska (a region known for depression and other issues due to months of complete darkness), and intimate partner violence that usually involves emotional issues.
If we want to focus on prevention rather than politics, it appears the best preventative methods involve drug and alcohol treatment, and mental health care, not more gun control.
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