Commentary: Today, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released the latest edition of itsAnnual Gun Law Scorecard, which grades and ranks each state on the strength of its gun laws. This comprehensive, 50-state analysis clearly shows how stronger gun laws like background checks help reduce gun death rates and save lives. New Mexico received an F due to its lack of comprehensive gun safety measures.
In 2017, New Mexico’s governor vetoed legislation that would have required convicted domestic abusers to give up their guns. Like many other states with weak gun laws, New Mexico lacks fundamental policies such as private sale background checks, resulting in the state having the eighth highest gun death rate in the country.
In fact, the scorecard shows that the majority of states aren’t doing enough:
“Every day in our country, nearly 100 Americans die from gun violence. While this crisis is impacting families in every community in every state, we know its toll disproportionately hits states with weaker gun laws the hardest,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Year after year, our research shows that states that get serious about passing stronger gun violence prevention laws have a much better chance of reducing the number of deaths linked to firearms. This scorecardshould be a wake-up call to the half of the nation that has failing grades that they are on notice. The Gun Law Scorecard should inspire elected leaders, activists, and concerned citizens to take action.”
The Annual Gun Law Scorecard makes clear that there is a significant opportunity to address the nation’s gun violence epidemic if more states act. Since 2014 the gun death rate has been rising, with gun deaths jumping 8% from 2014 to 2015 and another 7% from 2015 to 2016. That resulted in the deaths of 38,000 people in 2016—the deadliest year for gun deaths since 1993.
Of the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates, eight have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, receiving a B or better. All eight also have passed private-sale background checks. Those eight states are:
- Rhode Island
- New York
- New Jersey
Yet, even with such powerful data showing that states with stronger gun laws have lower death rates, many states have done nothing. The 10 states with the highest gun death rates have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation—with all 10 receiving an F the Gun Law Scorecard. They are, in order of deadliness:
- New Mexico
- South Carolina
States continue trend of passing stronger laws
The scores for some states reflect the continued efforts of Giffords to help lawmakers in state capitols pass strong gun safety measures. Utah, along with North Dakota, New Jersey, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, received additional points for new domestic violence laws, with Tennessee raising its grade from an F to a D-. The state established procedures to ensure domestic abusers surrender firearms after becoming prohibited. Other states enacted laws to prohibit domestic violence misdemeanants and subjects of domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns.
Five states—New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut—received more points for funding urban gun violence intervention and prevention programs, which are remarkably effective at saving lives. Last December, Giffords Law Center, in partnership with PICO National Network and the Community Justice Reform Coalition, released a landmark report, Investing in Intervention: The Critical Role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence, which highlights innovative programs in three states that dramatically reduce levels of gun violence in impacted communities.
Another state, Oregon, received additional points for enacting an Extreme Risk Protection Order law that empowers families and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from people proven to be at risk to themselves or others. Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown signed an ERPO bill into law after members of Giffords’ Oregon Coalition testified on behalf of the bill and urged Oregon leaders to pass it.
Politicians ignoring the will of the people hurt their state’s gun law scores—and safety
States also experienced setbacks. Nevada’s grade dropped from a C- to a D because a ballot initiative approved by voters in 2016 requiring background checks on private sales of firearms was not implemented. Nevada’s attorney general has refused to let the law take effect because of a dispute with the FBI over who should conduct the background checks. While voters strongly approved the background check law to help make sure dangerous individuals can’t buy guns, the attorney general, who spoke of his opposition to the requirement during a speech at the NRA Convention last year, set the state’s score, and public safety, back.
Two other states—North Dakota and New Hampshire—lost points for enacting permitless carry laws in 2017. Iowa also went from a C to a C- because of a new stand your ground law. Stand your ground laws remove a person’s “duty to retreat” in a public conflict, allowing them to shoot to kill even when they could safely walk away.
Activists are leading the charge to beat back dangerous gun lobby bills
This year’s Gun Law Scorecard also highlights how gun violence prevention advocates’ success in thwarting gun lobby–backed bills allowed many states to keep their high grades. In 2017, advocates were successful instopping 26 permitless carry bills, which would allow people to carry loaded guns in public without a permit or oversight. Advocates also stopped 20 states from enacting measures to allow guns on college and university campuses and beat back stand your ground laws in 11 other states.