Right-wing opponents of gun control who once turned to the myth that all recent “mass shooters” are Democrats, only to have that refuted, have now adopted a new argument. The new argument is that gun violence is a Democratic-controlled city problem. In making this argument they have turned to a map from Richard Florida’s article “The Geography of Gun Violence” that once appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. The article as written by Mr. Florida is excellent; the right wing’s interpretation of the map is not. In fact, whoever created the interpretive map that claims the gun problem is a Democratic city problem undoubtedly did not even bother to read the article it was attached to, or he would have noticed that one of the finding’s was that gun violence was inversely correlated with population density, meaning it is actually more of a problem in rural and lightly populated areas than in densely populated metropolitan areas. Eight of the top ten states for gun death rates are red states, while the ten states with the lowest gun death rates are all blue states. Conservative states like Alaska, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arizona are the deadliest for gun violence, while Democratic heavy Hawaii, California, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey are among the ten least deadly states. Nine of the ten least deadly states have strict or moderately strict gun laws (Maine is the exception) while all ten of the deadliest states have weak gun laws.
Ironically, the map of the metropolitan areas being circulated to show how bad Democratic cities are and what a failure gun laws are, shows that New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles and even Chicago, are safer metropolitan areas in which to avoid dying from a gunshot wound than the Republican metropolitan areas of Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. The most Democratic metro area on the list, Washington DC has a lower gun death rate than the most Republican location, Salt Lake City. The much maligned city of Chicago, according to the map, has a lower metropolitan area gun death rate than metro Salt Lake City, yet not one right-wing voice has called for Barack Obama to address gun deaths in Salt Lake City or to call for Utah to strengthen its gun laws to stop the carnage near Temple Square. The most dangerous metropolitan area on the map, New Orleans, is heavily Democratic but the second deadliest metro area for gun violence, Birmingham, Alabama is a nearly evenly split area between the two parties rather than a Democratic stronghold. Both are in red states with weak gun laws.
These gun death statistics combine homicide, suicide and accidental gun deaths. While many people would argue that only homicides should be considered, if the issue is to prevent gun deaths, all gun deaths are relevant. When a three year old child picks up a gun mistaking it for a toy and dies from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or when a teenager takes the family gun and takes his own life, it is little consolation to the family that the victim was not murdered. He remains just as dead.
However, even if we look at homicide rates alone we still find that gun regulated New York City is one of the safest cities in the country, whereas many Southern cities with lax gun laws top the nation in homicides. The deadliest states for homicide are Louisiana and Mississippi, and seven of the top ten homicide rates belong to red states. The six lowest homicide rates are found in blue states. Many of the more dangerous Southern cities do indeed have Democratic mayors, but they also have Republican state legislatures and Governors, making the relationship between public policy and gun violence difficult to assign to one party. Some of the safest cities for homicide like San Jose, California and Portland, Oregon are dominated by Democrats. The factor that contributes to homicide has more to do with poverty rates and educational levels rather than which party is in charge of city government. Insofar as poverty and educational barriers to access are a bipartisan failure, the gun homicide problem that coincides with these factors is an American problem, not a problem that can be blamed exclusively on either political party. Rather than pointing partisan fingers, it is incumbent upon us as a nation to find solutions to the problem of gun violence whether it is addressing gang violence in our inner cities, school shooting sprees in the suburbs, or self-inflicted gunshot wounds in our rural communities. Until we recognize gun violence as a national problem that defies easy solutions we will continue to wake up to blood flowing in all our communities, large and small.