Visualising U.S. gun legislation, and mapping politics, economics, and population

As an European (quite literally) with American relatives, I always took an interest in U.S. politics and other American oddities. One of these oddities is definitely U.S. gun legislation. Which can be very different from state to state, and has surprisingly little to do with another great divide: the split in Democrats and Republicans.

The reason I got (re-)interested in U.S. gun laws was the rather novel discussion that evolved in the U.S. Some people, well, pupils in fact, question a long-cherished (not openly expressed) belief. To protect the freedom of the American people (from King George and alike), one has to live with the collateral damage – far the most Americans are shot by other Americans.

Does the 2nd Amendment condone indirectly mass-shootings? From a constitutional point of view, it does. It is not the God-given – as some think when reading the bible – but a constitutional right of every (this includes all, not only white males) American citizen to arm him-, her- or itself to form a militia and protect his/her/its freedom.

However, we live in the 21st century, and there is a certain consensus among democracies aiming at a certain level of civilisation and civility, that not everyone should be running around like G.I. Joe. Not a few states in the USA are a notable exception from this rule (mainly those that were never threatened by King George), whereas other try at least to exercise a level of control that does not directly freak out an Old European like me.

A graph depicting the deep divide

While browsing the net for my earlier post on Trumpelchen's instagram series, I stepped over the GunsToCarry website. GunsToCarry breaks down state legislation to five basic points and gives further tips.

They also rate the states: The maximum five-star rating goes to states with 1700s law, i.e. none. Everyone can buy a gun, no controls, no permits, no restrictions whatsoever.

The minimum one-star rating goes to states which according to Old European standards would come close to a necessary minimum, or – as e.g. in the case of the State of Hawaii – something approaching EFTA/EU after-war (and sometimes pre-WW II) legislation.

I recoded GunsToCarry's breakdown into a matrix to infer the following neighbour-net, which quite well depict the differences between state legislation (see this post @ Genealogical World of Networks for the methodology and data)

The Great Divide: state gun legislation in the United States. The farther apart two states in the graph, the more they differ in their gun legislation. States in the green field with blue stars come close to minimum standards in the rest of the 1st World (and not a few countries in the 2nd and 3rd).

GunsToCarry's rating: 1 star – bad state (European-style fascists or socialists threatening freedom), 5 stars – good state (free to carry and shoot)

The historical perspective

The 2nd Amendment is from the 18th century (ThoughtCo provides a nice timeline), it was added to the U.S. constitution 15 years after the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from the British Crown and already fought the one or other war against their former lords. During the 19th century and until now, U.S. citizens (in contrast to their relatives that stayed back in Europe) had little to do with war. After the British Crown let go, no-one tried to invade the U.S. and subdue its citizens. At least not in reality.

A depiction of the world in the late 1950s based on Philip K. Dick's novel "The Man in the High Castle", which mainly plays in an alternative reality where the Allies lost the World War II. Dick did not put a lot of faith into the 2nd Amendment being able to stop actual dictators (Hitler/Mussolini and Imperial Japan): the Pacific States are Japanese, what remains of the U.S.A. a Nazi-puppet state. The officially unoccupied Rocky Mountains territory in-between acts as a buffer, cold-war playground. Artwork by  SyL64, Wikipedia Commons.
Armed actions were usually expansion-related and directed outwards against the Mexicans and the Spanish (California, Texas, and Florida were cut out or bought from the Spanish-Mexican Empire) or the native Americans, the First Nations, who were successively deprived of lands and originally granted rights (when the just fledged U.S. and the British Empire still needed them as cannon fodder).

Already by the 19th century, there was little reason left for militias. And this may explain why, these days, more than half of the original Thirteen Colonies have put some constraints on the 2nd Amendment. It is a historic irony that the last Americans who took up their weapons to defend their freedom and soil, thus literally did what the 2nd Amendment grants them to do, were the Confederates in the 1800s (American Civil War: 1861–1865).

Same graph, highlighting the original Thirteen Colonies and the states of the Confederacy. New Hampshire is the only member of the Thirteen that sided with Lincoln (the first Republican) and the U.S. in the civil war, and sticks with 1700s rules (no gun control, five-star rating by GunsToCarry).

