Gun control is a polarizing topic in the United States. Some Americans argue that owning firearms is a right protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution and should not be restricted. Gun-control advocates counter that the amendment’s emphasis is on militias, not civilian gun ownership. Every mass shooting in the country brings the issue of gun control back to public attention. Citizens and politicians alike debate whether current gun control efforts are effective enough or new legislation should be drawn up.
Many major federal gun control laws in the United States are the result of a violent firearm-related incident or homicide. The first major gun control measure of the 20th century was the National Firearms Act of 1934. This law, established after the gangster-driven Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, put machine guns, shotguns, short-barreled rifles, and other weapons under the regulation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
One of the next major modern gun control measures was the Gun Control Act of 1968, which focuses on regulating interstate commerce in firearms. This act was established in the wake of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Similarly, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 was a response to the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr. and was named for James Brady, a White House staffer who was permanently disabled during the attempt. This law instituted a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun and established a national instant criminal background check system for firearms dealers.
There are several federal gun control measures on the books, but gun laws by state vary greatly. While some states allow residents to openly carry firearms into stores and restaurants, others are much stricter. Because these laws aren’t regulated on a federal level, it can be much easier to obtain firearms in one state than in another.
But does a state’s gun control measures have any effect on gun violence in the state?
Consider the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on homicides involving firearms. California, a state with notoriously strict gun control laws, has a firearm homicide rate of 3.5 per 100,000 people. On the other hand, gun-friendly Mississippi’s firearm homicide rate is nearly three times that, 10.2 per 100,000 people. While many factors may impact why one state has a higher homicide rate than another, it’s hard to deny that gun violence in America needs to be addressed.
The Joslyn Law Firm research team compared the CDC’s firearm homicide rates to each state’s gun-friendliness score to see if there is any correlation between strict gun control laws and a lower rate of gun-related murders.
To see if a high gun homicide rate is tied to lax gun laws, we looked at each state’s firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people from 2015-19 and compared that to its gun-friendliness score, where 1 is the least gun-friendly and 5 is the most gun-friendly. This score is based on individual state laws regarding things like background checks, permit requirements, and open carry rules.
These are the 20 states with the highest firearm homicide rates in the country along with their gun-friendliness scores:
The vast majority of states with the most gun homicides are states that score a 3 or higher for gun-friendliness, indicating that there may be a correlation. While Maryland, the state at the fifth position, received a gun-friendliness score of 1, their gun homicide rate is high because Baltimore is a city known for its problems with gun violence, including a high number of firearms charges. In 2019, Baltimore recorded 348 homicides, the second-highest number in the city’s history.
While some states with low firearm homicide rates have high gun-friendliness scores, this is likely to be because they are sparsely populated states with few to no major cities. Historically, violent crime tends to be lower in rural areas than in more populated metropolitan areas.
There are several measures that states are taking to protect gun users’ Second Amendment rights while still making sure that people with a history of violence or mental illness have limited or no access.
One of the most hot-button issues is background checks on private firearms sales. There are many locations where Americans can purchase firearms. Licensed firearms dealers are required by federal law to run a background check on every buyer through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Guns sold via this method make up 78% of gun sales in the country. Current federal laws allow individuals to privately sell guns to others without a license, record, or background check. Many states have adopted laws requiring background checks for private firearms sales, but without a federal mandate, guns can still be sold relatively unchecked in many states.
Magazine size restrictions have also been a contentious topic. There was a federal high-capacity magazine ban from 1994 to 2004, but attempts to reinstate the ban have failed. Several states (including New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) have issued high-capacity magazine bans. Supporters of gun control efforts say that banning high-capacity magazines can save lives in the event of a mass shooting and doesn’t infringe upon responsible gun owners’ rights.
Policy-makers continue to monitor violent crime and gun violence statistics in order to make sure that gun control measures are working as intended. As more and more fatal shootings occur in the United States, we may see a new wave of gun control laws introduced in the near future.
This page was last updated by Brian Joslyn