As the only country in the world whose constitution enshrines the right to keep and bear arms without restrictions, it’s no surprise the United States is absolutely saturated with guns.
The country is a global outlier in private firearm ownership. The U.S. has about 4% of the world’s population but its people possess almost 40% of the world’s civilian-owned guns — nearly 121 for every 100 residents, according to a 2018 report by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey. In comparison, the second-most armed country is war-ravaged Yemen, with about half that many guns per 100 residents. (These are the states where people are buying the most guns.)
The 27 words of the Second Amendment have been one of the most, if not the most, scrutinized sections of the U.S. Constitution in modern American history. The gun rights debate usually centers around two phrases in the amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” and “a well regulated Militia.”
Opponents of gun control laws argue the first phrase guarantees the absolute right of individuals to own firearms. Supporters of strict gun control measures, on the other hand, believe that the amendment simply guarantees a state’s right to self-defense — to have a “well regulated Militia” — but does not prohibit states from regulating private firearm ownership.
To determine the states with the best and worst gun laws, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2020 Annual Gun Law Scorecard from the Giffords Law Center (led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, herself a gun violence victim), which ranks states on the strength of gun laws and policy and assigns a letter grade. Giffords Law Center attorneys assign point values based on strength and weaknesses of state laws and policies and compare these values to gun death rates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The term “generally,” in the information for some states, means in the majority of cases, with some exceptions.
After every mass shooting — there were 232 this year as of May 26, according to the Gun Violence Archive — polls consistently show that a majority of Americans (60% according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey) favor stricter gun control measures. (There is no universal agreement about what constitutes a mass shooting, but a common definition is a single event in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are killed.)
But despite the feelings of the public, the strict partisan divide over the issue means that many states have very loose gun-ownership rules. And those with stronger restrictions in place can do little to stem the flow of firearms from less-regulated states. One bill currently before the House Judiciary committee, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, would even force states with stricter gun laws to accept concealed carry permits issued in states with less stringent laws. (Gun violence is one reason that these are the most dangerous states in America.)