However, the "freedom" that they wanted to protect was primarily the freedom to own other humans. These slaves, mostly imported from Africa, often by European traders (slavery became illegal in the British Empire already in 1833), were not U.S. citizens; otherwise they would have had the right to arm themselves against their usurpers – the land-owners backing the Confederacy and opposing the U.S. government – and form a militia.

The 2nd Amendment didn't save the Confederate States. By the 19th century, war had evolved to a level of professionality that rendered self-arming militias superfluous (You can be pretty sure that the 2nd Amendment wouldn't have stopped the Tenno's imperial army or the Nazi's in the very unlikely case they would have outmatched the Pacific Fleet and the American Forces abroad. Nor would have any militia impressed the Soviets after the war. Defending U.S. freedom and other interests, and that of their allies, was and is the job of the best-funded military in the world, even before Trumpelchen took office).

The infamous AR-15, recommended by the National "Rifle" Association to exercise your constitutional right (useful for home defence and hunting). Pretty sure that was what Washington, Jefferson etc. had in mind, when accepting the 2nd Amendment. Accessories provided e.g. by Walmart online shop, your friendly neighbourhood supermarket (spoiler: you now need to be 21 to buy the gun, too, just in case you nourish a grudge against your school).
Nonetheless, until today the former Confederate States including those that were part of the Thirteen, have little or none gun control. They did not evolve and adapted to (more) modern times like their (back than and today) more industrious and developed counterparts. And the evolution of "private" arms circulating in the U.S.

However, if you are visibly a descendant of the former slaves, you better not try to exercise your constitutional right and carry around a gun (AR-15 or other, concealed or open). In particular not after sun-set and in a white (suburban or suburgatory) neighbourhood.

Which brings us to politics.

Are Democrats harder on guns the Republicans?

As outdated as their gun legislation is the American political system. No-one must ride anymore on horseback to communicate the will of the People beyond the plains, mountains, and deserts, who should be the next president. Nonetheless, the U.S. still clings to its pretty unrepresentative Electoral College to elect that very person. Only two parties (not to be confused with European parties) are left, who have a chance to get their candidate through as president:
  • the Republicans, the Grand Old Party founded by Abraham Lincoln; the very person, who with his like- and progressive (sic!) minded buddies abolished slavery and modernised the U.S.; and 
  • the Democrats, a party with a long and winding history, today the party of underprivileged  minorities (e.g. Afro-Americans), women, "liberals" (Are you suffering from liberal denial, too?) or worse, and urban America.

The 115th congress (as elected). Note that more than half of the electorate is female.

In the last election, the Democratic candidate, also known as "Crooked Hillary, the worst (and biggest loser of all time", got c. 3 million votes more than her opponent and now president, Trumpelchen, the orange-billionaire, former TV-clown and sitting Toddler of the U.S., who took home the Republican nomination (a very odd procedure, from a post-war German perspective – the Americans and their allies gave us a close-to-representative democracy rather than exporting their systems). Thanks to the antiquity of the election system (and some help from FBI's Comey and Russian trolls), Trumpetytrump secured a majority in the Electoral College. And he also enjoyed 30 million U.S.$ from the National Rifle Association (NRA) to run for president and avoid the bewitched woman. The NRA is the main interest group fighting for the freedom to bear semi-automatic guns (rather than rifles) for self-protection and fend of dictators. Their catchphrase is: "It's not the guns that are evil, but the people" (comments by the Rolling Stone magazine and PJMedia). So why again, should people be allowed carrying guns? NRA-TV has some answers.

Mapping the state-wise results of the 2016 presidential election on the gun network, is quite interesting. Both candidates were not really loved by their voters. "Crooked" Hillary Clinton just got 12% more than Bernie, the "democratic socialist", Sanders (see also the Political Compass' assessment) in the Democratic Party primaries. And just roughly a third of Republicans voted for Donald Trumpelchen Trump, when there still was a choice (see chronologically ordered details on The Green Papers).

