Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of firearm deaths in the nation, driven primarily by suicide rates that have steadily increased even as homicide rates have declined.
In 2010, the latest year for which data from all states is available, Oklahoma had 538 firearm deaths, or 14.34 per 100,000 people, ranking the state 15th nationally, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Firearm deaths include homicides, suicides, unintentional deaths and ones involving legal intervention such as when a law officer uses deadly force.
Suicides accounted for two-thirds of all firearm deaths in the state in the dozen years leading up to 2010. The state’s gun-related suicide rate increased every year from 2007 to 2010 and remained higher than the national rate. The most common circumstances surrounding suicides between 2004 and 2008 were depression, intimate partner problems and physical health issues, according to a report released last year by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The age groups with the highest suicide rates in 2010 were 40 to 44 and 65 to 69.
While Oklahoma’s firearm-related suicide rate is high, its homicide rate involving guns is relatively low. Oklahoma’s 2010 gun-related homicide rate of 3.49 deaths per 100,000 was slightly lower than the national rate of 3.59. Both rates have been falling since 2006.
Homicides in general have been falling nationwide. However, in 2012, Oklahoma City’s number of homicides shot up to 99, the second highest number ever, The Oklahoman reported. More than 70 percent of the murders involved firearms. In Tulsa, murders declined to 46 last year, the lowest number since 2002, according to the Tulsa World.
Firearm-related deaths in Oklahoma are preventable, the state Department of Health report states. More than 50 percent of Oklahoma households are estimated to have guns. Addressing mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse, poverty, low educational attainment and lack of employment opportunities could prevent further deaths.
The map above shows county-level firearm fatalities for the years 2004 through 2010. Darker-shaded areas indicate higher six-year firearm death rates. Those years with * indicate fewer than five fatalities. This information was withheld by the CDC to protect victim’s privacy.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Oklahoma Department of Health.