The horrific events of Columbine High School and the Aurora theater represent a tiny fraction of what is, week-in and week-out in Colorado, an unremitting loss of life involving guns: 6,258 deaths during the 12 years from 2000 through 2011, more than three-quarters of them suicides, about one in five homicides.
That’s 10 gun deaths a week – every week – during that 12-year span.
“It is a public health issue,” said state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and the mother of a son taken by gunfire. “We pay for it in the end. Society – we pay for the medical treatment, the loss of productivity. It’s a ripple effect. When someone gets murdered or harmed by gun violence, it affects the family, it affects the community, it affects the neighborhood – not just that one person.”
I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to detail the manner of death for each of the more than 6,200 people who died of gunshot wounds from 2000 through 2011, and it included the census tract where each victim lived.
Because death certificates are not public under Colorado law, the data did not identify any of the victims. I-News was able to identify many victims by using criminal justice and coroner’s records, as well as news stories, and relied on public records such as property deeds and police and court documents, to determine the home address of victims.
As it turned out, Colorado's deadliest census tract neighborhood during the study period was a southeastern Colorado Springs area of 1960s tract houses, apartment complexes and four public schools – where postcard-perfect views of Pikes Peak frame the skyline to the northwest.
The area is known to the federal government as Census Tract 54.00, one of 1,249 geographically distinct districts in the state. And during the 12-year analysis period, 24 of its residents died of gunshot wounds - 12 homicides and 12 suicides.
Denver had two census tract neighborhoods, both in Montbello, with an equal number of gun homicides and Grand Junction had three tracts with more gun suicides. But the Colorado Springs neighborhood had more gun death victims during that span than in any other census district in Colorado.
The I-News special report, Colorado's Deadliest Neighborhood, examined why that was.