Posted on December 9, 2013
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to partner with the Brady Campaign to release our 2013 State Scorecard: Why Gun Laws Matter. This collaborative report empowers us all by putting the Law Center’s in-depth research on America’s gun laws into the hands of the advocates across the nation so they can continue to fight for effective gun policies in their communities.
Since Newtown, so much has changed. The slaughter of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School sent shockwaves through the nation and ignited a passionate call for our leaders to take steps to prevent gun violence. When Congress failed to pass any new gun violence prevention legislation in 2013, including the overwhelmingly popular legislation to expand background checks, state legislatures answered the call.
Starting last January, legislators in state houses across the country began introducing a record number of bills to strengthen gun laws. Even states with historically weak gun laws, like Florida, Missouri, and Texas, took action towards sensible gun legislation. In fact, twenty-one states enacted new laws to curb gun violence in their communities, with eight of these states passing major reforms—far eclipsing the corporate gun lobby’s limited success in state legislatures in 2013.
Click on each state’s initials in the map below to see our analysis of the gun laws in that state.
Gun laws really do matter. State gun laws fill enormous gaps that exist in our nation’s federal laws, and help to reduce gun violence and keep citizens safe. In part because these laws help to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and aid law enforcement in solving gun crimes, many of the states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun death rates.
Because state laws differ widely, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have teamed up to evaluate and compare the laws of all fifty states, as they have both done in years past. Together, we have ranked all fifty states based on thirty policy approaches to regulating guns and ammunition, such as background checks on gun sales, reporting lost or stolen firearms, and prohibiting dangerous people from purchasing weapons. (Click on each state’s initials in the map above to see our analysis of the gun laws in that state.)
States received points for having effective laws in each policy area, with stronger laws receiving more points. States lost points for irresponsible measures that increase the likelihood of gun violence, such as laws that allow individuals to carry loaded, concealed weapons in public without a permit. Ultimately, every state was awarded a letter grade indicating the overall strength or weakness of its gun laws. Because so many states enacted strong new laws in 2013, several states received a higher grade than in past rankings. Thanks to new laws enacted in 2013, six states’ grades improved compared to the Law Center’s 2012 publication Gun Laws Matter.2
Gun laws can make a real difference to public safety. Seven states with the highest grades also have the lowest gun death rates nationwide. Conversely, many states with the weakest gun laws have the highest gun death rates. While more research is needed to determine the precise relationship, it is clear that the data supports the conclusion that state gun laws and the rate of gun deaths are closely tied.
State laws fill some of the most critical gaps in federal law. One of the most dangerous gaps exists because the federal Brady Law only requires background checks for sales by a licensed gun dealer. Because of this, roughly 40% of all gun purchases do not require background checks, allowing dangerous people to skirt the law.3
When Congress failed to finish the job and expand background checks to cover these other gun sales in April of 2013, many states passed life-saving legislation to protect their communities from gun violence.
- Five states strengthened regulation of unlicensed firearms sales by requiring background checks on all gun sales or improved the purchase permit process;
- Four states added a requirement that owners report lost or stolen firearms to police;
- Three states enacted laws to strengthen record-keeping and/or background check requirements for ammunition sales;
- Four states strengthened existing restrictions on military-style assault weapons; and
- Five states added or strengthened existing restrictions on large capacity ammunition magazines5
These new laws are adding pressure to Congress to finish the job and expand background checks to cover all gun sales including online and at gun shows.
A state’s gun laws also matter greatly to the safety of residents in neighboring states. The strength or weakness of a state’s gun laws correlates to the number of crime guns trafficked across state lines. This means, for example, that guns purchased in a state with weak laws are often trafficked into states with stronger laws where they are found at crime scenes.
A report published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns examined a number of the state laws included in our ranking and found that states that had enacted one or more of the laws to curb gun trafficking exported fewer guns that later turned up at crime scenes in other states.6
After Newtown, the nation demanded stronger gun laws. State legislators and governors have responded to the call. They understand that solutions to the epidemic of gun violence are in their hands and are acting to keep their communities safe. Americans must continue to make their voices heard and demand stronger gun laws to protect public safety. The research demonstrates that strong laws can—and do—help keep our communities safe from gun violence.
- The combined expertise of the Law Center and Brady Campaign informed our grading system. Only states that have enacted several significant firearms laws received enough points to receive a grade in the A range. The states in the B and C ranges have enacted fewer laws, but do have some important gun safety measures on the books. The D states have only a small handful of firearms regulation while the F states have enacted little to no firearms regulation and, in many cases, have lost points for irresponsible gun laws. [↩]
- The grades of five additional states have also improved; however, in these states, the changes were due to a re-weighting of the grading scale that was done to reflect the importance of requiring background checks for private firearms sales as opposed to other policies. [↩]
- Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice Research in Brief 6-7 (May 1997). [↩]
- An additional eight states require background checks for unlicensed firearms sales by requiring a permit to purchase. The potential purchaser must successfully undergo a background check to obtain the permit. These permits vary greatly. Some states require permits only for handgun sales while others require permits for all firearms. Permits also vary in duration, from 10 days to as much as 10 years. Illinois improved its permitting system in 2013 by requiring unlicensed firearms sellers to verify that the potential purchaser is the holder of a valid permit before selling the firearm. [↩]
- Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, and New York added laws requiring background checks for all gun sales. Illinois enacted a law requiring unlicensed firearms sellers to verify that the potential purchaser is the holder of a valid permit before making a transfer. Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, and New York enacted laws requiring gun owners to report the loss or theft of their firearms to law enforcement. California, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York strengthened existing bans on military-style assault weapons. California and New York strengthened existing laws banning large capacity ammunition magazines and Connecticut, Colorado, and Maryland enacted new bans. [↩]
- Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Trace the Guns: The Link between Gun Laws and Interstate Gun Trafficking (Sept. 2010). [↩]