Massachusetts: Where Stricter Gun Laws = Fewer Deaths

One of the things many conservatives just hate about Massachusetts is our gun laws. They are strict. And they make a difference. According to the most recent figures available, the gun death rate in Massachusetts was the second lowest in the nation. By comparison, in Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature is in thrall to the NRA, the rate of gun deaths was almost three-and-a-half times higher. Florida is, of course, where Trayvon Martin died last month. Gunned down while being black and carrying Skittles. And thanks to Florida’s gun laws, that may not be a crime.

As most people are probably aware by now, 17 year-old Martin was shot to death in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., by a gun-toting “neighborhood watch” member, George Zimmerman. Martin was walking back from the store where he had purchased some Skittles. Zimmerman was in his car looking for “perps” and had a 9-millimeter handgun.

Zimmerman spotted Martin, called 911, and told the dispatcher he thought Martin looked suspicious. He was told to stay in his car and that police would respond.

Zimmerman didn’t listen. He apparently wanted to get him some justice. “These a–holes always get away,” he complained to the dispatcher.

But Martin had done nothing wrong. He was unarmed, had every right to be there, and was by all accounts a good kid. His teacher described him as an A and B student whose favorite subject was math. He wanted to go to college and become an engineer.

Zimmerman wanted to be a cop. According to an earlier incident report, Zimmerman once followed a man who allegedly spit at him while driving. The other driver accused Zimmerman — whom he described as “irate” — of tailgating him, and was not arrested. Zimmerman had called police 46 times since January of last year and had been previously arrested for assault on a police officer. He did exactly what the police dispatcher told him not to do. He tracked Martin, got out of the car, and confronted him. Over nothing. Now Trayvon Martin is dead. And Zimmerman is free. George Zimmerman, the guy who shot and killed a 17-year-old kid who had done nothing wrong, was not arrested and not charged with a crime. Because Zimmerman said it was self defense.

The tragedy at first seems both awful and perplexing. But then it gets even worse. It turns out that the first Sanford officer in charge of the murder scene was Sgt. Anthony Raimondo. Raimondo, who according the the local press has three validated complaints and another one pending, was involved in another highly controversial case back in 2010 when being white apparently made everything all right.

In December of that year, Justin Collison, the white son of a Sanford Police officer was caught on videotape sucker-punching a homeless black man from behind and then assaulting two bystanders. The assault on the homeless man knocked him out, broke his nose, and sent him to the hospital.

Despite the fact that Officer Raimondo and the other police officers at the scene watched the tape of Collison sneaking up behind the victim and sucker-punching him, despite a slew of eyewitnesses who can be heard on the tape saying the assault was totally unprovoked, and despite the fact that Collison had been previously accused of shooting a motorist in the chest after a beer bash and beating and choking his girlfriend, Raimondo declared that there would be no arrest and no charges against him. Raimondo just sent the white boy home, even though he had quite clearly and without provocation of any kind, sucker-punched a homeless black man, knocked him out, and sent him to the hospital. And it was Raimondo who was in charge of the scene on the night 17 year old Martin Trayvon was shot and killed. By a white man.

One of the other possible reasons that no charges have been filed yet in the killing of Trayvon Martin may relate to a bill the Republican-dominated Florida legislature passed in 2005 that expanded on the so-called “castle doctrine” It was an NRA dream come true and declared that any person attacked in any place outside the home where they have any legal right to be may use deadly force to defend themselves. When in doubt — pull it out — and shoot.

Back in 2005, one of the sponsors of the extension of the Castle Doctrine gun bill, state Rep. Dennis Baxley solemnly declared: “We’re standing with the people, and I truly think it will make a safer society.” I hope Rep. Baxley has the decency to stop by the funeral home and explain to Martin’s grieving parents just how he thinks that whole safer society thing is working out.

In 2009, guns took the lives of 31,347 Americans in homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour. As some people look at the senseless tragedy in Florida, they will shake their heads and mutter to themselves:  “It’s such a shame. There ought to be a law.”  Those people should know — there is such a law in Massachusetts — and it helps.

  • R Lunn

    Actually the most recent numbers from the CDC show Mass. with the lowest death rate due to firearms ( )

    However Washington DC has a death rate over 5 times that of Mass, and they have even more strict gun control laws than we do, but rank 47th.

