For the sixth time since 2010, California has the strongest gun laws of all 50 states, according to the most recent annual scorecard released by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The center, which tracks every state’s gun legislation, published its scorecard on December 16, just days from the end of a year that saw the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history—the June 12 Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, that claimed 49 victims. And although they often aren’t publicized widely, shootings take place in neighborhoods and communities across the country on a daily basis.
Grading the States
Seven states received “A”-range grades, while 25 states earned F’s for weak gun laws in 2016. The center assigned the 18 other states scores ranging from B-plus to D-minus. Each year, legal experts within the organization evaluate every state’s gun laws, assign grades and compare those rankings with its most recent gun death rate. The team bases its analysis on various policy solutions, ranging from the gun-violence prevention order that allows a judge to temporarily suspend individuals’ access to guns if they are viewed as posing a significant danger to public safety to submitting mental health records to the federal criminal background checks system. States receive points for executing effective laws in each policy area.
Requiring universal background checks, which extend beyond the federal requirement to cover gun sales and transfers at shows and on the internet, takes priority on the center’s scale because it forms the foundation for other gun policies. Meanwhile, the legal team deducts points for the worst trends of the year, including a law in Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri and West Virginia that allows residents to carry concealed, hidden guns in public without a permit.
Each year, the center’s scorecard shows a clear correlation: States with strong gun laws have fewer gun deaths per capita. States with the weakest laws, such as 50th-ranking Mississippi and 44th-ranking Alaska, have the fourth and No. 1 highest gun death rates nationwide, respectively. Meanwhile, states with strong laws, such as California and fourth-ranking Massachusetts, have the 43rd and 50th lowest gun death rates.
California has taken the top-ranking slot every year since the center first published its rankings in 2010. The group skipped 2011 because it didn’t anticipate publishing a scorecard each year. Most notably, residents in the Golden State sidestepped Congress by voting directly on their general election ballot to strengthen a gun control measure. This initiative led to the state’s first-ever “A” ranking, as opposed to its “A”-minus from previous years. Residents in Nevada and Washington state acted similarly on Election Day. (Nevada received a significant bump in its score, from an F in 2015 to a C-minus this year, because of the ballot initiative.)
Mississippi received the worst score in 2016, unseating Kansas for the weakest gun laws in the United States. Mississippi also earned an F last year but fell one place in the ranking—from 49th to 50th—because it passed a law that allows people to carry hidden, loaded guns in public without licensing, according to the scorecard. Still, Missouri had the most significant decrease, from 41st to 48th, after it enacted both permitless carry and stand-your-ground laws this year.
Push for New Laws
One major priority on the gun lobby’s agenda has been to introduce guns in schools and on college campuses. In 2016, though, gun-safety advocates defeated gun on campus bills in 17 states and stopped an open carry bill in Florida and a measure that permitted firearms in government buildings in Arizona.
This year’s presidential election was the first since the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the four years since the massacre, 42 states and the District of Columbia have passed more than 160 new gun laws.
Still, U.S. gun murders in 2015 were more than 10 times higher than the next four wealthiest countries combined, according to recent findings in The Journal of the American Medical Association. But advocates vow to continue their push for stronger gun laws at the state level into 2017, despite Donald Trump’s election as president. He has promised to weaken gun laws, including abolishing gun-free zones at schools and on military bases.
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