Same graph, shaded circles give the overhead (in %) of the Democratic (blue) and Republican (red) candidate vs. the other. All states "tough" (low GunsToCarry rating) went to the Democrats, all no-control states except for New Hampshire and Vermont had a tiny to moderate Republican majority.

It looks like Democrats, often characterised being more left than post-Reagan Republicans (Germany and other European countries would qualify for pure socialism from an American perspective, despite our neoliberal, right-leaning governments), dominate the states with some or quasi-European gun control, whereas all Republican states are in the lower left corner and promote the Wild West or 1700s state-of-art. But are Democrats more sensible when it comes to basic rules of gun control? Some definitely are, look at the face of long-serving Californian senator Dianne Feinstein, when Trump pledged for gun restrictions in the recent "honoured to welcome" bipartisan meeting (spoiler, not 24h later, he tweeted that he's afraid of the NRA, too)

So, are Democrat law-makers more reasonable? Not really. The tiny New England states New Hampshire, Vermont and larger but equally sparsely populated Maine lean to the Democrats or solid Democratic fiefs but exercise no gun control. Interestingly, Democrats who speak out loudly for more gun control, seem to have one thing in common: they are usually female. Women obviously have more oversight than men. After all, they were the ones who started civilisation in the first place. Men were having fun hunting and avoiding being trampled over by mammoths and similar things.

And when looking some years back, the clear pattern becomes more and more faint.

2008 election. Obama (D) won against McCain (R) with 10 Mio surplus votes, and took home 11 states with no or very little gun control.

2000 election. Bush the Younger (R) won against Gore (D) falling short 0.5 Mio votes; Gore took home no-gun control Maine, Vermont, New Mexico (and Florida, if all casted votes would have counted).

1992 election. The southerner Clinton (D), husband of "Crooked Hillary", from no-control Arkansas defeated sitting president Bush the Elder (R) by 5 Mio. votes; and succeeded in many now "red" states with no or little gun control.

1976 election (the one before Reagan took-over the former Confederacy and put an end to the Solid South). Carter (D) outrun Ford (R) by 1.5 Mio votes, the latter fared in general better in now "blue" states with gun control measures approaching western standards.

1968 election, the last involving a third candidate carrying home some states. Nixon (R) won against Humphrey (D) and Wallace, a "segregationist" (American euphemism for apartheit-style racism), running for the American Independent Party [Wikipedia/Homepage]

It's not a cause, but a reflection

More important than whether leaning towards and be ruled by Democrats or Republicans, is the population density and the civic and economic development of the states.

The more people (living together), the more gun control. Note that in California and Colorado far the most people (and voters) cluster in heavily urbanized metropolitan areas, and both states have certain regional differences in gun control. Hawaii is the youngest state of the U.S., it joined in the modern era (1959). Data source:, based on the estimated 2015 population

Progressive gun legislation (for U.S. standards) is found in the most densely populated, economically strongest (in a general sense, i.e. beyond oil, gas, and other natural resources, which rarely enrich the broad public), and most developed states.

More money, less need for a gun. States with a higher than U.S. global real GDP (green dots) have more restrictive gun laws. Data source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The contribution of oil/gas industry to the real GDP in 2015. Note that only two Wild-West states richer than the U.S. global (New Hampshire and Virgiana), are not dependent on oil and gas for their wealth. And Virginia is only held by Republicans (so far) thanks to gerrymandering, last year the Democrats beat the Republicans by 10% (300,000 votes), leading to a 51:49 Republican majority in the House of Delegates, Virginia's state parliament.

California being the best example, its by far the most populous U.S. state, and economically and technologically a global player on its own (would be among the Top-10 economies of the world). And urbanised, 21st century America leans towards the reformed, more progressive Democrats (see e.g. the case of Virginia mentioned above). Hence, these states' Democratic candidates are not the gun-crazy, NRA-dependent people running for the same party in the woods of farther New England.

A further proof of case are New Hampshire, one of the original Thirteen Colonies, and Vermont, a later division. Both lean to the Democrats for some time but stick to 1700s rule set (no control). Nearby New England Connecticut, from which no-control Maine segregated, and equally small (geographically) Rhode Island, both Democratic fiefs since Reagan's turn-over of the Republican Party, have quite strong gun control.

