Smart gun laws save lives. That’s the fundamental thesis driving our work at Everytown for Gun Safety, and we pursued it with great success in 2023. Last year, state lawmakers passed a record-breaking 130 gun safety policies, while also blocking 95 percent of the gun lobby’s legislative agenda. But provisional numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that gun violence hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.1Everytown Research analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Provisional Mortality Statistics, accessed January 3, 2024. This raises a pointed question: Does our work actually work?
The answer is yes. Today, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund released its 2024 state Gun Law Rankings, which once again show a clear correlation between states with strong gun laws and lower rates of gun violence. Here are three key takeaways:
- Our eight “National Leaders”2California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland. have a rate of gun violence nearly three times lower than the 14 “National Failures.”3Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota, Georgia, Montana, Idaho, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
- If every state had the same gun death rate as our National Leaders, we could have saved more than 137,000 lives over the past decade. That’s more people than can fit in the largest football stadium in America.4The number of lives that could have been spared over the past decade was calculated by applying the National Leaders’ annual rate of gun deaths to all other states, then subtracting these hypothetical values from the actual number of gun deaths that occurred. The past decade is defined here as 2010 to 2019, to avoid conflating the impacts of gun laws with the COVID-related trends that occurred in 2020 and 2021 and are already reversing.
- Looking ahead, if every state in the country had the gun violence rates of our National Leaders, we could save 298,000 lives in the next decade—three giant football stadiums of lives saved.5Each state’s baseline projection reflects the average annual gun death rate change it experienced from 2010 to 2019 (i.e., the decade prior, excluding 2020 and 2021 to avoid skewing projections with COVID-driven trends that are already reversing). This percent change was then applied to actual 2022 data to project gun deaths over the next decade. To determine the lives that could be saved, researchers then subtracted from these projections the number of deaths that would have occurred had each state experienced the same (lower) average annual gun death rate change as the National Leaders.
As discussed more below, the trends over time are consistent: The National Leaders are not immune from national spikes in gun violence, but they consistently have lower gun violence rates than the National Failures. Gun laws have, and will continue to, save lives.
A Trend 30 Years in the Making
When looking back at trends in gun violence since 1990, we found a growing gap between National Leaders and Failures. While the National Leaders weren’t immune to national gun violence trends, the data shows that states that thoughtfully strengthened their laws over the years consistently saw lower death rates, with a 36 percent reduction in gun deaths since 1990.
Policy Matters: Comparing Gun Death Rates in States with Strong vs. Weak Gun Safety Laws
Last updated: 1.4.2024
Conversely, the National Failures—states that have embraced the gun lobby’s lie that more guns in more hands in more places make us freer and safer—saw a 19 percent increase in gun deaths since 1990.
The gap has grown sharply in the past decade. On the positive side, some states have enacted protective laws such as requiring the secure storage of firearms, providing a way to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing a gun through Extreme Risk laws, and requiring background checks on all gun purchases. But others have taken the opposite path, loosening gun laws through dangerous policies like weakening or eliminating their concealed carry permitting requirements, expanding the number of sensitive areas where guns can be carried, and recklessly broadening self-defense laws into Shoot First laws. It is no coincidence that states that both lack foundational gun safety laws and pursue harmful policies have suffered a tragic increase in gun deaths.
And the gap holds across gun violence types: The National Failures have higher rates of gun suicide, gun homicide, and child and teenager gun deaths.
Trends in Gun Suicide
The gun suicide trend shows that states with the weakest gun laws have had consistently higher rates of gun suicide—and the problem is worsening. Part of this trend is likely explained by differential rates in gun ownership6Michael Siegel and Emily F. Rothman, “Firearm Ownership and Suicide Rates Among US Men and Women, 1981–2013,” American Journal of Public Health 106, no. 7 (2016): 1316–22, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303182; Matthew Miller et al., “Household Firearm Ownership and Rates of Suicide Across the 50 United States,” Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 62, no. 4 (April 2007): 1029–35, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.ta.0000198214.24056.40; Anita Knopov et al., “Household Gun Ownership and Youth Suicide Rates at the State Level, 2005–2015,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 56, no. 3 (March 2019): 335–42, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2018.10.027.—research shows that access to a gun triples the risk of death by suicide7Andrew Anglemyer, Tara Horvath, and George Rutherford, “The Accessibility of Firearms and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Annals of Internal Medicine 160, no. 2 (2014): 101–10, https://doi.org/10.7326/M13-1301.—but clearly states with strong gun laws, particularly those that restrict access to guns for individuals in crisis, have seen a decrease in gun suicide while states with weak gun laws have seen a substantial increase.
A State’s Gun Suicide Rate Depends Heavily on the Strength of its Gun Safety Policies
Last updated: 1.4.2024
Trends in Gun Homicide
Gun homicide shows a different picture, but leads to the same conclusion. More than 30 years ago, rates of gun homicide in National Leader and Failure states were similar. But the National Leaders took action, while the National Failures weakened their gun laws even more. The result is unmistakable: despite parallel overall trends, the gap between the National Leaders and Failures is growing. Notably, this delta holds for Black Americans—a group disproportionately impacted by gun violence—with gun homicide rates over one and a half times higher in the National Failure states.
Gun Homicide Rates, Once Similar, Are Diverging in States with Strong and Weak Laws
Last updated: 1.4.2024
Trends in Gun Deaths Among Children
Nowhere is the yawning gap between National Leaders and Failures more pronounced than when we look at gun violence among children and teens—which also serves as the most damning indictment of states that refuse to take proven steps to stop these tragedies.
Gun Deaths Among Children: The Gap Between the National Leaders and National Failures is Growing
In 1990, the gun death rate among children and teenagers was nearly the same in both states with strong and weak laws. In the following years, that trajectory took a sharp turn, and the states that implemented the strongest gun laws reduced the rate of gun deaths among children and teenagers by 58 percent. But, following a broad national decline, states with the weakest laws have gone in a different direction, experiencing an 18 percent increase. As a result, children and teenagers are half as likely to die by guns in the states with the strongest laws compared to the states with the weakest ones.
Disparities between states with strong gun safety laws and those with weaker ones emphasize the significant impact of policy choices, as states that prioritize comprehensive gun safety measures have consistently experienced fewer gun-related deaths. Or to put it more simply: Smart gun laws save lives. Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake. So, politicians in states with weak laws have a life-or-death question to answer: Why aren’t you taking proven steps to keep your constituents safer?
Nick Suplina, JD
Senior Vice President for Law & Policy, Everytown for Gun Safety