Further to my postings of the last two days, this posting will take a look at how gun laws vary from state to state and which states have the weakest gun legislation and where those weaknesses are.
Let's look at a map that shows the top ten and bottom ten states with the highest and lowest gun death rates from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:
The letter grade in each state is assigned based on the strength of each state's gun laws. Here is the ranking of the top and bottom ten states by the strength of its gun laws:
States received a higher ranking if:
1.) They require background checks on all firearm sales.
2.) They prohibit the sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
3.) They require a law enforcement evaluation of an applicant's need before issuing a concealed handgun license.
States received a lower ranking if:
1.) They have "shoot first" laws because these laws can prevent law enforcement from prosecuting shooters in public places (i.e. Trayvon Martin).
2.) They have "Firearms Freedom Act" laws which declare that federal gun laws do not apply to firearms that are manufactured and sold within a given state's borders.
3.) They have laws that prevent doctors from informing patients about the health risks of gun ownership.
Gun laws are important beyond a state's boundaries since gun traffickers often buy guns in a state with weak laws and sell them into states with stronger laws.
Let's look at a three of the states that received failing grades.
1.) Texas: Texas ranked 35th out of 50 states since it has enacted few gun violence prevention laws. It does not require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between unlicensed individuals, it does not regulate the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles or large capacity magazines, it does not limit the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time and it does not regulate unsafe or junk handguns. Texas does require the reporting of mentally ill individuals to the federal database. In 2009, 2691 Texans died from firearms-related injuries.
2.) Arizona: Arizona ranked 49th out of 50 states since it has some of the weakest gun violence laws in America. Like Texas, it does not require a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between unlicensed individuals, it does not regulate the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles or large capacity magazines, it does not limit the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time, it does not regulate unsafe or junk handguns and it does not require a license to carry a concealed firearm in public. In 2009, Arizona had the 15th highest number of gun deaths per capita in the United States and the 13th highest rate of crime gun exports (i.e. guns that were recovered after being used in crimes in other states).
3.) South Dakota: South Dakota has the distinction of rating 50th out of 50 states, the worst gun violence prevention laws in the United States. It shares all of the non-requirements of Arizona with the additional lack of legislation regarding the reporting of mentally ill individuals to the federal database (NICS). In 2009, South Dakota had the 19th lowest number of gun deaths per capita among all states, a rather good showing. However, tiny South Dakota has the distinction of having the 7th highest ratio of crime gun exports to imports and it supplied guns to other states at three times the rate at which it imported guns from other states.
Let's look at the most populous state that received an A- grade, California. California's efforts to enacte strong gun laws gave the state a ranking of number 1 out of all 50 states. California requires all gun sales to be processed through a licensed dealer accompanied by a background check. The state bans most assault weapons and 50 caliber guns and prohibits the sale or transfer of large capacity magazines. Handgun purchasers must pass a written test before obtaining a license, only one handgun may be purchased by an individual over the period of a month and the sale of unsafe handguns are prohibited. As well, there is a ten day waiting period prior to the sale or transfer of a firearm. When population is considered, California is the fifth lowest supplier of guns recovered from crimes in other states, however, the state is the fourth largest supplier of crime guns to Mexico at a rate that is still only one-third of the export rate of Arizona. In 2009, 2972 Californians died from firearm related injuries.
Now, let's look at the laws in Connecticut for comparison. Connecticut received a B grade, ranking 4th out of 50 states, having enacted some of the nation's strongest gun violence prevention laws. The state requires a background check prior to the transfer of a handgun between individuals other than licensed dealers, requires a background check for all firearms transfers at guns shows but not for private transfers of long guns and prohibits the transfer or possession of assault weapons and certain 50 caliber rifles but not large capacity magazines. Connecticut law also conducts its own background checks rather than relying on the FBI. It requires the reporting of all individuals that are prohibited from possessing firearms to the database for background checks. It also requires firearms owners to report the loss or theft of any weapon. Connecticut law, however, does not limit the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time or regulate the sale of ammunition. Connecticut had the fifth lowest per capita rate of gun deaths in 2009 and supplied the tenth lowest per capita number of crime guns to other states.
Despite Connecticut's best efforts, the Sandy Hook tragedy still happened with legally obtained and owned weapons. As well, despite the efforts of legislators, in 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans; more than 85 every day of the year or three every hour. Firearms were the third leading cause of injury-related deaths in 2010, after poisoning and automobile accidents. Guns were used in 11,078 homicides in 2010, nearly 35 percent of all gun deaths and 68 percent of all homicides.
Something has to change. Unfortunately, the most recent gun-related tragedy proves that even the stiffest of legislation will not prevent a random act of gun-related violence.