On March 2, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released the latest edition of its annual 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 help reduce gun death rates and save lives.
This year, Vermont received an F due to its severe lack of gun safety laws, the report found.
Vermont has some of the weakest gun laws in the country, it concluded.
Like many low-scoring states, Vermont currently lacks fundamental policies such as universal background checks, concealed carry permit requirements, or restrictions on gun purchases by domestic abusers.
But the scorecard shows that the vast majority of states aren’t doing enough:
“Every day in America, more than 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 scorecard should be a wake-up call to the half of the nation that have failing grades that they are on notice. No one can credibly claim that nothing can be done to stop this epidemic.”
Since 2014 the gun death rate has been rising, with gun deaths jumping 8 percent from 2014 to 2015 and another 7 percent 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
The good news is many states have continued the trend of passing stronger laws. Six states—Utah, 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.
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.
Some states, however, 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 lost points 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.
The 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 stopped 26 permitless carry bills and 20 states from enacting measures to allow guns on college and university campuses and beat back stand your ground laws in 11 other states.
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is an organization of legal experts fighting for a safer America by defending the laws, policies, and programs proven to save lives from gun violence.
The Annual Gun Law Scorecard produced by the Giffords Law Center grades all 50 states according to gun safety.