Guns, Murders, and Schizophrenia in Wyoming

Yeah, lots of people out here have guns. Look what we’re (not) using them for.

camovestsMost of the “snowbird” summer residents are gone now, back to warmer climates. But the motels still have the No Vacancy signs on. With cooler weather, hunting is in season.

Time to change my ways. My hiking range is more confined. I have to add a vest of bright orange, a color no game would wear.

Am I annoyed? Not much.

Once I was flat-out, knee-jerk anti-hunting. I still have some trouble with the idea of flying off to an exotic location to stalk and decapitate a trophy animal. But now I have too many friends who need that license for their daily meat course to claim the moral high ground here.

Someone killed a fellow creature so I could have chicken breast, too, and I didn’t have to do it. I didn’t even have to watch. The sight of the deer carcass hanging in Pete’s garage is startling, yes, but I hardly disapprove.

Miss-Annie-Oakley-peerless-wing-shotLiving part time in Dubois and part time in Brooklyn has made a schizophrenic of me, but (I would argue) not a hypocrite. Back East, I am a staunch supporter of gun control. In that high-pressure melting pot metropolis, anything that makes it more difficult to retaliate with escalating violence in a New York minute seems like a great idea to me.

But Dubois, as I often say, is the perfect contrast. I’m hardly Annie Oakley myself, and would most likely shoot off my foot rather than any target I might aim at. But here, I do support the right to bear arms, if only so that those who know how to use them can feel safe while hiking deep in grizzly country–let alone putting meat on the table the way people have done here for generations. It’s not the same place at all.

Only a few months ago, I found good, rational support for my my split personality about gun laws. I saw an article in a local news site, bemoaning the fact that Wyoming has eighth-lowest record in the nation for carrying out mental-health background checks before issuing gun licenses.

What does this really mean? Seeing that report, I thought about other the weekly news I read here in the Wind River Valley, compared to that I see in New York City. Then I decided to dig up some context. Here’s what I found (according to recent data from the US Census Bureau and the FBI as quoted in Wikipedia). I turned the data into a graph:


Sorry if the image is difficult to read. That’s gun-related murders per capita, by state. Wyoming is the pair of bars at the far right of the graph.

The orange bars are gun murders/100,000 residents, and the blue bars are the percentage of state residents who own firearms.

The tall orange bar in the middle is Louisiana.

Even at a glance, you can see that even though it has the highest rate of gun ownership in the country (60%), Wyoming has one of the lowest gun-related murder rates (1.4/100,000 population, or #46 out of 51, including the District of Columbia).

So you’re very likely to own a gun in Dubois, as I suspected. But you’re extremely unlikely to have another human being as your target.

I couldn’t include Washington DC in the graph. The stats for DC are so far off the charts that the other bars would have shrunk to invisibility on the same scale. DC has the lowest rate of gun ownership in the nation (3.6%) and by far the highest murder rate involving firearms (16.5/100,000).

Pay no attention to what the screenwriters portray on the latest series of Longmire on Netflix, therefore.  Read the books by Craig Johnson instead.

Want to read more about living in Dubois WY? You can read weekly updates via email using the link at the top of the right column.

© Lois Wingerson 2015

Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

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