Alaska has the highest rate of firearm deaths in the nation, according to national figures newly finalized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 177-firearm related deaths in Alaska in 2016, or about 23.3 per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the country. The national average was a little over half Alaska’s tally: 12 per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts had the lowest rate in the nation, 3.4 deaths per 100,000 residents.
The CDC released preliminary numbers in November and final figures toward the end of last year. Figures for 2017 are not yet available. The final results for 2016 show the nation’s firearm death rate has risen each year since 2014; Alaska’s 2016 rate is only slightly higher than it was in 2015.
Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, said in a press release discussing the figures that they “show that as a nation we are facing an escalating gun crisis.”
The Violence Policy Center is a national research and advocacy group that supports restrictions on firearm ownership and linked Alaska’s position to “extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership.”
According to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, 56.4 percent of Alaskan households own a firearm.
In Alaska, most of the deaths catalogued by the CDC are suicides. According to the database operated by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 113 of Alaska’s firearm-related deaths in 2016 were suicides.
The new figures match and extend an analysis published by the Alaska Section of Epidemiology last year. That study found 1,000 Alaskans were killed by firearms from the start of 2009 to the end of 2015. Of those, 750 were suicides.
While most of the state’s firearm-related deaths were attributed to suicide, the state also has a firearm homicide rate higher than the national average. According to the CDC, 51 Alaskans were killed in firearm-related homicides or justified killings in 2016. (Another nine homicides or justified killings, a category that includes unprosecuted police-involved incidents and self-defense, didn’t involve firearms.)
The state’s firearm homicide rate was the 16th-highest in the country, at 7.3 per 100,000 people. Louisiana had the highest rate of firearm homicides, with 14.3 per 100,000.
The CDC figures differ slightly from the state’s own. In September, the Alaska section of Health Analytics and Vital Records found 174 firearm-related deaths in 2016. That difference is not enough to affect Alaska’s position in the national rankings.
According to the state rankings, cancer is the state’s leading cause of death, followed by heart disease and accidents. Suicide is the state’s No. 6 cause, with firearm-related suicides accounting for 113 of 186 suicides in the state during 2016.
Editor’s Note: Suicide is a serious topic. If you’re in trouble and need help, please talk to someone. If you don’t think you can talk to someone in person, call the Alaska CARELINE at 1-877-266-HELP, or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Alaska Community Mental Health Centers, or juneausuicideprevention.org.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.