The Grim Portrait of Colorado’s Thousands of Gun Deaths

Illuminated by a red-filtered dome light, Colorado Springs police officer Troy Puga consults his police cruiser's computer during a call to a possible assault in southeast Colorado Springs on March 26, 2013. Based in the Sand Creek Division, Puga patrols in Census Tract 54.00 where two dozen residents have died by guns in the 12 years between the Columbine and Aurora mass shooting tragedies, the most of any neighborhood in the state.
(Joe Mahoney/I-News Network at Rocky Mountain PBS)

Illuminated by a red-filtered dome light, Colorado Springs police officer Troy Puga consults his police cruiser's computer during a call to a possible assault in southeast Colorado Springs on March 26, 2013. Based in the Sand Creek Division, Puga patrols in Census Tract 54.00 where two dozen residents have died by guns in the 12 years between the Columbine and Aurora mass shooting tragedies, the most of any neighborhood in the state.
(Joe Mahoney/I-News Network at Rocky Mountain PBS)

Colorado’s bookend tragedies of Columbine and Aurora ended in the loss of 25 innocent lives and continue to drive the debate about gun violence and public policy. But those devastating mass shootings represent only a tiny fraction of gun deaths in the state.  In the 12 full years between those horrific events, 6,258 people died of gunshot wounds in Colorado.

I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS – using data from the state health department and the U.S. Census Bureau, thousands of pages of police, coroner and court records, and numerous on-the-ground interviews – has developed a sobering portrait of this unremitting gun carnage. The analysis plotted all of those deaths by the census tract where each victim lived. Of the 1,249 census tracts in Colorado, only 80 escaped a gun death during the period of study.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the deadliest census tract in the state, with a total of 24 gun deaths during the period of study, is a hilly enclave of ‘60s tract homes and apartment buildings with postcard views of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.

The I-News investigation of the cases in that neighborhood found that they ran the gamut: A father who shot his teen-age son in the head while trying to show him how to safely handle a gun; four domestic violence murder-suicides; a gang-related shooting; a jealous former boyfriend who fired blindly through a door and killed his former girlfriend; a suicide of a man with a long history of depression; and a completely random shooting carried out by a U.S. Army soldier who apparently enjoyed shooting strangers.

I-News spent time in the neighborhood, talking with those who’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, police and prosecutors, and educators on the front lines working every day to break a cycle of poverty and violence. In addition, I-News compared poverty and other demographic realities in each of the state’s census tracts to gun deaths, and the findings were both expected and surprising.  For example, there was a strong link between poverty and gun homicides in Colorado – and no discernible link between poverty and gun suicides.

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