Image of a violent state irks Coloradans

State has seen its share of gun-related mass tragedies

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“We suspect these incidents say more about modern reality, however, than they do about Colorado,” the paper said. “Sick, cruel or desperate people nursing grievances have taken to seeking some sort of bizarre fulfillment in public acts of terror, scripting their final acts for maximum impact.”

Del Elliott, founder of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado Boulder, said Coloradans are correct when they say they live in a safe state, statistically speaking.

“Colorado is not a dangerous state,” Mr. Elliott said. “We’re in the bottom third of the country when it comes to murders. We have fewer homicides than average and fewer firearms-related homicides than average.”

The Uniform Crime Report shows that Colorado had 120 homicides in 2010, the last year for which final figures are available, for an average of 2.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Nationally, the rate was 4.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Compare that with the District of Columbia, where the per-capita homicide rate was 21.9. Even in 1999, the year of the Columbine massacre, Colorado averaged 4.6 homicides, still lower than the national rate that year of 5.7 per capita.

What’s more, Colorado has fewer gun-related deaths — a little more than 50 percent — than the nation as a whole, where the rate in homicide cases is nearly 70 percent, said Mr. Elliott.

So why does Colorado endure so many mass shootings?

Mr. Elliott said it’s partly perception: While other states also experience mass shootings, there’s something about the Colorado events that meet the national media threshold for a major story, such as the bizarre or unusually brutal nature of the event.

The Columbine shooting was the first major school massacre of its kind, carried out by two teens who were good students. The New Life Church rampage targeted Christians. The Aurora gunman went to a hugely popular movie. The Colorado incidents were shocking in that they took place in locations — schools, churches, theaters — that are viewed as safe zones, against victims who were defenseless and largely unknown to the gunmen.

Then there’s just plain old bad luck. “These events are very rare, and it’s like flipping a coin,” Mr. Elliott said. “You can get three heads in a row. And that has to do with the random nature of the location.”

Many Coloradans would agree.

“A few incidents doesn’t make Colorado a violent state,” said Tim Hindman, 50, of Littleton, who lives a few miles from Columbine. “Colorado’s getting a bad rap. I don’t worry about Colorado. There are far worse places to live, trust me.”

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