Gun control has been among the most divisive issues in American politics for decades. While the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, exactly how far those rights extend – and to whom – has long been the subject of legal interpretation. And perhaps nowhere is the full spectrum of politically-tenable viewpoints on gun policy more clearly demonstrated than in laws enacted at the state level.
Under federal law, machine gun sales are restricted, and certain convicted criminals, non-citizens, illicit drug users, and those with a history of mental illness are prohibited from gun ownership. Beyond that, gun control regulations are largely left to state governments. And across the 50 states, gun policy varies widely.
In some of the most restrictive states, like Illinois, prospective gun buyers must have a valid firearm license and are subject to a mandatory three-day waiting period. Additionally, assault-style weapons sales are restricted and high-capacity magazines are banned. (Here is a look at the nine states that have banned assault-style weapons.)
Meanwhile, none of these regulations exists in nearby Kansas, where residents are free to carry a firearm, concealed or otherwise, in public places. In Kansas, as in many other states, residents can even purchase a firearm from an unlicensed dealer without completing a background check.
Using Gifford Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed firearm regulations in each state. States are listed in alphabetical order.
Geographically, states with the tightest gun control laws tend to be in the Northeast and along the West Coast. The states that champion gun rights, meanwhile, are spread across the country, but are especially concentrated in the South, Midwest, and the non-coastal West.
Stricter gun control policies are typically put in place to reduce the likelihood of gun violence, and more often than not, the states that enact stricter regulations have lower levels of deadly incidents involving firearms. According to 2021 firearm mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven of the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates are also among the 10 states with the strictest gun control laws. Meanwhile, nine of the 10 states with the highest gun death rates have some of the loosest gun control laws in the country. (Here is a look at the states where gun-related crimes are surging.)
It is important to note that the laws noted in this story are not exhaustive and are only broad guidelines. Legal nuances can vary at the state and local levels.
Click here to see gun laws in each of the 50 states.
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