Why the ‘Red State Murder Problem’ Is Not a Convincing Argument for More Gun Control

An argument that has been making the rounds lately among antigun politicians and gun control activists is that red states have higher murder rates than blue states in large part due to the former’s lack of gun control laws. As evidence, they point to an analysis published on Third Way’s website which concluded that between 2000 and 2020, “the per capita Red State murder rate was 23% higher than the Blue State murder rate when all 21 years were combined.” This was building on a prior article that was limited to looking at 2020 in particular, which found that “the 8.20 murders per 100,000 residents rate in Trump states was 40% higher than the 5.78 murders per 100,000 residents in Biden states.” Their math is not questionable. The authors have done a good job of showing their work, and they have proven the claim they made, which is that Trump-voting states average higher murder rates than Biden-voting states.

The problem with claiming Third Way’s simplistic analysis signals the need for more gun control isn’t with its math but with its parameters. When it comes to the efficacy of gun control, it just isn’t all that useful to limit the categories to the binary of “red states” and “blue states.” To be sure, it is true that, generally speaking, blue states have more gun control and red states have less. But there are so many exceptions to this generality that make the Third Way analysis pointless, at least insofar as its conclusions are used by others to argue for more gun control laws.[1]

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To illustrate this point, here is the chart showing the murder rate in each state in 2020, categorized into blue and red states based on whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump:

Why the 'Red State Murder Problem' Is Not a Convincing Argument for More Gun Control

Let’s take a look at some of these blue states in terms of how much gun control they actually have in place, especially the three states with some of the lowest murder rates in the nation, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.

New Hampshire gets an “F” from the gun control group Giffords, because it does not have universal background checks, does not require any permit to carry, has no “assault weapon” restrictions or magazine capacity limits, and so on. The state voted for Joe Biden, but when it comes to gun laws, it is less strict than even some Trump-voting states. The same is true for Maine, another which gets an “F” from Giffords. Vermont, the original constitutional carry state, does mildly better because it has universal background checks and a magazine capacity law that was enacted in 2018 as a feel-good measure (the state had no serious crime problem). Still, it only gets a “C-“ from Giffords because it lacks licensing laws, “assault weapon” restrictions, a carry permit requirement, and so on.

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While those are the most extreme examples, others exist too. Oregon has recently boosted its Giffords grade because it voted to enact gun licensing and magazine capacity limits (those efforts are stalled due to litigation), but as of 2020, it got only a “C+” from Giffords. Minnesota also gets a “C+” because it doesn’t have universal background checks, magazine capacity limits, and more. Other examples can be raised, but the point should be clear by now; there are many Biden-voting states that are either extremely friendly to gun rights or at least much more friendly than the flagship blue states like California and New York.[2] Essentially, the antigun side is using the very low murder rates in some pro-gun states to show that Democrat-favored policies on guns (i.e. gun control) work to lower murder rates. It’s extremely misleading. Using the 2020 election results as the way to categorize states may be valid in some contexts, but there are too many exceptions for it to be useful in a discussion of gun law efficacy.

Of course, this isn’t the only way the data is misleading, even when limited to red states. It is widely known that to the extent there is a “red state murder problem,” it is mostly the cities causing this problem. Missouri makes for an excellent case study on this phenomenon. According to the CDC, in 2021 Missouri had a total of 716 homicides, or a rate of 11.6 per 100,000. That figure is significantly higher than the national average in 2021, which the CDC data tells us was 7.8 per 100,000.

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But where were those homicides in Missouri? For the most part, they were in just three counties out of dozens. Specifically, Jackson County (containing Kansas City), St. Louis County, and St. Louis City. These three areas covering two major cities combine for a total population of 2,007,359, while their homicides added up to 523 in 2021. This means that while these counties account for just 32.5% of Missouri’s population, they are responsible for about 73% of the state’s homicides. In other words, if you are one of the approximately two-thirds of Missourians who don’t live in Jackson County, St. Louis County, or St. Louis City, your homicide rate isn’t really 11.6 per 100,000. It instead drops to roughly 4.6 per 100,000 when those counties are excluded, well below the US national average.

Why the 'Red State Murder Problem' Is Not a Convincing Argument for More Gun Control

To the extent party affiliations are meaningful, Kansas City’s last Republican mayor left office in 1991. St. Louis’s last Republican Mayor left office in 1949. In Missouri, the two big blue cities drive up homicide rates, not the rest of the state, which leans much more conservative.

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Finally, the “red state murder problem” moniker is misleading because of the giant variance even just among red states themselves. There isn’t really a red state murder problem, but a southern state murder problem. Look again at Third Way’s chart posted above. Every red state listed with a murder rate higher than 10 per 100,000 is a Southern state (though Missouri and Kentucky both straddle the line between the South and Midwest). There are several red states on the list with low murder rates, such as Idaho, Utah, Iowa, and more. They just aren’t in the South, as this 2020 map demonstrates:  

Why the 'Red State Murder Problem' Is Not a Convincing Argument for More Gun Control

Source – https://landgeist.com/2022/08/13/homicide-rate-in-the-us/

We aren’t going to resolve our problems with violent crime by lazily pointing to states based on their 2020 votes and declaring them “good” and “bad.” A complex problem requires a complex analysis, and not just the two simplistic categories that go into the “red state murder problem.”


