Each year, roughly 117,000 Americans are shot, and nearly one in every three of those shot die. Some Americans have responded to the problem of gun violence by advocating for stricter gun laws, while others have armed themselves. Allegedly, the victims of the recent fatal police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana each had concealed weapons, presumably for protection.
There has also been an alarming number of high-profile mass shootings in the last decade, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Orlando. Each incident prompts cries for wide-ranging gun reform on a federal level, with advocates calling for stricter background checks, waiting periods, restrictions on who can own a gun, and where a gun can be carried.
At the moment, gun control laws are primarily determined at the state level. While some states, such as California and New York, have moved to strengthen regulations, others allow practically any adult to obtain a firearm with little trouble. Perhaps just as contentious, eight states currently allow most adults to carry a concealed weapon in public, including Maine and Kansas, which passed laws permitting concealed carry in 2015.
Based on gun laws compiled by the advocacy group Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states where just about any ordinary citizen can carry a concealed weapon. To be considered, a state needed to meet the following criteria: States needed to allow their residents to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public without a permit.
An individual purchasing a gun in these states can do so without first obtaining a permit, submitting to a background check, or undergoing a waiting period.
Gun laws are extraordinarily complex and vary considerably between states. The nature of these regulations depend on a state’s legal and political climate, as well as its culture. While studies are near universal in their finding that more guns lead to more gun violence, rural U.S. states are often exceptions. Vermont and Maine, for example, have some of the nation’s — if not the world’s — most lenient gun laws, but they also have some of the nation’s lowest violent gun death rates.
The relationship is not always clear, but there does appear to be a higher incidence of gun violence and firearm death in states with more relaxed restrictions on gun ownership. Of the eight states on this list, seven have above average rates of firearm death, including suicide. Two states on this list — Alaska and Wyoming — have double the national firearm suicide rate.
One possible explanation could be that in states with relaxed gun laws, gun ownership tends to be higher, which might lead to higher death rates. In six of the eight states on this list, adult gun ownership is higher than the national percentage of 29.1% of adults who own firearms. In four of these — Alaska, Idaho, West Virginia, and Wyoming — more than half of adults own a firearm, each among the top five in the country by this measure.
The potentially greater risk of violence in states with fewer restrictions on purchasing and ownership of firearms is not limited to those states alone. Guns can be purchased legally and in bulk in one state and trafficked to another. In this way not only are firearms sold illegally, but the transactions become extremely difficult to monitor.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a report estimating that nationwide, an average of 14.1 guns for every 100,000 residents are moved across state lines and eventually used in criminal situations. All eight of the states on this list are major sources of guns recovered from crimes committed in other states, including West Virginia, which exports 46.8 crime guns for every 100,000 residents.
To identify the states where anyone might have a gun, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed states where permits to carry concealed weapons are not required. All data on state gun policy, including concealed carry regulations, came from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. We also reviewed 24/7 Wall St. also examined 2014 firearm-related deaths data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gun ownership rates for each state as of 2013 were obtained from a study published in 2015 from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The number of licensed gun sellers per 1,000 business establishments for each state are as of 2015 and came from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.