Special Report

Hardest States to Buy a Gun

5. Illinois
> Universal background check: Yes
> Gun ownership rate: 26.2% (13th lowest)
> Annual firearm death rate: 9.2 per 100,000 (12th lowest)
> Required safety training or exam: No

Illinois’ biggest city, Chicago, has been making headlines in recent years for gun violence epidemic. Due in part to the some 2,900 shootings in the city last year, there were 468 murders in Chicago in 2015. At the end of March 2016, there were already twice as many shootings in the city as there were at the same point the previous year. The scourge of gun violence in Chicago comes despite some of the tightest state-imposed gun restrictions in the country. For example, Illinois has taken measures to close the gun show loophole by requiring unlicensed sellers at gun shows to contact State Police and have them conduct a background check on anyone purchasing a firearm.

According to a report released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, firearms used in crimes in Illinois are far more likely to be from out of state than is typical across the country. Data from the report show that Illinois imports four times as many guns used in crime than it exports.

6. Maryland
> Universal background check: No
> Gun ownership rate: 20.7% (10th lowest)
> Annual firearm death rate: 9.1 per 100,000 (11th lowest)
> Required safety training or exam: Yes

In states with stricter gun laws there are almost always lower firearm-related death rates, and the pattern holds in Maryland where the firearm death rate of 9.1 per 100,000 residents annually is among the lowest of all states. However, within Maryland, Baltimore is an exception. The city reported a total of 344 homicides in 2015, breaking the previous record set in 1993 when Baltimore had more residents. The unusually high level of violence in Baltimore highlights the challenge of lowering gun deaths with stricter regulations alone.

Still, Maryland’s gun laws have likely lowered the number of guns, and in turn, the number of gun-related deaths across the state. The state’s gun ownership rate of 20.7% is 10th lowest compared with other states.

7. Massachusetts
> Universal background check: Yes
> Gun ownership rate: 22.6% (12th lowest)
> Annual firearm death rate: 3.4 per 100,000 (3rd lowest)
> Required safety training or exam: Yes

Massachusetts has some of the most extensive gun buying laws in the country. Licenses are issued to would be gun owners only after a comprehensive background check that ensures the subject has not been treated for substance abuse, mental illness, been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. To ensure background checks are current, handguns must be purchased within 10 days of the date the license was issued. While a handful of other states have similarly stringent gun laws, Massachusetts’ law requiring a gun license to purchase an ammunition magazine is unique to the Bay State.

As is the case with most states that have the tightest gun regulations, firearm-related deaths are relatively rare in Massachusetts. There are 3.4 such deaths for every 100,000 state residents a year, fewer than in all but two other states.