[1] The article’s authors don’t definitively say why it is that red states have a higher murder rate, but they offer several reasons why they suspect that to be the case. These include guns, poverty, educational attainment, and social services. On guns, they write that “Gun ownership rates are far higher in red states than blue states. Studies have estimated that gun ownership rates are as much as twice as high in a typical red state than a typical blue state. Since 79% of all homicides are committed with a firearm, it stands to reason that more guns will produce more murders, not less.”

[2] It doesn’t really go both ways. Not one Trump-voting state gets higher than a “C-” from Giffords.

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  • grifhunter April 23, 2023, 3:22 pm

    Red states have more distance to hospitals, and less quality in ER staffing and ER facilities, as well as less ambulance services. Using “homicides” is deceptive, when in urban hellholes in blue states, your bullet wound to the chest is more survivable.

  • leigh April 22, 2023, 1:27 pm

    Now let’s take a look at blue cities…even those within red states.
    Oh…now it’s looking a lot different.
    And even within cities…usually pockets of high crime areas.
    Hmmm…I wonder what could be the common denominator.

  • Old wolf April 21, 2023, 3:17 pm

    This hole post is BS. The blue states have the tuffest gun laws and the highest murder rate in the country. Don’t let these clowns try to feed you lies like this crap. Look at Chicago, Detroit, California and NY. They are the biggest blue states and have the most crime and murde rates in the country. In red states they have the most saved life’s cause of gun carryers that put their lives on the line to save lifes of others. In blue states the crooks will take everything you have while you’re laying on the ground after being shot or beaten up. There’s the real difference between red and blue states. Guns save lifes more then taking them. unless your in a blue state, then your on your own cause the democrats defund the police who used to protect you. Live or die , your choice

  • ecarfar April 21, 2023, 9:17 am

    Let’s analyze where these murder rates are highest though…within the Red states, I’d bet the blue controlled cities have most of the murders. Also, if you look at New Hampshire, which has the lowest murder rate in the country, you can buy a handgun and conceal carry out of the store in a half hour. So much for gun laws….

    • Josh April 21, 2023, 12:44 pm

      Black problem. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire are the three whitest States.

    • Robert The Bruce April 28, 2023, 10:46 pm

      You can’t buy a gun in New Hampshire any faster than any other state you moron. You still have to follow the same background checks. they still have to call the FBI. But you are right I can walk out the door and conceal it as I should be able to. For god sake‘s keep your simple minded Az in your stupid liberal state.. You’re clearly not smart enough to be with the rest of us

  • JAMES HARTMAN April 21, 2023, 8:04 am

    The left can manipulate the #’s on any subject to create a “CRISIS” . . . Dumbocrat run cities and states are the bastions of violence and wanton gun crime and every sensible red blooded american cannot be persuaded by cherry picked delusional mathmatics . . “AN ARMED SOCIETY IS A POLITE SOCIETY “

  • JAMES HARTMAN April 21, 2023, 7:41 am


    • Robert The Bruce April 28, 2023, 10:43 pm

      Wow you’re so articulate and well spoken. I especially like how you formulated your response with facts, numbers, and statistics. Yours is that of a typical liberal response well done sir… emotional nut job at its finest

  • Phil April 21, 2023, 6:57 am

    When murder rates are discussed, can it be implied the gun is the object of the murder rate? After all will the gun be under investgation and, if found guilty, be sentenced and serve time? That answer is obviously NO! It isn’t about guns.

  • Hondo April 21, 2023, 6:30 am

    Ultimately it is a democrat problem created by democrats, every major city is controlled by these corrupt bastards, either get used to it or start voting smarter

  • Uncomfortable Truth April 21, 2023, 4:57 am

    There is the issue of demographics that no one want to get into.
    Blacks make up 13 to 14% of the country and commit about 50% of the murders.
    The South is blacker than average and coincidently has higher than average murder rates.

  • paul I'll call you what I want/1st Amendment April 19, 2023, 1:44 pm

    First I would like to know how many of those deaths were from criminals?
    second I would like to know how many were self defense because of the criminals?
    nobody wants to touch on the criminal element for statistics wtf??????

    • Milo Mindbender April 30, 2023, 7:23 am

      The elephant in the room that is unseen is the demographics of the states. We are sometimes compared to other countries in the world, but we have a relatively diverse population, and when compared to a homogeneous society they appear to have a lower rate of interpersonal violence that us. If you take into account the facts of economic and social differences it becomes plain to see that most of the interpersonal violence is limited to smaller areas than advertised. This is similar to looking at election results by state vs looking at them by district. Some states unfortunately award their EC votes by winner takes all, and screw the rest of the voters. This disenfranchised the remainder of the electorate, but when you look at it by representative district it paints a picture of archipelagos of blue surrounded by red seas. Same with the violence, if you look by county or city, it traces directly back to archipelagos of violence surrounded by relatively pacific seas of non violence.

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