Special Report

Hardest States to Buy a Gun

8. New Jersey
> Universal background check: Yes
> Gun ownership rate: 11.3% (4th lowest)
> Annual firearm death rate: 5.2 per 100,000 (6th lowest)
> Required safety training or exam: No

Only five states have fewer gun deaths per capita than New Jersey. While the state gun ownership rate of 11.3% is the fourth lowest in the country, the relative scarcity of gun violence may be partially due to strict gun laws that keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and potentially unstable individuals.

New Jersey state law stipulates that all gun owners must have a valid license and pass a background check. Background checks in New Jersey are among the most comprehensive in the country as those who have been treated for substance abuse, been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses, or been convicted of a gun-related crime are prohibited from buying a gun. In addition, in order to obtain a license to buy a gun, New Jersey law states that an individual must be of “good character and good repute in the community.”

9. New York
> Universal background check: Yes
> Gun ownership rate: 10.3% (3rd lowest)
> Annual firearm death rate: 4.4 per 100,000 (4th lowest)
> Required safety training or exam: No

Both the gun ownership rate and gun death rate in New York are among the lowest in the country. These low rates are partially attributable to relatively strict gun laws. All firearm purchasers in New York are required to undergo a background check, even when firearms are bought from private dealers at gun shows. The state also allows local authorities to enact stricter gun policies. New York City has some of the toughest gun purchasing requirements in the country, and those caught in possession of an illegal firearm face a mandatory sentence of minimum 3.5 years in state prison.

Due to strict gun purchasing laws, many guns used in crimes in New York are purchased out of state. Data in a report published by Mayors Against Illegal Guns show that New York imports seven times as many guns used in crime than it exports.

10. Rhode Island
> Universal background check: Yes
> Gun ownership rate: 5.8% (2nd lowest)
> Annual firearm death rate: 3.2 per 100,000 (2nd lowest)
> Required safety training or exam: Yes

Gun owners are few and far between in Rhode Island. The 5.8% share of adults who own guns in the state is the second smallest in the country and hint at a political climate supportive of restrictive gun laws.

The state is one of only a handful that addresses the gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms, even when sold by a private dealer. In addition, before a person can purchase a handgun in Rhode Island, they must acquire a license by completing a two-hour safety course conducted by the state Department of Environmental Management. Due in part to a low ownership rate in conjunction with relatively strict buying requirements, gun deaths are uncommon in Rhode Island. Each year, there are 3.2 firearm-related deaths for every 100,000 state residents, the fewest in the country after only Hawaii.