Gun Violence and Iowa

“Any kind of gun violence affects everybody who knows something about it,” said Geoff Huff, Investigations Commander of the Ames Police Department. Here in Iowa, the number of homicides involving firearms is very low, just 19 in 2011. However, guns are still a big part of Iowans’ lives. “Being that it is Iowa, there are a lot of hunting weapons out there,” Huff said. According to national exit polls from the 2008 election, about four in 10 households owns some sort of firearm, be it a handgun, shotgun, or rifle. While the use of firearms in the commission of a crime is fairly low in Iowa, firearms involved in accidents remain a problem. According to the Iowa Burden of Injury report for 2002 to 2006, males ages 15-74 had around 86 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people. Female deaths were lower, with the same age group averaging around 13 deaths per 100,000. However, the numbers really start to tell a story in the numbers of hospital visits and emergency department responses. Forty percent of firearms incidents related in hospital visits are due to unintentional discharge or the gun accidentally going off, which leads to an emergency response visit and possible hospital stays. Males aged 15-24 were eight times more likely to visit the hospital for a firearms-related incident than females of the same age group. Hospital and emergency department visits for that 15-24 age group were around 34 individuals per 100,000 residents. “I think what everybody is focusing on right now is gun violence,” Huff said. While accidents involving firearms are a definite problem, they only account for 5 percent of all firearms related deaths in Iowa, according to the report. Eighty-one percent of firearms deaths in Iowa are attributed to suicide, with the other 14 percent being the violent crime related deaths. While suicides in the 45-54 age group are the highest, suicide is the second leading cause of death for the 15-24 age group after accidents. In 2009, there were 23 suicides in the 19-and-under age group, accounting for 6.5 percent of the national total. “We’ve seen that in some shootings, people definitely had some mental health issues,” Huff said. While names like Anders Breivik and James Eagan Holmes may dominate the national news, here in Iowa, we have had our own brush with gun violence. Mark Becker shot Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas the day after he was released from the psychiatric ward of the Waterloo Hospital. As of 2007, Iowa ranks 47th in the nation in terms of resources for mental health services, with 5.8 beds per 100,000 residents according to a report from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Numbers from the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that nearly 40 percent of adults with serious mental illnesses go untreated. While these may just be numbers on a page, each digit represents a real human being with real trials and real accomplishments in their life. When their life is cut short by a firearm, it affects everyone around them. While the death toll in Iowa may be low compared to other states, there is no denying that gun violence against others, or oneself, is a problem. “A bullet moves at a thousand feet per second,” Huff said. “You can’t get out of the way.”