It’s not hard to come up with reasons why Hawaii ranks among the country’s happiest states. But it’s also the healthiest. While that status is largely attributable to public health phenomena like lower rates of smoking and depression, there’s another factor playing a small part: Its residents are at a significantly lower risk than mainland Americans of dying by gunshot.
According to a data calculator maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaii’s rate of gun homicide clocks in at just 0.62 victims per 100,000 people. (The rate for the United States as a whole is 3.99, a nearly sevenfold difference.) Hawaii boasts one of the country’s lowest suicide rates, which have been shown to increase when a gun is kept in the home, and just 20 percent of the state’s suicides are committed with firearms—nationally, guns are responsible for a little over 50 percent. A study from earlier this year also assigned Hawaii the lowest prevalence of non-fatal firearm injuries in the 18 states it measured. Whether intentional, accidental, assault-related, self-inflicted, or indeterminate, these incidents consistently occur at far lesser frequency in the Aloha State.
Yet even as it records such comparatively low rates of gun violence, Hawaii’s gun dealers have enjoyed an enormous surge in sales in recent years. A study relying on 2013 data determined that 25.8 percent of Hawaiians are gun owners—a national low, but up significantly from the statewide rate of 9.7 percent recorded in older data. The state’s rate of legal gun ownership is also reflected in numbers tallied by its permit-to-purchase and gun registration systems, and the trends are eye-opening. According to data released this year by the state attorney general’s office, gun permit applications across Hawaii increased by 298 percent between 2000 and 2014. Over the same span of time, the number of registered firearms spiked by 355 percent. Some observers wonder whether the state may now be home to more guns than people.