Isle gun death rate lowest in U.S.
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i has the lowest gun death rate in the country, according to figures released this week by the Washington-based Violence Policy Center.
The center, which defines itself as "a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury," cites just-released data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control for the year 2007 — the most recent available — in drawing conclusions about gun death rates across the country.
Hawai'i's gun death rate in 2007 was 2.82 per 100,000 residents, center officials said. The next lowest gun death rate, 3.51, was in Rhode Island, followed by 3.63 in Massachusetts.
Louisiana had the nation's highest gun death rate, at 19.87, followed by Mississippi at 18.32 and Alabama at 17.62, according to the center.
The study also listed household gun ownership by percentage, with 9.7 percent of the homes in Hawai'i having one or more guns in the household — the lowest percentage in the country.
States such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had the nation's highest gun ownership rates, at between 46 and 57 percent, and also had the highest gun death rates, the study found.
"The equation is simple: More guns lead to more gun death, but limiting exposure to firearms saves lives," Kristen Rand, the center's legislative director, said in a news release.
According to the Violence Policy Center's figures, the national gun death rate was 10.34 per 100,000 people in 2007.
"Each of the top-ranking states has lax gun laws and higher gun ownership rates. By contrast, states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death," the center's news release said.
Hawai'i's firearm ownership laws are among the most stringent in the country. Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha said that among other things, Hawai'i gun law requires a person to obtain a permit, issued by the chief of police, before he or she is allowed to buy a gun. The permitting process includes a background check and a 14-day waiting period.
"The Islands' low gun death rate should also be attributed to the people of Hawai'i who exemplify the aloha spirit not only in times of emergencies and disasters but throughout the year," Kealoha said.
He said HPD is proactive in seeking new gun legislation such as supporting a bill which would raise penalties for those who use airsoft replica pellet guns in terroristic threatening or robbery cases.
According to the Violence Policy Center, states with weak gun laws are those that "add little or nothing to federal restrictions and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public.
"States with strong gun laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation in addition to federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous types of firearms — for example, assault weapons, setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restrictive laws governing the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public," the center said in its report.
Dan Galanis, an epidemiologist with the Hawaii Department of Health's Injury Prevention and Control Program said Hawai'i has had the lowest firearm-related fatality rate of all 50 states during the five-year period of 2003-2007.
Galanis said Hawai'i's average gun death rate was 2.8 deaths per 100,000 residents during that period. The next-lowest state was Massachusetts, at 3.4 per 100,000 residents. The highest rates were Louisiana at 19.5 and Alaska, with 17.5, Galanis said.
Data in Hawai'i's death certificate database shows there were 180 firearms-related deaths from 2005 through 2009.
Galanis said the data shows an increasing trend in the annual number, from 28 in 2005 to 43 in 2009. Most of the 180 gun deaths — 131, or 73 percent — were deemed to be suicides, while 41 of them were homicides There were also two unintentional, or "accidental," shootings over the five-year period, Galanis said.
And, while gun-related suicides comprise the majority of firearm deaths in Hawai'i, they represent only 20 percent of the total number of suicides among Hawai'i residents. Hanging/suffocation was the most common means of suicide in Hawai'i, at 45 percent of the total. For the U.S. as a whole, 52 percent of suicides are committed by firearms, Galanis said.
Of the 127 homicides over the five-year period, 41, or 32 percent, involved the use of firearms, he said.
Most of the other homicides in Hawaii during 2005 through 2009 were the result of stabbings, at 31 percent, or beatings, 25 percent.
Firearms were used in about 68 percent of the homicides committed in the country as a whole, during that period, Galanis said.
Last year in Hawai'i, firearms were used in 10 homicides, 32 suicides and in one case in which a person was fatally shot by a police officer.