State burdened with nation’s highest gun deaths, violence

Published 8:45 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

By Sid Salter


In the rural South, we are conditioned to a self-image of small communities like fictional Mayberry where crime and violence are almost non-existent and the real dangers from gun violence lurk on the streets and back alleys of Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

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However, the mean streets are not limited to the big cities. Rural Mississippians now live squarely in locales prone to gun violence. We don’t live in Mayberry in the rural South. We live in a region and a state with a dangerous rate of gun death and gun violence, and we are as a state among the nation’s leaders in household gun ownership.

The adage in television news is that “if it bleeds, it leads.” In Mississippi, the first 10 minutes of virtually every newscast recount shootings that occur with such frequency as to become commonplace.

In Mississippi, we consistently and strongly support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for hunting and self-protection. Mississippi does little to interfere with the right to gun ownership, possession, use or acquisition of firearms.

We are an open carry state, a Castle Doctrine state, a “stand your ground” state, and one with what are considered by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun entities as some of the most Second Amendment-friendly gun laws in the country.

At the same time, liberal or “progressive” entities supporting limits on Second Amendment rights label Mississippi as having the worst gun laws in the country. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence – named for gun violence victim former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona – describes Mississippi’s gun laws as follows: 

“Mississippi has the weakest gun laws in the country and the highest gun death rate…(the state) passed a dangerous permitless carry law in 2016 which allows almost anyone to carry hidden, loaded guns in public without a background check or law enforcement oversight.”

From across the political spectrum in the gun law debate, there is ample hyperbole and alarmist rhetoric. But the fact is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ranked Mississippi as having the highest rate of gun deaths in the country at 29.6 per 100,000 residents. That’s just over double the national rate of 14.2 gun deaths per 100,000 residents.

Mississippi was an early milepost in the nation’s litany of school shootings when student Luke Woodham killed his mother at their home, then drove to Pearl High School and fatally shot two students and wounded seven others on Oct. 1, 1997. That shooting was a little more than a year after Jackson firefighter Kenneth Tornes killed his wife at home, then drove to Jackson’s Central Fire Station and killed four of his supervisors.

That was a quarter-century ago. Now, the scourge of gun violence has become more commonplace and pedestrian. Young people are settling what seems to be insanely inconsequential differences and disputes with deadly force using guns.

Last year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Surgery found that firearm deaths are more likely in small rural towns than in major urban centers. Data from the CDC showed that politically red states had the highest firearm mortality rates while the politically blue states had lower firearm mortality rates.

In Mississippi, 2020 research showed that of gun deaths, 47% were suicides and 47% were homicides. That compared with 61% suicides and 36% homicides nationally that year.

From a practical political standpoint, legislation restricting Second Amendment rights is a non-starter at the Mississippi State Capitol. But Mississippi’s increasingly consistent rank as the state with the highest rate of gun deaths should concern conservatives and liberals alike.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities reports that the greatest impact of rising gun death rates is on Black youth. The group cited that “the rate of gun-related deaths for Black youth has increased every year since 2013, with a 108.3% increase from 2013 to 2020 compared to a 47.8% increase for white youth during the same time.”

The state with the highest percentage population of Black youth? Mississippi at 42.9%.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at