    Is it possible that something other than gun control laws affect firearms fatalities?

    • Barry Nolan

      Dear R. Lunn,

      As you can see on a map, Washington DC shares a long border with Virginia. It is located smack dab on the “Iron Pipeline” which brings guns from places where you just have to have a pulse and a few bucks to get a gun – up to places where people live in densely packed cities.

      As Mayor Mike Bloomberg noted: “Virginia is the No. 1 out-of-state source of crime guns in New York, and one of the top suppliers of crime guns nationally.”

      The NRA makes a lot of money protecting the business interests of death merchants.

      Barry Nolan

      • Miguel

        I always found interesting the “iron pipeline” assertion. Criminals go through all that hard work moving back and forth between Virginia and DC, pay retail for a gun and then score a few bucks on an armed robbery.
        I understand that criminals are stupid, but even they understand that they need to make a profit to stay in “business.” Then again they are D.C. criminals and maybe they are getting a bailout from somewhere.

      • R Lunn

        If this were always the case, I susupect we’d see a much higher firearms death rate in Mass. As you know we share a border with NY and Virginia isn’t that much further away than New York City.

        The “Iron Pipeline” makes for a good TV soundbyte, but I susupec there is more going on than just geography –

  • Tracey

    You did not cite the source of your statistics.

    • Barry Nolan

      Dear Tracy,

      If you just click on the link above – the gun death rate in Massachusetts – it takes you to a chart produced by the Legal Community Against Violence. They cite at the bottom of the page a 2010 report by the CDC as the source of their data.

      Barry Nolan

      • LaserGuy

        Yup, and the CDC Also came up with the conclusion that gun laws, pro or con, make no difference at all to the crime rate

    • R Lunn

      The CDC’s WISQARS Fatal Injury Data is the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS).

      The 2009 data is the most recent by state and is available at:
      Click the I agree button at the bottom of the page and you can sort, slice and dice the data for all types of fatalities and types.
      The link I put in my 1st post is the acual application and it can’t be accessed directly.

      R Lunn

  • Mike H

    Let’s see if I have understood your hypothesis: Massachusetts has a lower overall crime rate compared with Florida because it has more strict gun laws.

    So by that logic, your article could have just as easily been titled:

    “New Hampshire/Wyoming/Vermont/Maine/Idaho/Utah/West Virginia: Where Laxer Gun Laws = Fewer Deaths. Other states could learn a thing or two from right wing, gun-loving New Hampshire/Wyoming/Vermont/Maine/Idaho/Utah/West Virginia.”

    Because all of these states have lower crime rates, lower firearm crime rates, higher firearm ownership and less restrictive gun laws when compared to Massachusetts.

    Or is the point of your article that Florida’s castle doctrine, in place since 2005, contributed to Martin’s death whereas the same scenario would not play itself out in Massachusetts because Massachusetts does not have castle doctrine? Well, you would be wrong on that as well. Massachusetts does have a castle doctrine similar to Florida’s with the exception that it only protects from criminal, not civil litigation. Mass’s statute on self defense, like Florida’s, does not require the victim to seek refuge or escape (also known as a “stand your ground” clause).

    • Barry

      Dear Mike,

      Take a look at this ranking by the Kaiser Foundation of firearm deaths per 100,000 of population.

      You can see that MA has a rate of 3.4 per 100,000.

      Compare that to the states you name and their rates: Wyoming 17.1, West VA 12.7, Idaho 11.5, Utah 9.4, Maine 8.5, Vermont 8.1, New Hampshire 6.7.

      The best of them has a rate that is double that in MA – the worst – Wyoming – a rate that is 5 times greater.

      The Stand Your Ground law contributes to the outrageous fact that the man who shot an unarmed teenage boy – a good student whose favorite subject was math – who weighed 100 pounds less than the gunman – a boy who had done nothing wrong – was not charged with a crime – because he claimed “Self Defense” – and under the “Stand Your Ground” law – that is apparently good enough for the cops in Florida.

      So – how will that play out in the future? If there is no one around to contradict you – who is it OK to just shoot – and claim – it was self defense?