And when you follow statements on abortion (involving rape which "... is kinda like the weather"), religion (little difference to Saudi Arabia or Iran), climate-warming (make-belief), and evolution (does not exist, #Trumpanzee being a proof of case) uttered by Republican law-makers, it is clear that this party has lost any contact with modern-day, urban America. And reality (to various degrees). Like many U.S. citizens outside the urban centres.

Percentage of people rejecting evolution as a fact (red bar) compared to votes for populist, "right-wing" parties in the last elections (see this post).

Good ole' America, Land of the Free (of knowing what's happing out here)

The basis of the modern-day retrogressive (Reagan and later) Republicans is the rural America, wide land that in many aspects has much more in common with the 2nd (or even 3rd) World than the 1st World. People living there may have no health insurance (or just lost it), never heard of state-guaranteed social security (or consider it socialism), get their electricity from petrol-fuelled generators, live in "mobile homes" rather than houses, have little education and even less idea what is happing in the rest of the world (or the U.S.), and – in the worst case – rely on FFN – Fox (Fake) News – as their sole source of (mis)information. [Yes, I know, one of them was born in New York and sits in the Oval Office, but in contrast to those out there having to dream the American Dream never to become true, he has no excuse: he's just a spoiled, rich, unwitting ("we attacked Iraq", "Nambia", etc.), possibly dumb, kiddo playing president.]

And the internet is full of bigfoots, nutballs, and tremendously great inventions to protect "liberty" from whoever is out there (i.e. beyond the woods). A lot is blabla for the sole purpose of making a quick buck, but apparently there are enough people, who are uneducated, ignorant and/or stupid enough to believe in it.

Jon Oliver makes up his own conspiracy theory

I was once warned: Don't go to Nebraska, they are not human out there. Nebraska is an ancient Republican fief with surprisingly restrictive gun laws (note the relative high GDP with no oil/gas to back it, and the relative low death rate, must be coincidence). We had to go there nevertheless, I got a colt put in my hand for the obligatory shoot-on-the-cans entertainment, and people there were definitely human. The so-called "rednecks" can be very nice to foreign "liberals", but we were visibly Central European, country-side middle-class driving the smallest (and cheapest) rental cars one could get in Omaha (and thinking it's 10-years old, but it was new).

Back then, "god-blessed" Fox News (self-description) was just ridiculously bad, but not (yet 24/7) spreading half-truths, obvious lies and conspiration theories (some funny clips: Jon Steward celebrates the first time Fox News was right/A compilation/Trump vs. Truth/Fox News drops "Fair and Balanced" slogan/Two (self-styled or caught) pussy grabbers have a nice chat on the "muslim problem" and Obama's birth certificate). Most news, we (accidently) watched 15 years ago were about some unidentified black person who shot some unidentified white person (first time, I got into contact with "dramatization" in an alleged news programme). Real news could only be found in the local newspaper (with gun ads), e.g. about the inhumane working conditions of (not rarely illegal) Mexicans cleaning the meat factories at night. These days, many in the U.S. starting with Mr President would call it "liberal fake news".

Downtown West Point, NE, 2003.
In general, i.e. regarding everything except for the wide- and flat-screen TVs with their cable programmes spilling "true news stories" and other fiction for entertainment, we had the feeling of having travelled back in time for at least one generation.

The story will go on

It's not overly surprising that people growing up and living far away from modern civilisation (you may or may not like it) love following completely outdated rules. And cherish legislation that may have had a reason in the 18th century and into the first half of the 19th century (some native Americans got angry from time to time when their land was stolen, again, and the U.S. cavalry couldn't be everywhere), but not anymore. They simply don't know better. And when the world around you is crap or pretty blunt, holding a gun in your hand, gives you a feeling of importance, maybe power. Try it for yourself, on your next visit to the U.S., in case you can't believe it. Having a gun tempts one to use it. Rather than starting an argument or discussion.

And this is exactly why civilised democratic countries control and restrict the access to weapons.

