Thursday’s deadly shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, was only the latest gun violence incident in a state that has consistently suffered the nation’s highest rate of fatal firearm injuries.
Louisiana experienced both the most overall gun deaths per capita and the most gun homicides per capita of any state between 2004 and 2013, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Louisianans were killed by guns at a rate of 18.8 per 100,000 people, a figure nearly twice that of the national average.
More than half of Louisiana’s 8,552 gun deaths over that period were homicides. Its gun homicide rate is more than 2.5 times the national average and approximately 25 percent higher than that of the state with the second-highest rate, Mississippi.
A disproportionate amount of Louisiana’s gun violence occurs in New Orleans, which as recently as 2011 recorded the highest murder rate of any major U.S. city. At least 155 homicides were reported in New Orleans in 2013, representing over 30 percent of the state total, despite the fact that the city accounts for less than 10 percent of the population.
Advocates claim that Louisiana’s high rate of gun violence is a product of its lax gun laws and poor regulation of the firearms industry. Gun owners are not required to obtain a license or register their weapons, and the state does not restrict assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, gun dealers are not required to obtain a state license, conduct employee background checks, or comply with any security or anti-theft regulations.
The state has continued to loosen its gun laws in recent years. A pair of bills signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal last year expanded its existing “stand your ground” law and made it legal for those with concealed-carry permits to bring guns into restaurants that serve alcohol. Gov. Jindal has also signed new legislation allowing guns in places of worship and introducing lifetime concealed-carry permits.
Local governments in Louisiana that might seek to enforce stricter regulations within their jurisdictions, meanwhile, are bound by a 1985 statute that prohibits them from enacting “any ordinance or regulation more restrictive than state law” regarding the “sale, purchase, possession, ownership, transfer, transportation, license, or registration” of guns.
However, anti–domestic violence advocates claimed a partial victory in 2014 when the State Legislature passed a bill prohibiting those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse for 10 years. Persons subject to protective orders or permanent restraining orders are also forbidden from owning a gun under the law.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ranked Louisiana’s gun laws as the fifth-weakest in the country in a 2012 report, using a methodology that assigned points in 29 different policy areas.
Using the Law Center’s state-by-state rankings, a 2013 study by the Center for American Progress found “a clear correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and lower rates of gun violence.” A separate study published that year in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that “a higher number of firearm laws in a state are associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities in the state.”
[Photo: Flickr user Stuart Seeger]