Pennsylvania Under The Gun

Key measures of gun violence in the Keystone state.

Key Measures Of Gun Violence In The Keystone State

Today, more than 500 Pennsylvanians gathered in Harrisburg to demand that the legislature close a significant loophole in the state’s law and require background checks for every gun sale. By several measures of gun violence, the Keystone state does not stand out: Pennsylvania ranks 30th in the country when it comes to overall gun deaths. The state also received a “C” grade for the strength of its gun laws.

But gun violence still takes a terrible toll on the state: between 2005 and 2014, 13,781 people in Pennsylvania were killed with a gun—that’s more than two-and-a-half times the number of soldiers killed in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

Pennsylvania has, in fact, enacted a number of strong laws that help keep guns out of dangerous hands, such as requiring background checks for all handgun sales and requiring gun dealers to obtain a state license in addition to the license required under federal law. But there is much more to be done to reduce gun violence in the Keystone state, according to a new Center for American Progress report, released today, that looks at five aspects gun violence in Pennsylvania that are particularly startling, unusual or above the national average. Here’s a glimpse of those factors:

1. The rate of gun homicides is among the highest nationwide, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Pennsylvania ranks 16th among the states for the highest rate of gun homicides. Every 17 hours, someone is murdered with a gun in the Keystone State. And while African Americans make up close to 12 percent of the state population, they account for more than 69 percent of gun homicide victims.PAunderthegun_edit

2. Law enforcement officers are killed with guns at an exceptionally high rate. A police officer is fatally shot in Pennsylvania every six months, while an assault with a firearm against a police officer occurs approximately every two days. A recurring theme in police officer gun murders and assaults is the use of long guns—primarily high-powered assault rifles—in attacks.

3. More Pennsylvanians are killed by gun violence than car accidents annually. Pennsylvania is one of the 21 states where gun deaths already have surpassed car accident deaths: 12 percent fewer people were killed in a car accident in 2014 than were killed by guns. While the state has seen a steady decline in car deaths, it continues to see a rise in gun deaths.

4. Pennsylvania is a top supplier of crime guns recovered in other states. From 2012 to 2014, Pennsylvania ranked eighth for highest number of guns exported to other states and recovered in crimes, with a total of 5,844 such guns. The majority of these guns ended up being used in crimes in neighboring states that have substantially stronger gun laws than Pennsylvania—specifically, New York and New Jersey.

5. Pennsylvania women are killed with guns wielded by intimate partners at a high rate. Access to guns in homes with a history of domestic violence drastically increases risks to women and women in such circumstances are at acute risk in Pennsylvania. Between 2005 and 2014, the gun murder rate of women in Pennsylvania was 8 percent higher than the national average and 56 percent of those murders were committed using a gun.

There are a number of bills currently before the Pennsylvania General Assembly that are designed to close of the gaps in the state’s guns laws, many of which have broad popular support in the state. There are also many opportunities for leaders across the state to take non-legislative action to address gun violence in Pennsylvania communities by strengthening the enforcement of current laws, enhancing oversight of the gun industry, and investing in community-based programs that address some of the underlying causes of violence.

BOTTOM LINE: In Pennsylvania, a person is killed with a gun every six hours. Elected leaders in Pennsylvania can do so much more to enact strong laws and policies to reduce gun violence and help save lives.

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