And why gun control legislation works. You really don't want to have unwitting people feeling powerful for the first time like Trumpelchen (trivia: he's a third-generation military-service avoider; in his case, bone spur; his father needed to look after family business rather than fighting for freedom in World War II, and his grandfather couldn't come back to Germany, because he faced a prison sentence for illegal emigration having avoided to serve in the Bavarian army) running into schools to protect your children from somebody with an AR-15. Or worse, armed with an AR-15 to shoot back (likely no problem in Trump's case, his hands are probably to small to pull the trigger, but he could buy a kid-gun). In a civilised state of the 20th/21st century, you make sure the police can arrest everyone with such a gun and confiscate the deadly toy. Besides, no one has ever defended his home (or workplace) with an AR-15, but they (and similar toys) pop regularly up in attacks (usually males following the simple motto, hold in your hand, what you can't find in your trousers).

We ventured to Nebraska and other outback states (and back in time) in 2003. In that year 134 Nebraskans died because of guns, 7.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. Germany, where we came from, had a rate of 1.4 per 100,000 in the same year  (but we are so extremely peaceful people and there is nothing like a German Rifle Association). 2016 about 9 per 100,000 people died in Nebraska because of guns (vs. zero because of islamistic or other terror), only cars are more dangerous (10.6 per 100,000). This makes it one of the least dangerous states in the U.S. The USA ranks among the Top-15 of Wikipedia's List of Countries by Gun-related Death: 10 deaths per 100,000 inhabitant in 2014 (nearly 12 in 2016); 3-times more than the per capita rate of the the next-highest ranking country of the first world, Finland (mostly alcohol-related sort-of-accidents). Australia is down to 1 (as is Germany) from over 4 in the 1980s, but this has of course nothing to do with gun control (that just inflicted a direct drop from 2.8 to under 2 – in proportion – 50 more Nebraskans that could enjoy New Year; freedom has to have a price).

Gun control doesn't help, right? After all, it's not higher in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont (no gun-control) than in gun-restricting D.C. or Maryland, with 3- to 10-times higher crime rates. And it is just coincidence that it approaches European levels in California (1-star rating by GunsToCarry), New York (1-star), New Jersey (1-star), Conneticut (3-star), Hawaii (1-star), Massachusetts (2-stars) and Rhode Island (3-star). 2016 data from; comparative data for 2011 from
Maybe it was not a good idea to get rid of King George after all.

The 2nd Amendment protects these days solely the freedom of U.S. citizens to shoot themselves and their compatriots. It just a threat to freedom and peace.

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." — Welcome back in the 18th century.

But it's written in stone (i.e. the Bill of Rights). Politicians will not change this (not until all law-makers are women), but the consumers may. The big car rentals and airlines have already terminated the special saving programmes for NRA members in face of the wave triggered by the activism of the most recent victims of the 2nd Amendment. I'm not overly optimistic, but we will see.

The cost of freedom: so far 2640 deaths by gun violence. How many of these red dots are a tribute to the 2nd Amendment? The Gun Violence Archive keeps track of the toll in real-time.

In any case, I look forward making another network in a couple of years (in case GunsToCarry is still online and I'm still blogging). Which state will be the next proceeding into the 20th century, or the 21st even following the example of Hawaii? Will their be drawbacks for deeply-red states' refugia, being increasingly afraid of maybe the first female (and black) U.S. president (Oprah is for sure not less qualified than the TV-stars Reagan or Trump have been when elected into office)?

While waiting, I'm lucky to have relatives (some owning guns, naturally, they are American) only in California. Not as safe as my beloved Europe, but not stuck in the 1700s. And – believe it or not – people there still own (legally) guns, despite all the "anti-constitutional", "anti-freedom" regulations imposed by the evil-blue state (1-star rating by GunsToCarry). When you are one of those a law-abiding, mentally sane, non-evil citizens the gun-lobby claims to protect, you shouldn't be afraid of having your hunting rifle and bed-side colt registered, right?

Some links for further reading
More gun- and civic-rights-related links can be found in the link list of my earlier post: Versteh' einer die Amis – a photo story.

For the methodology and data-interested people, see the related post on Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks, the data matrix and graphs are published under a CC-BY licence on figshare.

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