The Centennial State won praise from gun-control advocates over its busy year of enacting new firearms restrictions.
The Giffords Law Center released the 2023 edition of its Annual Gun Law Scorecard on Monday. The report highlights Colorado as the “Most Improved” state for the year because it passed five of Giffords’ preferred policies. It notes that the state climbed four spots in the group’s rankings, landing it in the top 10 states with the strictest gun laws for the first time.
Meanwhile, the group gave fellow Mountain West state Montana the “biggest drop” in its rankings for passing a law requiring courts to apply strict scrutiny in gun-rights cases. It fell five spots to the 45th-ranked state and received an “F” letter grade from the group—a grade shared by 20 other states in this year’s report.
“We know gun laws save lives, and it’s past time for lawmakers to get on the same page as most Americans and pass policies to make their states safer,” Peter Ambler, Giffords’ Executive Director, said in a statement. “Every year, our scorecard is a reminder to states that progress is possible, but it’s also a warning of the work we have left to accomplish.”
The scorecard shows how one of the country’s most influential gun-control organizations views state policy. Giffords compiles its rankings based on a review of laws and policies passed each year and assigns them “point values based on their strengths or weaknesses.” Unlike the annual reports released by other gun-control organizations, Giffords does not reveal how much it weighs certain gun-control policies relative to others.
Giffords’ rankings also highlight the continued divergence taking place between blue and red states in their approach to gun politics. Before being spotlighted in this year’s scorecard, Democratic-controlled Colorado already received high marks from Giffords with a “B” rating. On the other hand, Republican-controlled Montana maintained its “F” rating from the previous year despite being docked five spots in the group’s rankings.
Colorado’s ascendance to a new “A-” rating stems from its recent enactment of new three-day waiting periods for all gun sales, an expansion of who can file for an Extreme Risk Protection Order, a total ban on gun sales to those under 21, and a repeal of the state’s gun industry liability shield against lawsuits for gun crimes committed by third parties. The state also banned selling and possessing unserialized firearms and firearm components, which will take effect in the new year.
Overall, California retained its spot atop the list of states with the strictest gun laws. By contrast, Wyoming replaced Arkansas at the bottom of the rankings as the state Giffords claims has the least restrictive gun laws despite the report stating that “no significant gun legislation passed in 2023” for both states.
Giffords also claimed that its scorecard rankings correlate with the rate of “gun violence” in each state. The scorecard measures this using the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) annual gun death rate in each state, which groups homicides with suicides and accidental deaths.
“We’re running out of ways to say the same thing the Gun Law Scorecard shows every year: strong gun laws save lives,” the report reads. “But other states weakened existing gun laws and blocked new ones, and it’s reflected in their levels of gun violence: of the 15 states with the highest gun death rates, 12 received Fs for their gun laws.”
On average, states with lower gun death rates tended to rank higher on the group’s list of states with the strictest gun laws and vice versa. However, those findings were not consistent across the board. The state with the lowest gun death rate, Rhode Island, fell outside the group’s top-10 rankings. Meanwhile, top 10-ranked Colorado had a gun death rate that was higher than 43rd-ranked South Dakota and nearly equal to 46th ranked Idaho, according to the group’s scorecard. In fact, Colorado’s gun death rate has increased almost every year since the state began improving upon its “D” rating from the group in 2012 by passing new gun laws.
The group attributed this discrepancy to the laws in less restrictive states undermining the strict laws of higher-ranked states.
“Colorado may have an A-, but it borders five states with Fs, and illegal guns cross state lines far too easily,” the report reads.
This year’s scorecard also included a new tracker for gun-rights lawsuits. It documents a steady increase in Second Amendment legal challenges since 2008 and a substantial uptick in the last year alone. Giffords measured 1,252 Second Amendment claims in 2023, compared with 704 in 2022. It attributed this increase to the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller and Bruen rulings, which it criticized as emboldening “gun rights extremists.”
“The number of lawsuits challenging local, state, and federal gun laws skyrocketed, with more than double the cases in 2023 than in 2021,” the group said.