Understanding Firearm Deaths by State—and How to Reduce Them

Gun violence is a nationwide problem. But because each state has its own unique history, people, and laws, the burden of firearm violence is not shared equally across states or population groups.

RAND researchers have analyzed the effects of several common gun policies, including laws that are more restrictive and more permissive about gun ownership, storage, and use. The result is a clearer understanding of where firearm-related deaths are concentrated and how changes to state laws might alter that picture.

Type Policy Definition
Restrictive Child-access prevention

Establishes civil or criminal penalties for storing a handgun in a manner that grants access to minors.

Permissive Concealed-carry

Specifies who may carry concealed weapons and the procedures those people must follow when they wish to exercise this right.

Shall-issue: Grants the right to carry a concealed weapon to all those who meet its permit requirements, without the potential for law enforcement to deny the permit at their discretion.

Permitless: Allows concealed carry without a permit for anyone who is legally eligible to possess the weapon.

Restrictive Minimum age of 20 for possession

Restricts the minimum age of possession to 20 years.

Permissive Stand-your-ground

Permits the use of lethal force for self-defense outside of the defender’s home or vehicle, even when a retreat from danger would have been possible.

Restrictive Universal background check

Requires all handgun sales to include a background check.

Restrictive Waiting period

Prevents gun buyers from taking possession of their weapons immediately upon purchase of the gun and completion of a background check.

At least seven days: Requires at least a seven-day waiting period

At least 24 hours: Requires at least a 24-hour waiting period.

Which States Have the Highest Rates of Firearm Deaths?

By visualizing state-level mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this interactive map shows that states in the northeast and the coastal west have among the lowest firearm death rates.

Conversely, in the south and mountain west, firearm death rates are especially high.

To see how each state compares with the national average, explore gun mortality outcomes by gender, race, ethnicity, urbanicity, or age in the map below.

How Firearm Deaths in Each State Compare with the National Average

in 2020 for
  • Loading…

Key Takeaways

Regional Patterns

  • The United States has a high firearm death rate, but this fact can obscure the striking differences in death rates among U.S. states, where, for example, Mississippi has a firearm death rate more than seven times higher than that of Massachusetts or Hawaii and five times higher than that of New Jersey.
  • There are wide and geographically specific differences in state firearm homicide rates; states in the northeast, west, and north-central regions have low firearm homicide rates, while states in the central midwest and south have among the highest such rates.
  • Firearm suicides are less geographically concentrated than firearm homicides, but rates of such suicides are especially low in several northeastern states, California, and Hawaii. In contrast, rates are high in the mountain west and midsouth. Indeed, rates in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska are more than eight times higher than rates in Massachusetts or New Jersey.
  • Overall, firearm death rates vary a great deal by subgroup, but across all subgroups, death rates remain lower than average in California, Hawaii, Minnesota, and several northeastern states. Death rates are highest for many subgroups in the south-central and central midwestern states and the mountain west.
  • Firearm homicide rates among Black people are more than ten times higher in Missouri than in Maine, New Hampshire, or North Dakota, and more than 18 times higher than in Hawaii.

National Patterns

  • Firearm death rates are lower in urban counties than in nonurban counties. This is driven by higher rates of firearm suicide in nonurban areas.
  • Risk of firearm homicide is more than ten times higher for non-Hispanic Black populations than non-Hispanic White populations nationally. This is the largest demographic disparity in the data set.
  • Hispanic populations have firearm homicide rates that are more than twice as high as non-Hispanic White populations. In contrast, non-Hispanic White populations have firearm suicide rates that are more than double those of non-Hispanic Black populations and more than three times larger than those of Hispanic populations.
  • Firearm homicide rates decrease with each successively older age group, while firearm suicide rates increase with age.

How Do State Laws Affect Firearm Deaths?

Each state’s unique firearm policy environment contributes to its mortality and crime outcomes, but other state factors, such as household firearm ownership rates, poverty and unemployment rates, and population characteristics, are also important.

RAND researchers estimated the individual and combined effects that multiple laws have on firearm deaths and other outcomes while statistically controlling for these and other important state differences that contribute to firearm death outcomes.

This model shows that implementing the most restrictive combination of these laws could substantially reduce homicides and suicides, particularly in the states with existing, more-permissive firearm laws. In contrast, enacting a permissive law regime could substantially increase firearm deaths, especially in states with existing more-restrictive gun laws.

Users can explore how adding or removing certain laws within each state’s existing legal framework might increase or decrease existing death rates within five years of implementation. Note that these are estimates that are subject to considerable uncertainty. See the individual state estimates for descriptions of the range of uncertainty for each estimate.

