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When it comes to gun death rates, the 10 safest states are all consistently blue in presidential elections. California ranks eighth. The Coast News graphic
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Elias: State gun control working, for now

State-by-state standings on deaths from gunfire form a striking contrast between Republican- and Democratic-led states as one reality becomes ever more clear: The stronger Republican control of a particular state, the more deadly gunfire that state will see.

So it’s plain that onetime Californians who left for cheaper housing and more conservative politics in states from Florida and Texas to Wyoming and Missouri have increased their chances of dying from gunshots.

That’s beyond question in the state standings published by many organizations, but never by the National Rifle Association, whose anti-control lobbying remains as determined as ever.

It’s still too early to assess the full consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s mid-2023 shootdown of New York’s tough concealed carry law, but before that decision, New York was the fifth least likely state for dying from a gunshot, at a mere 5 such deaths per 100,000 population.

New York is almost as Democratic-dominated as California, which was the eighth-safest gunfire death state at just 8.5 per 100,000.

These statistics come from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC rankings may serve as a safety barometer for persons wanting to move.

By far the safest state, gun-wise, is Hawaii, with just 3.4 firearm deaths per 100,000, or a total of 50 such killings in 2022. 

With only a brief two-year exception during which gun laws did not change, Hawaii’s governor and legislature have been Democratic for decades.

Second-safest has been Massachusetts, another generally ultra-blue state that has had only occasional Republican governors since 1970, both of them moderates.

Of the 10 safest states, all are consistently blue in presidential elections. Meanwhile, the 10 states with the highest gun death rates (Mississippi and Louisiana rank 1-2) all are dominated by Republicans, except No. 7 New Mexico, at 22.7 gun deaths per 100,000.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tried to focus on this during his fall debate with Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made unlicensed concealed carrying of guns completely legal in his state (14.1 gun deaths per 100,000, almost double the California toll).

Where California demands universal background checks before allowing gun purchases, Florida has none. 

Concealed carry can legally be done only with a license in California, while Florida has no licensing. 

California has among the strongest laws against domestic violence; Florida’s are among the most lenient. 

California has restrictions on high capacity gun magazines; Florida has none. 

And where California funds community interventions to prevent violence, Florida does not.

Of DeSantis and Newsom, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, survivor of a would-be assassin’s gunshot to her head, said this: “One governor had the courage to stand up to the gun lobby… The other is Ron DeSantis.”

Said Newsom: “Strong gun laws save lives. I want (people) to expect to see some significantly increased activity on this issue this year.”

But no one is quite certain how far Newsom or anyone else can get in making America safer from gun violence so long as there’s no change in the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (the state police superintendent).

Lower courts here and in a few other places have ruled that the case does not apply in California and several other locales whose concealed carry laws are worded differently from New York’s.

But all it would take is a few words from the high court’s 6-3 conservative majority to shoot all that down.

This could leave the entire country in a position much like what prevails in Texas, where Republicans have passed more than 100 pro-gun laws since 2000. 

That state has virtually unfettered unlicensed concealed carry except on college campuses, which can make their own rules. 

There’s also no concealed carry in Texas elementary and high schools, but those very limited rules may also fall soon to the reasoning of the Bruen case.

It’s a pessimistic situation that calls for concerted pressure on Congress to pass federal laws and dare the Supreme Court to shoot them down. 

But so far, Newsom is the only major politician ready to push for anything that big.       

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].

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