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Theater Shooting Highlights High Rate Of Gun Deaths In Louisiana

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

After last night's shooting in Lafayette, La., Governor Bobby Jindal also said this...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOBBY JINDAL: This should never happen anywhere, but you certainly never imagine - we never imagined it would happen in Louisiana, never imagined it would happen in Lafayette.

SIEGEL: While the governor's sentiment is understandable, imagining a gun murder in Louisiana is, sad to say, not that difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - the CDC - as of 2010, Louisiana had the worst gun murder rate in the nation. Joining us now is Daniel Webster, who's director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Welcome to the program once again.

DANIEL WEBSTER: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: That figure from the CDC was for the decade starting in 2001. Louisiana's rate was not just the highest of all 50 states, it was twice the rate for the nation.

WEBSTER: Yes, Louisiana really stands out with an unusually high rate of gun homicides, as well as gun-related suicides as well.

SIEGEL: Does that follow from a high rate of gun ownership in Louisiana?

WEBSTER: Well, I'm sure that that is part of it. There have been several studies that examine correlates of homicide rates at the state level. And after you control for demographic differences - racial, ethnic, age groups, economic and so on - gun ownership is positively associated with both homicide rates and suicide rates, and that is principally because far more of those events occur with guns.

SIEGEL: I should add here, by the way, that from one map that I saw, while Louisiana does have the highest - or has had the highest - gun murder rate in the country, it does happen that Lafayette Parish, within the context of Louisiana, has a relatively lower gun murder rate than other parts of the state.

WEBSTER: Yes, I'm less familiar with Lafayette in its rates. And what I suspect is that the state's rate is heavily weighted towards New Orleans, which has had an unusually high rate of gun-related violence.

SIEGEL: As someone who studies these things, can you explain this apparent contradiction? For years, Louisiana - Louisianans must know that their gun homicide rate is extremely high. On the other hand, when there's a gun homicide that commands everyone's attention, it is utterly shocking, and people will say, I think with great sincerity, how could this happen here? There seems to be a disconnect with what people might be told is a statistical truth and what they feel about the place where they live.

WEBSTER: Well, I think it's also another phenomenon as well. I think that in many states that - with high rates of gun ownership and relatively lax gun laws, there is a widely felt belief that violence has more to do with bad people, in essence, than it does with how many guns are around or how guns are regulated. So I think that's really where the disconnect occurs.

SIEGEL: After notorious mass killings, mass shootings, we've seen occasional bursts of interest in legislation in controlling access to guns more rigorously. I don't know if that's happened today yet, frankly, but the result seems to be nothing. And I'm just wondering what your read of that is. Why do very passionate efforts to bring about some legislative remedy falter so quickly?

WEBSTER: Right. I'll agree with you on one level. I'll agree that when we have these tragedies, these mass shootings, that it is rare for our Congress and federal government to act. However, we do see that on the state level, quite often states do enact stronger gun laws in response to tragedies of this nature. I know a common storyline for 2013 was, boy, if Newtown can't move something, nothing will. But 44 percent of the U.S. population lived in a state that strengthened its gun laws in 2013 following that tragedy. Generally, we're trending in the direction of making it harder for dangerous people to get guns.

SIEGEL: Daniel Webster, of Johns Hopkins University, thanks for talking with us today.

WEBSTER: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Daniel Webster is the director of the Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.