GUN BUYBACK

Handguns fill a recycling bin during Atlantic County's two-day gun buyback program in March. It was one of the joint law-enforcement efforts to reduce homicides, which were near a record high in Atlantic City in 2012. The city is looking to end this year at a 30-year low murder rate.

Edward Lea

New Jersey has one of the lowest gun death rates in the country at about half the national average, according to a recently released analysis.

But the report uses only gun deaths — including suicides and accidental shootings — from 2011, the most recent data available.

“The real measure they’re trying to get at is violence by guns, and that doesn’t always result in death,” said Anthony Marino, a statistician and adjunct professor at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

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For example, there have been 20 shootings in Atlantic City this year that resulted in someone being struck. Two have been fatalities. That vast difference between shootings and fatalities is likely unusual, Marino said.

“It certainly appears to be a statistical anomaly to have so few bullets resulting in death,” he said.

But, he notes, shooter intent also cannot be determined.

“It may not be intended to kill but to warn,” Marino said. “So, it’s not so much that their aim is bad, but that they’re not trying to kill the guy they’re firing at.”

The information released by the Violence Policy Center attempts to show that states with weaker gun laws and more gun owners have higher death rates. But it also shows how difficult it is to get an accurate view of gun violence and how the guns are getting on the streets.

“The data on this really doesn’t show how the guns came to be in the possession of the people who use them,” said Marty Langley, senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center. “It’s become more and more difficult to get information on how guns are traced.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosions tracks that information, but there are limits on how the data can be used, Langley said. Instead, the study looks at gun ownership by state, pointing to a higher incidence of gun deaths in those states where gun laws are lax and gun ownership high.

In Louisiana — where nearly 46 percent of the population legally owns guns — the death rate was nearly 19 per 100,000, the worst in the nation.

But the National Rifle Association disagrees.

“Gun control activists have been misrepresenting the truth for years to gain support for gun control schemes that don’t work,” said Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for the NRA. “The fact is, more Americans own more guns than ever, and despite gun control supporters’ predictions to the contrary, the nation’s murder rate has fallen to nearly an all-time low and the violent crime rate has fallen to a 42-year low.”

Atlantic County saw 15 gun deaths in 2011 — the year the numbers were taken from — one less than the previous year. There were 21 gun deaths in 2012 and six last year.

“I think there’s a combination of things at play,” said Perry Mays, who heads the Atlantic County Coalition for a Safe Community. “One is education: educating our youth at a very young age about guns, gun safety and the devastating consequences of improper utilization as a whole.”

He points to the strong outreach component in the community through schools, houses of worship and social agencies.

Also, community groups such as the coalition “come together on a regular basis to address violence through education, law enforcement and early prevention strategies, working together as one team,” he said.

In Atlantic City, changes were recently made to the community walks to increase outreach and get people to feel more comfortable coming forward about the violence. In an attempt to engage residents, organizers are having people from the community join the walks and slowing down so people can talk.

“Finally, these strategies are followed up with data/outcomes to help assist us with good measurements on what went right and what other strategies need to be put in place to decrease gun violence in our communities as a whole,” Mays said.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

609-272-7257

@LyndaCohen on Twitter

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Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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