      Barry Nolan

      • Max

        I am not sure how the “tough” Massachusetts laws would prevent a local lunatic vigilante with a chip on the shoulder and a LTC (250,000 officially, more than a million with an expired FID…) from doing the same thing here in Massachusetts…. Stand your ground laws, the real issue here, are not classifiable as gun control laws, they would apply even if fists or a stick were used as defense weapon to kill a (rightly or wrongly) perceived threat. so what’s your point exactly? We can debate the wisdom of such a law outside one’s home or the way such law is misapplied outside the home in Florida, but It seems to me you are trying to exploit this incident (a likely murder, to all accounts) for making a point that cannot stand on its own feet.

        Take your data for instance: the statistical correlation between the ranking of the toughness of gun laws from the reference you cite and the “gun deaths” rates is ~0.36. statistically insignificant, no correlation to speak of. If you then take the FBI crime data from the same year, 2007, for murders or the total violent crime index, again the statistical correlation is absent (between 0.02 and 0.05). Anything below 0.7 means no correlation of any significance, 1.0 means perfect correlation. More easily to understand if you have troubles with statistics 101, look at California as an example, N.1 for strict gun laws and with a “gun death” quite high, middle of the pack almost.

        Bottom line: More guns don’t correlate with more crime, violent crime or assault, no matter how you look at it. Tough gun laws don’t correlate with fewer murders, they only weakly correlate with less legal gun ownership (R2~0.3), but not significantly. On the other hand there is a clear correlation between gun ownership and suicide rates by firearms (R^2~0.7). but I’m not in the business to tell people how they should check out by their own will….

  • Brian Hodges

    As I see it, the problem is NOT the law itself. It is pretty clear, yet, it is usually poorly explained in classes required to obtain a CC permit. Based on several incidents where self-defense is claimed it seems it’s even less clear to LEOs making the judgement as to arrest or not.

    In every law similar to florida’s one theme runs common. That is the phrase “immediate threat or death or great bodily harm to…” This can’t be the case in Trayvon’s homicide since he was not committing a crime, especially one that would put ANYONE in IMMEDIATE fear of death or great bodily harm. From zimmerman’s own account Trayvon was walking away from him (again, not a threat) and we can hear him ignore the dispatcher’s instructions and say “these a-holes always get away.”

    Since these factors are easily enough probable cause to believe a crime may have been committed by Zimmerman I am puzzled by the Florida officer’s statement that “if we arrest we open ourselves up to a lawsuit.” WHAT? Please tell me he is kidding (as sick as that would be to joke about!) I live in a deeply red state and helped my aging father teach the NRA course (acceptable by the state-interesting…) even though I hold different political views. I did so partly to get my own permit and partly to see what “types” of people would also be carrying in my area. One thing my dad ALWAYS stressed right away to each class was that this is not a game. Shooting another human being will forever change your life. It’s not a movie and this permit doesn’t make you a police officer or allow you to shoot someone you are mad at. He would follow that up with, “does anyone need to leave now?” Another thing he taught was that if you have no other option than to use your weapon, you should call 911 immediately if you can or have someone else do it right then. When the police arrive you should expect to be arrested so simply say,”I was in fear for my life (or whomever you were protecting) and I want to speak to an attorney, please. If they keep asking questions it’s time to exercise your rights under the fifth amendment and remain silent. Even if it appears cut and dried that you actually were defending yourself, the police have one job. Arrest the person they believe to be the criminal. I didn’t even mention the possibility of civil suits that could come at you.

    It seems to me that Florida has a corruption problem in some of its law enforcement agencies. Especially given that it’s the witness accounts they can’t seem to get straight and presume every shooter is of sound mind and not impaired by drugs or alcohol. This is obvious because no tests were done on Mr. Zimmerman. Has anyone found Trayvon’s cell phone, yet?

    To think all of this time I thought it was Kansas that was backwards.

  • LaserGuy

    Mass. may be the 2nd lowest, but I believe Vermont is the lowest, and it has no state gun laws at all.. Sort of cancels out this claim being blamed on gun laws doesn’t it ?

    • Barry

      Dear Laser Guy,
      If you use the link kindly provided in the comment above by R Lunn to the CDC site – and if you look for injuries by firearms for MA and VT – you see the VT has a rate that is about 3 times higher than MA.

