Gun control laws: Which states have the toughest gun laws in America?

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Karl Redel decides to purchase as gun for his daughters at Impact Guns in Salt Lake City on March 24, 2020. 

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two adults dead has once again brought gun control and gun laws to the forefront. The Robb Elementary School shooting occurred less than two weeks after a gunman killed 10 people in a racially motivated attack at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.

Gun control remains one of the most pressing and heated debates in politics. Although the federal government hasn’t passed gun control or gun rights legislation recently, states continue to pass measures of their own.

States with stronger firearms legislation have fewer gun deaths, according to a study by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun laws. Everytown identifies five “foundational” policies for reducing gun deaths:

  • Requiring background checks and permits to purchase handguns.
  • Requiring permits to carry concealed firearms in public.
  • Extreme risk laws, which allow courts to remove guns from those who pose a serious threat to themselves or others.
  • Requiring secure storage of guns.
  • Rejecting “stand your ground” laws.

Everytown tracks a total of 50 policies in each state, covering areas like the gun industry and product safety, guns in public, keeping guns out of the wrong hands, policing and civil rights, and sales and permitting.

To read more about gun laws, here are the states with the weakest gun control measures in place.

States with the toughest gun laws

Here’s how the states with the strictest gun control laws stack up, according to a 2022 report by Everytown for Gun Safety:

  1. California, 8.5 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. California has all five foundational policies in place, and is the only state in the nation that requires all new handgun models have microstamping technology — which makes it easier to trace firearms used in crimes. California ranks 44th in gun death rate, according to the Giffords Law Center.
  2. Hawaii, 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. In addition to implementing all foundational policies, Hawaii is one of only five states to limit the legal sale of all guns to those age 21 and older. Hawaii has the lowest rate of gun ownership and the lowest rate of gun deaths — ranking 50th according to the Giffords Law Center.
  3. New York, 5.3 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. New York was the first state in the country to adopt gun industry liability laws, with the goal of holding gun manufacturers and dealers responsible for dangerous business practices. New York ranks 46th for gun death rate.
  4. Massachusetts, 3.7 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts is one of only two states to require locked storage of any firearm not in the owner’s immediate control. Second only to Hawaii, Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun ownership and ranks 49th in gun death rate.
  5. Connecticut, 6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Connecticut expanded a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The state has a strong illegal gun removal program and passed a law in 2020 to limit qualified immunity for police officers who abuse civilians. Connecticut ranks 45th for gun deaths.
  6. Illinois, 14.1 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Illinois has a higher-than-average rate of gun deaths. A large share of trafficked guns recovered in the state are originally purchased out-of-state. The state has fewer laws to ensure industry and product safety, but checks nearly every box when it comes to limiting guns in public and keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Illinois ranks 27th in gun death rate.
  7. Maryland, 13.5 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Out-of-state guns make up nearly 65% of the guns recovered by police in Baltimore. The state recently expanded its background check requirement to include rifles and shotguns, and repealed its Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. Maryland ranks 33rd in gun deaths.
  8. New Jersey, 5 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. New Jersey requires background checks both when applying for a permit and at the point of sale, and requires permits for all concealed firearms. The state ranks 48th in gun death rate.
  9. Washington, 10.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Washington recently passed laws requiring background checks on all gun sales, but the state is lax when it comes to allowing assault-style weapons and public carry. Washington ranks 39th for gun deaths.
  10. Colorado, 15.4 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Colorado has strengthened gun laws since the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012, mandating background checks and requiring that domestic abusers relinquish guns when a restraining order is in place. Colorado ranks 22nd for gun death rate.

Texas — where the Robb Elementary School shooting occurred — ranks 34th for the strength of its gun control laws. It is 26th for gun deaths rate, with 14.2 per 100,000 residents.

Where does Utah rank?

Utah ranks 14th among states with the weakest gun control laws, and its rate of 13.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents is right at the national average. In 2021, the Legislature repealed the state’s concealed carry permit system, and in March, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill to prevent cities or counties from enacting their own firearm regulations.

Guns are the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in Utah, according to an Everytown report from 2019, and 70% of those deaths are the result of suicide. In Utah, 83% of gun deaths are suicides, 13% are homicides and 2% are shootings by police.

Utah has the 39th highest rate of gun violence in the U.S., with an average of 400 Utahns killed by firearms each year. Gun violence increased 12% between 2011 and 2020.

The day after the Uvalde shooting occurred, state Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, announced a bill to raise the age of eligibility for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21.

“This is a small step that will make a big difference in the quality of life and health and safety of people in Utah,” Kitchen said. “There should be no reason this doesn’t pass the Utah Legislature. It’s common sense gun reform that will keep Utahns safe, and that’s what we were elected to do.”

Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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