Are States With Tough Gun Laws Actually Safer?

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Gun control advocates say yes. Gun rights folks beg to differ.

Big surprise on that one.

Source: Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group pushing for tougher regulations, assigned every state a grade based on 29 different policy approaches to regulating firearms and ammunition. California topped the list with an A-. New York, which now requires background checks for ammunition sales, has since surpassed it in the toughness of its gun laws. It's the first state to enact such legislation following the Newtown shooting. And  efforts in a handful of other states -- including California and Colorado --  to strengthen gun laws are already underway.

The Center points to 2010 statistics showing that seven out of 10 states with the strictest regulations also had that lowest gun homicide rates.

Click on image to explore interactively. Source: Guardian

But gun rights advocates opposed to tighter regulations argue that this correlation is inconclusive and misleading. They commonly counter that stricter regulations don't do anything to prevent criminals from getting ahold of guns -  they simply prevent law abiding citizens from being able to protect themselves. Many also point to states like Maine, which has some of the loosest regulations in the country (it received an F grade by gun control groups, but also has among the lowest gun homicide rates in the country). On the contrary, they argue, the strict gun laws in cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. have failed to prevent those rising homicide rates in those places.


"The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they've essentially made the citizens prey," Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association told the NY Times.

California vs. South Dakota: the toughest and loosest gun laws

Despite its  relatively low rate of gun homicides, South Dakota got smacked with an F grade by the Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which identified it as the state with the nation's weakest gun laws. Here's how the two states compare:.

California: toughest gun laws

  • Requires all gun sales (private or otherwise) to be processed through a licensed dealer, requiring a background check
  • Requires gun dealers to obtain a state license (rather than just a federal one)
  • Bans most assault weapons and 50 caliber rifles, and prohibits the sale or transfer of large capacity ammunition magazines
  • Requires handgun purchasers to obtain a license, after passing a written test
  • Regulates its gun shows
  • Limits handgun purchases to one per person per month
  • Imposes a ten-day waiting period prior to the sale or transfer of a firearm
  • Maintains permanent records of firearm sales
  • Gives local law enforcement discretion to deny a license to carry a concealed weapon
  • Gives local governments authority to regulate firearms and ammunition (although the state legislature has expressly removed this authority in certain areas).

South Dakota: loosest gun laws

  • Does not require a background checks for private sales
  • Repealed  its 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases
  • Does not require gun dealers to obtain a state license
  • Does not regulate the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines
  • Does not require gun owners to obtain a license, register their firearms, or report lost or stolen firearms
  • Does not require the reporting of mentally ill individuals to the federal database used for firearm purchaser background checks
  • Does not limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time
  • Does not regulate unsafe handguns
  • Does not allow local governments to regulate firearms
  • Does not have local law enforcement discretion to deny a concealed handgun permit

99 ways states have loosened gun laws

Mother Jones magazine tracked 99 state laws passed since 2009 that have made guns easier to own and carry in public, and harder for the government to track. According to the report, these laws were pushed through by the National Rifle Association and allies in state capitols. More than two-thirds of them were passed by Republican-controlled legislatures, though often with bipartisan support.

MJ Map

Mother Jones highlighted some of the more striking laws it came across:

  • Bullets and booze: In Missouri, law-abiding citizens can carry a gun while intoxicated and even fire it if "acting in self-defense."
  • Child-safety lock off: In Kansas, permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools and at school-sponsored activities.
  • Short arm of the law: In Utah, a person under felony indictment can buy a gun, and a person charged with a violent crime may be able to retain a concealed weapon permit. Nebraskans who've pled guilty to a violent crime can get a permit to carry a gun.
  • Sweet Jesus! In Louisiana, permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside houses of worship.
  • Without a trace: Virginia not only repealed a law requiring handgun vendors to submit sales records, but the state also ordered the destruction of all such previous records.

The big players in the debate

        Gun rights groups