The annual scorecard measures what lawyers at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence consider “the relative strength or weakness” of gun laws in each state in 2017. The findings, they argue, show a correlation that indicates that gun laws work: “States with strong gun safety laws have fewer guns deaths per capita than states with weak laws.”
California, for example, ranks at the top of the list, receiving the only “A” grade for its strong gun laws and relatively low gun death rate — 43rd in the nation at 7.9 deaths per 100,000. Alaska, which received an “F” grade, had the nation’s highest gun death rate — 23 per 100,000. Massachusetts had the lowest gun death rate in the country, at 3.4 per 100,000.
Giffords calls gun violence “a moral crisis” and a “public health crisis.” The report comes as survivors of the Parkland, Fla., shooting are rallying support for gun control and as Washington grapples with how to respond to the latest mass shooting involving an assault-style rifle.
In the weeks after the massacre in Parkland, Democratic governors in the Northeast have created a gun task force, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and other Republican lawmakers have called for raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles to 21. President Trump has proposed arming teachers to help secure the nation’s schools.
“It’s very timely,” said Laura Cutilletta, legal director of the Giffords Law Center. “People are demanding change right now, and one of the reasons people are demanding change is because of awareness.”
In Florida, one of the states to get the lowest rating, a permit is not needed to buy guns and there is no limit to the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time. Alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, legally purchased the AR-15 assault-style rifle authorities say was used in the Parkland attack as well as numerous other guns he had collected the year before. Authorities said he passed a background check.
In addition to Scott’s call to raise the age to buy rifles, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Army veteran who lost both legs while deployed in Afghanistan, announced Friday that he supports a ban on all assault rifles. But the Florida legislature, which has long been seen as a laboratory for gun-rights legislation that is tested elsewhere in the country, rejected a ban on assault weapons after Parkland.
Nevada — scene of the Las Vegas concert massacre that left 58 people dead in October — dropped from a C-minus to a D this year, Cutilletta said, because a 2016 voter-approved ballot initiative requiring that private-party transfers of firearms be subject to a background check has not taken effect. The state’s attorney general released an opinion stating that Nevada does not have the authority to conduct the background checks.
Maryland received an A-minus rating and Virginia received a D.
Twelve states improved their scores from the prior year. They include Oregon, which added a red flag law intending to keep guns from criminals and the mentally ill; New Jersey, which passed a law restricting access to guns for people convicted of domestic violence offenses; and Illinois, which funded gun violence reduction programs.
Some states, including Maryland, are now debating red flag laws. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) signed an executive order last week to keep guns away from those she said are a “threat to themselves and others.” It was the first gun legislation signed after the Florida shooting.
“You’re already seeing in the wake of Parkland one state acting,” Cutilletta said.