Study: Louisiana has highest rate of gun violence in U.S.

Louisiana ranks first among all states for gun violence rates in the United States, according to a report released Wednesday by a Washington-based think tank.

The Center for American Progress, which bills itself as a nonpartisan educational institute that analyzes policies on a wide range of issues, released a state-by-state report titled “America Under the Gun: A 50-State Analysis of Gun Violence and Its Link to Weak State Gun Laws.”

The report was presented locally at a gun violence forum Wednesday at Wesley United Methodist Church.

The center based its rankings on nationwide gun violence data across 10 factors, ranging from overall firearms deaths in 2010 to aggravated assaults with a firearm in 2011. Louisiana’s average ranking in the 10 factors was 5.0, just edging out Alaska’s 5.2 for the top spot.

Louisiana ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in six of the 10 categories.

The report says Louisiana had 19.06 firearms deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, just below Alaska’s 20.28 but well above the 10.26 national average. The report also ranks Louisiana fifth in terms of “weakest” gun laws in the United States, based on a number of factors, including requiring background checks on all gun sales and banning high-capacity magazines.

The report calls for universal background checks, among other policy ideas, as a way of curbing gun violence nationally. It says the 10 states with the weakest gun laws have a level of gun violence more than twice as high as the 10 states with the strongest gun laws.

“While many factors contribute to the rates of gun violence in any state, our research clearly demonstrates a significant correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and the prevalence of gun violence in the state,” the report says.

Tara McGuinness, senior vice president for communications for the Center for American Progress, said the report is designed to “insert some facts into the debate” about the emotional topic of gun rights.

“There are policies that have made a difference,” McGuinness said at Wednesday’s gun violence forum. “So when lawmakers dismiss the idea (and say) that we can’t do anything, that bad people with guns are killing people, guns don’t kill people — in states where the laws are different, the outcomes are different.”

Judge Freddie Pitcher Jr., chancellor of Southern University Law Center, said during the forum that universal background checks are a “must” to curb gun violence.

“It’s not a cure all, but it’s a step in the right direction to help stem some of the violence,” he said.

In a statement, Gov. Bobby Jindal denounced the study, which he said was conducted by a liberal special interest group. Jindal said his office is working to have more mental health records put into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prevent guns from falling into wrong hands.

“Gun control has been tried extensively in places like Chicago and Washington, D.C., with absolutely no effect on bringing down crime rates in those dangerous cities,” Jindal said.

State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, also criticized the study, saying it fails to point out that most of the violence shown in the data reflects criminal activity, such as drug transactions or gang-related arguments, in which guns were obtained illegally.

Thompson said tougher gun ownership laws won’t affect people who don’t follow the law to begin with.

“I’m unaware of crimes that involve law-abiding citizens with concealed carry permits or that have purchased firearms legally involved in the crimes that comprise these statistics,” said Thompson, founder of Defend Louisiana, a statewide initiative to defend gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.

Thompson said the current background check system, when followed, works properly.

“There is not going to be a background check in a backroom, stolen gun transaction where these crime rates are springing from,” he said.

Thompson said the best way to combat gun violence is to properly fund law enforcement agencies so they can enforce existing laws.

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