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.
Suicides accounted for 76 percent of the 6,258 deaths from guns during the 12 years, while homicides comprised 20 percent. The rest were either accidental, legal shootings by law enforcement or unexplained. Nationally, about 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides.
Gun suicides were disproportionately committed by white residents, according to the I-News inquiry, while homicide victims were predominately minority. White residents, who make up 70 percent of the state’s population, accounted for 88 percent of the gun suicides. On the other hand, 58 percent of homicide victims were minorities, who comprise 30 percent of the state’s residents. Blacks were victims in 21 percent of the homicides, but only make up 4 percent of Colorado’s population. Latinos were victims in 34 percent of homicides, while comprising 21 percent of the state’s population.
Mesa County had three of the four deadliest census tract neighborhoods in the state for gun suicides. El Paso County had the highest overall death toll from gun suicides, 596 over the 12 years.
Interestingly, a new Quinnipiac Poll reported by The Denver Post recently showed that 55 percent of Coloradans oppose “stricter new gun control laws,” but an overwhelming 85 percent reported supporting background checks for all gun buyers. They narrowly approved, 49 percent to 48 percent, limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
Yet it was those two gun control measures that led to such an outcry earlier this year, leading to the recall of state senators in Colorado Springs and Pueblo and providing much of the fuel for the 51st state movement. According to Quinnipiac, they’re both supported by the Colorado public at large.