      And in regard to Brian’s comments about the Stand Your Ground law in FL, – there is a very interesting piece in the University of Miami’s Law Review on that subject titled: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law: The Actual Effects and the Need for Clarification – you can find it easily on the web – and it points out some of the very troubling and unintended consequences of the law – for instance – suppose Mr Zimmerman – using the “self defense” notion – had missed Trayvon and killed a nearby 2 year old. The law as it is currently written – could hold Zimmerman immune – if he was found to have had a reason to believe he was in jeopardy – he wouldn’t have to be right about his belief – he just would need to have it. Read the article – it is pretty compelling.

      As to Max’s statistical take – I did only get a C in statistics – but I am guessing you ran a T test on the stats. I suspect that the real correlations are to found in something more akin to an algorithm – like the ones used to price airline seats – state population density and cultural homogeneity probably play a factor in it – less dense, more homogeneous states can probably safely support a higher population of guns. People are just a little less likely to bump into each other and have conflict. We may disagree – but I thank you all for thinking about it and using reason as an argument.

      • Tran

        well. ” i rather have a gun rather than need it but don’t have it “. guns are just a tool. So you are saying more strickly gun laws = less crimes ? I don’t think so. If Guns kill people then so cars make people drive drunk and food makes people turn fat. It is about educate the people.
        there are crimes reported by guns used in crimes only. but you should do more research on law abiding gun owners that able to use the gun to defrend themselves and others as well ( I am not talking about George Zimman case. He is a truthy idiot and a stereotype. A person can use deadly force when he/she is attack upon and fear for his/her life within her property aka” stand your ground “. People got confused by that law ) .
        Guns can be good if it is in a law abiding citizens hands. But it can be bad if it falls into criminals hands. You can ban all the guns in the US. But a person wanted to commit a crime, that person will do it anyway. They wouldn’t be afraid of broken into people’s houses to harrass and kill them because they know that the house owner doesn’t have a gun to shoot back.( law abiding citizens don’t want to get in trouble with the law they have to turn in their firearms all at once if the entire US ban guns. But only criminals will hide them to use it for later on) Guns give everybody with an even power. I don’t want to see a woman got rape or murder in some case by those scumbags, or a husband found out that his wife and children got killed from a home invasion after his night shift or either do we want a scumbag to rob our hard earning money. etc… This is why We have 2nd amamdment in our Constitution for a reason.
        Your articel is promoting no guns and no self defense because of this one GEORGE ZIMMAN case? Are you serious ? Yes i live in Massachusetts and i know that all the house of respresentive and senate and even our governor are liberal aka Democratic party people. But it is not the reason why people want to use gun also. There are collector, hunter, sport shooters, guys / girls who like to shoot gun at the range on the weekend.
        I believe Florida and few other states has a lot of unemployment people down there mostly in the poor class area. ( i am not saying people living in the bad area will become a criminal. It is about how they were raised and taught by their mom or dad or both ) Gun crimes death is a very small percent compares with others like accident, drugs, alcohol etc.
        So That is why i rather have a gun instead need it but don’t have it.

      • Daniel

        Supposed Zimmerman DIDN’T miss and hit a 2-year old. BECAUSE HE DIDN’T. Hypothetical doesn’t count in a logical debate.

  • NDUB

    I actually just wrote a research paper on gun rights and found an interesting statistic for you. Boston is the same size, actually about 30 thousand less people, than El Paso, Texas who has some of the loosest gun laws in the country. El Paso also is right across the border from the most dangerous city in the World Juarez, Mexico. However, last year in Boston there were 74 murders. El Paso had 15. Cities with more rights for firearm holders are safer. It’s a proven fact. Look at the F.B.I.’s 2007 Uniformed Crime Report. It states that cities with pro concealed carry laws have a 30 percent lower homicide rate and a 46 percent lower robbery rate. It was a cute try of an article though ya city lib.

  • Chris

    This is a terrible blog. It’s just full of obvious bias and typical leftist comments. If you are going to look into the history and question the past of both Zimmerman and the officer on the scene, don’t you think that you should be fair and explain what that 17 year old was doing in a town in which he didn’t actually reside in. What about why he wasn’t in school? What exactly did he do to get kicked out of school? What time of night did this happen? Where was his mother? Where was his father? Of course none of those things can tell you if he was doing something wrong, just like Zimmerman’s past doesn’t tell you that he did something wrong.

