The gulf between red and blue states and their approach to gun laws grew wider in 2022.
That’s according to a new report from the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety. In its latest “Gun Law Rankings” report for 2023, the group noted that blue states New Jersey, Oregon, and Delaware climbed the rankings of states with the strictest gun laws. Meanwhile, red states Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, and Indiana all dropped in the rankings, primarily due to passing permitless gun carry the prior year.
The rankings show how the country’s single largest gun-control organization views policy successes and failures. Everytown compiled its rankings based on a state-by-state evaluation of 50 different select policies weighted by a mix of subjective and objective criteria. The highest weighted policies, those the group refers to as “foundational,” include gun-related measures such as universal background check or permit-to-purchase requirements, red flag laws, “Stand Your Ground” laws, and various gun-carry regulations.
Other policies included in the criteria were less directly related to gun issues, including whether a state restricts qualified immunity for police officers, collects police use of force data, and has a law enforcement officer’s bill of rights.
The rankings also provide insight into the growing polarization of gun politics. Once an issue that blurred political lines, the rankings are further evidence that the fate of gun legislation now hinges mainly on the political makeup of a given state. In deep blue states with little Republican opposition, gun-control laws continue to proliferate even among states with strict regulations on the books for years, earning them ever-higher rankings from Everytown. Conversely, Republican-controlled states have tended to pass new protections for gun owners and rollbacks on gun carry restrictions, which have resulted in lower marks from the group.
Overall, California retained its spot atop the list of states with the strictest gun laws. On the flip side, Mississippi remained at the very bottom of the rankings as the state Everytown claims has the least restrictive gun laws. New Jersey saw one of the largest jumps in rank, cracking the top five strictest states for the first time. The Garden State moved from eighth to fourth on the list after passing its sweeping new concealed carry law late last year. Oregon also made the top ten for the first time, moving from eleventh to ninth on the list, due to the passage of an initiative that bans commonly owned ammunition magazines and requires a permit to purchase a firearm. Both laws currently face multiple legal challenges.
Everytown also claimed that its rankings correlate with the rate of gun violence in each state. The group said that states with “strong gun safety policies” have lower rates of gun violence, while states with “weaker gun laws” have higher rates of violence.
“The updated gun law rankings show once again the direct correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and the magnitude of its gun violence crisis,” Nick Suplina, Everytown’s Senior VP of Law and Policy, said in a statement. “States at the top of this list are national leaders because what they are doing is enhancing public safety. States at the bottom, on the other hand, are playing politics with our lives.”
The group defines “gun violence” in its report using the CDC’s 2021 gun death rate statistics, which include suicide and accidental deaths. Roughly 56 percent of all gun deaths in 2021 were suicides, according to the CDC.
Overall, states in the top tier of strictest gun laws, such as Hawaii and Massachusetts, had among the lowest gun death rates in 2021. However, states like Illinois and Maryland, also rated “national leaders” in the top tier, had worse than average gun death rates the same year. Likewise, the state of New Hampshire, grouped in the tier of “national failures” for having few gun restrictions, had nearly half the average gun death rate in 2021, according to Everytown’s report.
Everytown claims the discrepancies are due to several factors, including the gun ownership rate in each state and how strict the gun laws in neighboring states are. It argued that states with looser gun laws were to blame for the high gun death rates in states with strict gun laws.
“Notable strong law states like Illinois and Maryland remain plagued with high gun violence in their biggest cities—in large part because they’re targeted by traffickers,” the group said in its report.
On the other hand, the group credited states with strict gun laws for the low gun death rates in neighboring areas that don’t restrict firearms in the same way.
“At the other end of the scale, states like New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island have unusually low gun death rates compared with their somewhat weaker policies, in part because they are buffered by robust laws among other states in the region,” it said.
However, gun-rights advocates have long contested those explanations, and it remains an ongoing debate.