Portland has few gun homicides, but its gun death rate remains high

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In 2020, nearly 20,000 Americans died in gun homicides. But none were in the Portland metro area.

The United States has seen several high-profile gun violence events over the past week and could see more in the coming months, when warm temperatures typically coincide with increased violence. Still, nearly half a million people in the Portland metro area continue to see some of the lowest rates of firearm homicides in the Northeast.

Dozens of people still die each year from guns in the Portland area due to other causes, including suicides and accidental shootings. More people kill themselves with firearms per capita in the Portland metro area than in several other major northeast population centers, including Boston.

From 2010 to 2020, Cumberland County recorded 21 firearm homicides, at a rate of about 0.7 firearm homicides per 100,000 residents, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United. By comparison, Suffolk County in Massachusetts, where Boston is located, recorded 5.2 homicides per 100,000 people during that time. Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania recorded a rate of 21.5 per 100,000 population.

Cumberland County’s rate is also lower than several other northeastern urban counties. Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Buffalo; Springfield, Massachusetts; New Haven; Hartford, Connecticut; New York City; Jersey City, Bridgeport; Providence; Manchester, New Hampshire and Worcester are all in counties with higher gun homicide rates. A notable exception was the county containing Burlington, Vermont, which had a slightly lower rate.

The data is particularly surprising given that Maine has some of the weakest gun laws in the region, including the ability for private dealers to sell firearms without performing background checks on the buyer. .

Yet Maine is also a state with a low violent crime rate. FBI data shows violent crime in Maine is also four times less likely to involve a firearm than elsewhere in the US

This lower level of gun homicides in Portland is likely due to the city’s lack of decaying institutions, a lack of jobs, and concentrations of poverty that have led to an increase in gun homicides. in other metropolitan areas, said Geoff Bickford, director of Maine Gun Safety. Coalition, which seeks to prevent gun violence in Maine.

“It’s just a much smaller place with much smaller concentrations of poverty,” Bickford said.

He said Portland’s gentrification had also driven much of the city’s “fundamental poverty”, although he noted that there were still poor neighborhoods in Portland.

But that doesn’t mean Maine doesn’t have a significant gun problem, Bickford said. The state still records dozens of gun suicides and accidental gun deaths, with one of the highest gun death rates in the northeast.

Its total gun death rate, including homicides, suicides and accidents, is the second highest in New England, second only to Vermont. While no one in the Portland metro area (Cumberland, Sagadahoc, and York counties) died from firearm homicide in 2020, 38 people still lost their lives to firearms.

Maine’s high suicide rate is due to many factors, including the state containing many veterans — a group that is at increased risk for suicide — and the state’s large number of firearms, said Bickford.

About half of Maine households have firearms, he said, making them easily accessible for someone at risk of suicide. And people who attempt suicide with guns are more likely to succeed than with other methods.

“Other methods, there’s a chance of intervention: you can stop the bleeding, get help, use a poison control agent or gastric pump,” Bickford said.

With the increase in gun violence in many US cities, there remains the possibility that it could eventually increase in Portland. Many gun violence experts fear that homemade weapons, which are increasingly readily available, could lead to new, less traceable violence. Most of these firearms do not have serial numbers.

Portland police encountered a man with a homemade weapon with a suppressor using parts from Polymer80, the nation’s largest maker of homemade weapons kits, in February.

The department did not release any information about this encounter, including whether this man had committed a crime. However, the department deleted the post about the incident less than an hour after it was posted on Facebook after a strong backlash.

It was a sign of the strength of opposition to gun measures, even in a place not traditionally associated with gun rights like Portland, Bickford said. Gun use is more often tied to the state’s rural communities, many of which have even called themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries in opposition to potential new gun laws.

Yet rural areas of the state have experienced the highest rates of firearm homicides. From 1999 to 2020, Piscataquis, Somerset and Oxford counties recorded the most per capita.

Of the 2,696 gun deaths in Maine from 1999 to 2020, nearly 90% (2,395) were suicides and 10% (258) were homicides, according to US CDC data. More than 750 people in the Portland metro area committed suicide with a firearm during this time, while 79 were victims of homicide.

Gun rights organization Gun Owners of Maine did not respond with a comment for this story.