Changing a state law compares your selections with the state laws in effect at the end of 2018. Our estimates of gun law effects change over the first five years after implementation. The estimated effect of implementing a law assumes that the law was in effect for at least five years.

How Adding or Removing Firearm Laws Could Affect Firearm Deaths

Select Law Combination
  • Loading…

Change in Outcome Based on Law Changes

  • –20%
  • –15%
  • –10%
  • –5%
  • 0
  • +5%
  • +10%
  • +15%
  • +20%
  • No Change
Select Laws Manually Turn laws 'ON' nationwide to enact them in all U.S. states. Turn them 'OFF' to repeal them in states where they are currently in place. Turn the current state laws 'ON' to see the existing ways laws are implemented in each state.
Child-access prevention

Specifies either civil or criminal penalties for storing a handgun in a manner that allowed access by a minor.


Shall-issue: Grants the right to carry a concealed weapon to all those who meet the permit requirements, without potential for law enforcement to deny the permit at their discretion.

Permitless: Allows concealed-carry without a permit for anyone who can legally possess the weapon.

Minimum age of 20 for purchase

Restricts the minimum age of purchase to 20 years or older.


Allows the use of lethal force for self-defense outside of the defender’s home or vehicle, even when a retreat from danger would have been possible.

Universal background check

Requires all handgun sales to include a background check.

Waiting period

24 Hours: Requires at least 24-hours waiting period.

Seven–Days: Requires at least a seven-day waiting period.

At least seven days
At least 24 hours

Key Takeaways

  • If all states adopted restrictive firearm-access and -carrying laws, firearm deaths would decline by 5 to 10 percent in most states. This effect is driven by reductions in firearm suicides, although firearm homicides are also expected to decline in most states. In contrast, a permissive law regime would be expected to increase firearm deaths in most states, but especially in those states that currently have more-restrictive firearm laws.
  • In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision, made shall-issue concealed-carry permitting the law of the land. We estimate that without new regulations to limit the effects of this change, states that are affected by this change, such as New York, California, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, could expect their firearm death rates to increase by 3 percent; it would raise the national firearm death rate by more than 150 deaths.
  • Our estimates suggest that the single law change that would have the greatest effect on national firearm death rates (among those we have analyzed to date) is the adoption of child-access prevention laws by states that have not yet done so.

Data Sources

As part of RAND’s Gun Policy in America project, this visualization provides users with information about the distribution of firearm deaths across states and demographic subgroups.

In addition, it allows users to explore how those deaths might be affected by the implementation of a set of common state firearm laws, according to estimates of those effects produced by the RAND project team.

For more details on the methodology and data sources, see the tool documentation.

Mortality Data

State mortality rates are depicted in the visualization as a percentage of the national mortality rate for the selected population. Thus, a state with a 2020 mortality rate that is 20-percent lower than the 2020 national average for the selected population will have a mortality rate of -20 percent. Rates per 100,000 people for each mortality outcome can be found by clicking on individual states.

All mortality estimates are constructed from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (CDC WONDER) data (for more details, see the tool documentation). CDC WONDER is a website hosted by the CDC that releases public data from its National Vital Statistics Surveillance system (CDC, undated-b). Some subpopulations may be too small within a single state and year to provide a reliable estimate. In addition, CDC privacy protections prohibit the disclosure of mortality rates based on fewer than ten decedents. Our estimates are designed to address these challenges by using data from multiple years when the estimate using the most recent year of data would be unreliable or would compromise privacy. In cases in which the subpopulation is so small that no reliable estimate can be produced even when we look at a decade of data, the state will show “insufficient data” in the visualization.

Law Data

Data on state laws is drawn from the RAND State Firearm Law Database, version 4.0 (Cherney et al., 2022). Law data are current through January 1, 2020, but do not capture more recent law changes.

Law Effects Data

Statistical and modeling methods used to create these estimates are described in the tool documentation.


  • CDC—See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Underlying Cause of Death, 1999–2020,” WONDER data system, undated-b. As of August 17, 2022: https://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
  • Cherney, Samantha, Andrew R. Morral, Terry L. Schell, Sierra Smucker, and Emily Hoch, Development of the RAND State Firearm Law Database and Supporting Materials, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, TL-A243-2-v2, 2022. As of October 1, 2022: https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TLA243-2-v2.html

Digital Credits

Kekeli Sumah (design), Lee Floyd (development), Maria Gardner (content), Chara Williams (additional design), Theo Jacobs (back-end programming), Joel Kline (back-end development), Elias Peterson (back-end development), and Heather McCracken (project management)