To say that gun laws are a contentious issue in the United States is putting it mildly. When asked whether the government should protect Americans’ Second Amendment right to bear arms or focus on controlling gun ownership, people in the U.S. are split roughly 50-50, with the pro-gun rights contingent having a slight edge, according to a 2015 Pew Research survey. Whatever their position, most respondents had a strong opinion on the question. About 91% of people who wanted to protect gun rights felt strongly about the issue, while 81% of people were just as firm in their feelings that we need more gun control.
Whether you’re hoping for increased restrictions on firearms or want more pro-gun legislation, you’ll want to take a close look at what’s happening in each state. Though occasional efforts to change federal gun laws get a lot of attention, most of America’s gun legislation happens on a state-by-state basis. Some states have adopted more stringent gun control measures, while others have been moving to liberalize gun laws, making it easier for people to carry weapons in public places, for example.
The result is a patchwork of legislation, with gun laws that are constantly in flux. Determining who has the strictest and loosest gun laws isn’t a straightforward task. Nonetheless, several organizations track and monitor state laws on guns.
We looked at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s 2016 Gun Law State Scorecard, Guns & Ammo’s 2015 ranking of the best states for gun owners, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s State Scorecard, and the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. Based on that information, the following nine states have some of the fewest restrictions on guns in the U.S.
In Arizona, there are few restrictions on gun ownership and sales. You don’t need a permit to purchase a handgun or rifle. The state doesn’t require ownership registration. And you can carry a handgun, either concealed or openly, without a permit. Those and other factors earned it the top spot on Guns & Ammo’s list of gun-friendly states. It ranked 47 out of 50 (with 50 being the weakest gun laws) on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s state scorecard.
Alaska residents can carry a gun openly or concealed without a permit. Local governments don’t have the authority to regulate firearms. And there are no limits on the number of guns you can purchase at once or waiting periods before gun purchases, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Few gun restrictions combined with a strong hunting culture earned Alaska the No. 3 spot on Guns & Ammo’s list of states friendliest to gun owners. The state has the second loosest gun laws in the country, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Wyoming’s loose gun laws earned the state an “F” rating on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s state scorecard. (It’s one of 26 states that received a failing grade from the organization.) You may carry a concealed weapon without a permit. The state is one of the few that do not have a law requiring information about mentally ill individuals to be reported the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or an in-state database. In early 2017, Wyoming’s governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed concealed carry at government meetings. But he signed into law a measure that allows schools to decide whether employees can carry weapons.
Vermont has a reputation as a liberal state, but it bucks blue state trends when it comes to gun laws. It’s the second most gun-friendly state in the U.S., according to Guns & Ammo. And recent efforts to impose more restrictions on guns have been met with strong opposition. It’s the only state where people as young as 16 can purchase certain types of guns, and there are no laws that prevent people from bringing guns into places of worship, bars or restaurants where alcohol is served, or polling places. Unlike most other states in the Northeast, there’s also no law regulating firearm sales at gun shows.
“Kansas has become one of the strongest states for gun owners in the nation,” according to Guns & Ammo. The state doesn’t require a permit to carry a concealed firearm; open carry is also legal. Public employees (except those who work for schools) are now permitted to carry concealed weapons while working. Gun buyback programs funded by taxpayers are prohibited. And students are allowed to carry concealed weapons on campuses of public universities and colleges. The state ranked 48 out of 50 on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s state scorecard.
Kentucky ranked fifth on Guns & Ammo’s list of firearm-friendly states. Unlike some states on this list, you do need a permit to carry a handgun in the Bluegrass State, but state law requires a permit to be issued to anyone who fulfills the basic requirements. Kentucky doesn’t have laws banning people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms (though federal law does prohibit them from owning guns).
Mississippi ranked dead last on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s state scorecard, and the state has recently loosened some of its restrictions on guns. Permits aren’t required to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed, and the state reduced conceal carry permit fees for those who do wish to obtain them. The state also doesn’t license or heavily regulate firearms dealers.
Utah’s loose gun laws earned the state an “F” rating on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s state scorecard. The state does not require the reporting of mentally ill individuals to the database used for firearm background checks and forbids local governments from enacting gun laws. Utah also doesn’t require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
9. South Carolina
South Carolina ranked 14th on Guns & Ammo’s list of firearm-friendly states and received “nearly top marks in every category, with no restrictions on what types of firearms can be owned or possessed in the state.” The state’s loose gun laws earned the state an “F” rating on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s state scorecard. It also does not give law enforcement discretion to deny a concealed handgun permit.
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