  • Daniel

    The “gun death” rate means nothing when gun control is concerned. What needs to be looked at is the violent crime rate in general, and facts are facts. Where gun control is enacted, violent crime goes up in a statistically significant way. Moreover, the stats mentioned in this article conveniently leave out the fact that many of the gun deaths in areas where guns are allowed are the deaths of criminals who were killed while committing a crime. Finally, using ONE ISOLATED INCIDENT (Zimmerman) to prove a point is BS, especially when the “artistic liberty” this writer employs is taken into account (shame on you for you assumptions, you have no idea how that incident played out, or what Zimmerman was thinking) You can try to legitimize gun control with stats, but you will fail.

  • http://aaa mike

    dear Barry ,
    Are you suggesting that other states should have the same gun laws as MA , or stricter laws like in Bloombergs NYC , And Obamas Chicago ? coke and heroin have been banned now for at least 80 years , so we can agree thats proof criminals dont follow laws. Is it really a good idea for Only criminals to be armed?

    • Barry

      Dear Mike,
      I am saying that it would be a good idea for criminals to find it much harder to obtain guns. The US has a uniquely lax attitude toward guns – supported by the gun manufacturers who make a fortune off of peddling death. Look at the rates of gun related murder and mayhem in other wealthy countries – that do not have such lax attitudes. A study, published in the Journal of Trauma — Injury Infection & Critical Care, found that firearm homicide rates were 19.5 times higher in the U.S. than in 23 other “high income” countries studied. Rates for other types of gun deaths were also higher in the U.S., but by somewhat smaller margins: 5.8 times higher for firearm suicides (even though overall suicide rates were 30 percent lower in the U.S.) and 5.2 times higher for unintentional firearm deaths.

      And yes- heroin is banned and a heroin trade still goes on. I would point out that murder is banned and murder still occurs. As does armed robbery and rape. Do you suggest that laws against those crimes should then be taken off the books?

  • http://aaa mark

    Dear Barry ,
    Yes dangerous drugs Should remain on the banned list , its just an example of how well ban’s work , and of how many criminals follow laws.
    It appears that you agree with the hand gun bans in some areas , and leaving citizens as helpless victims. If you dont like the constitution here , why not just move to a country thats already not free?
    You never answered about how you feel knowing that police have no obligation to protect any individual, and response is almost Always late.
    Are you aware of how much evil was in the world before guns were even available? And that Any object in the hands of a sick individual can , and will be dangerous?
    Yes its good that we have back ground checks and require safety classes to obtain an LTC here in MA. But it seems that you are in favor of ridiculous bans . have you noticed how many mass murders take place in “gun free ” zones ? schools ect.. how many people have ever got away or even tried a stunt like columbine in a gun club? they go where they know they can get away with it.
    if guns are killers then how does anyone make it out of a gun show alive??

  • http://aaa mark

    tobacco company’s are “peddling death”

  • Brendan O’Brien

    Well, this entire “article” is pretty much a lie. Do not use gun control advocates propaganda which you cite to. Go right to the FBI Uniform Crime Report. You will find that, in fact, Massachusetts has a much higher crime rate than it’s neighbors Vermont, NH and Maine and has much less strict gun laws.

  • David F

    In 2009 the MA homicide by firearm rate is 1.7 per 100,000, we rank at number 15 in the country for firearm related homicides.

  • jaredfighter

    The problem in this case is bigotry, unfortunately this article equivocates by assuming that gun ownership by a private citizen and racism come hand in hand. Presuming legislation/social controls are an effective answer, a more effective legislative focus would be having police forces/institutions come down harder on officers who make decisions similar to the line of thinking of Officer Raimondo, or take actions similar to Zimmerman. This is the point of escalating a criminal compliant to reflect that it was a hate crime.

    On the topic of whether legislating gun controls is an effective deterrent of gun related crime, the following is some food for thought…

  • Leo Guy

    Massachusetts has a higher murder rate per capita then New Hampshire which has little gun laws, heck don’t even need a License to buy firearms or ammo there Resident ID or Mass FID for Rifles and ammo. Why New Hampshire have a lower murder rate then Massachusetts other than population difference? Criminal don’t like to be shot!