(CNN) — Nearly 300,000 lives could be saved from the nation’s wave of gun violence over the next decade if every US state enacted gun control laws like those held by states such as California and New York, according to a new study announced Friday by a gun violence prevention non-profit group.
It’s the first estimate that offers a glimpse of the potential life-saving impact of stronger gun laws throughout a nation with significant variation in firearm laws from state-to-state, experts tell CNN.
The study by Everytown for Gun Safety revealed new rankings for the 50 states based on the strength of their gun laws in 2023 compared to their gun death rates, putting California and New York at the top of the list for gun safety. Arkansas is ranked last in the nation due to the weakness of its gun laws and high rate of gun deaths, the analysis shows.
New York and California are considered “national leaders” in the report, holding some of the lowest gun death rates in the country – 5.3 and 8.7, respectively, per 100,000 residents – despite being home to the two largest US cities. Arkansas, which has roughly one-sixth of the New York state population, has a gun violence rate of 22.1 per 100,000 residents, the study shows.
Everytown designated five foundational laws that they say have proven to be the most effective in lowering gun violence rates – all of which are in effect in New York and California. They include requirements for a background check and/or permits to purchase firearms; a permit to carry concealed guns in public; the secure storage of firearms; the rejection of ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws; and the enactment of ‘extreme risk’ laws that temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms when there is evidence that they pose a serious risk to themselves or others.
Everytown used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looking at their rates of gun deaths in 2022, and compared those rates with 50 up-to-date policies for each state that they say are scientifically proven to be effective in preventing gun violence. The CDC’s data includes homicides, accidental killings and suicides committed with guns.
The team then weighed gun safety policies based on their efficacy, ranked each state on its implementation of those policies and compared that score with the rates of gun deaths in each state.
The group also looked at whether the strength of each state’s gun laws increased or weakened last year, depending on legislation. Measures that require universal background checks for gun purchases – enacted last year in Michigan – and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines – now in effect in Illinois – gave certain states higher rankings based on the strength of their gun laws.
But states like Florida and Nebraska became weaker on the gun safety scale last year due to passing legislation allowing people to carry concealed, loaded handguns in public without a permit.
The new Everytown analysis reaffirmed the findings from the first version of the study – published in January 2022 – which found there is a direct correlation between states with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings. The study was first reported by CNN.
“Legislators have a roadmap to keep their communities safe from gun violence, but it’s up to them to put these critical policies in place,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for Law and Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “While states at the top of Everytown’s list are taking significant action to prevent gun violence, gun lobby-backed legislators continue to play politics with our lives and the consequences are deadly.”
The barriers to states nationwide enacting sweeping gun control legislation are put up largely by the gun lobby “having been entrenched in state politics for decades,” Suplina said.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) maintains that gun control laws are not effective in preventing gun violence. In 2022, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said, “If we as a nation were capable of legislating evil out of the hearts and minds of criminals who commit these heinous acts, we would have done it a long time ago,” CNN reported.
In a statement to CNN on Thursday, a spokesperson for the NRA said the Everytown research methodology “reveals a bias.”
“The highest ratings go to states with the most restrictive gun laws. This isn’t science; it’s an assault on the rights of law-abiding citizens, masquerading as research. A responsible media would challenge such propaganda, not parrot it,” said spokesman Billy McLaughlin.
‘More guns equal more mayhem,’ expert says
To determine the estimate of nearly 300,000 lives that could be saved over the next decade with strong gun safety laws in place, Everytown researchers looked at eight states with the strongest gun safety laws.
The number is hypothetical and based on modeling. But the model by Everytown researchers is a “persuasive and compelling” approach to advancing knowledge of the consequences of public policy on public safety, according to Dr. Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland who has authored multiple books on US gun policy.
“There are two broader headlines that emerge from this study: more guns equal more mayhem, and gun laws really do make a difference,” Spitzer said.
The gun death rates for Massachusetts and Hawaii were below 5 people per 100,000 residents, and both are in the top 10 list for strong gun laws. Rhode Island, which is number 13 on the scale for gun strength legislation, recorded the lowest gun death rate of 3.1 per 100,000 residents in 2023.
California continues to top the list with a composite score of 89.5 out of 100, as well as a low rate of 8.7 deaths per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, Mississippi and Arkansas have the weakest gun laws in the country with a score of 3 out of 100 and high gun violence rates of 29.7 and 22.1 deaths per 100,000 residents, respectively, according to the analysis.
States moving in opposite direction on gun safety scale
Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois were three of the states that went up on the scale for gun strength after newly elected trifectas in the state legislature and governor’s office allowed new gun laws to pass.
Michigan’s ranking for gun safety jumped in 2023 after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of six gun violence prevention bills that included an extreme risk law, as well as laws to require background checks on all gun sales and secure firearm storage.
The bill signing took place at Michigan State University, where just weeks before, a gunman killed three students and critically wounded five others. After the shooting, Democratic lawmakers saw a rare chance to file a host of bills targeting gun safety after taking control of the state’s legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in 40 years.
Then, in November, Whitmer signed another bill to keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers by banning them from buying, owning or transporting firearms for eight years after their sentencing.
“Red flag laws, background checks and domestic violence prohibitors all in one session would have been unthinkable under the former control in the state house, and now is a reality in Michigan and it’s a popular one,” Suplina said.
Illinois also showed notable improvement on the gun safety scale in 2023 after state lawmakers in January passed a measure to ban assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Following months of legal challenges that sought to dismantle the law, the state’s high court in August upheld the ban in a 4-3 ruling. Illinois is ranked third on the list by Everytown for strong gun laws, but it has a gun death rate of 14.4 people per 100,000 residents.
The state’s gun death rate is the same as Florida’s, which was ranked much lower on the scale for gun strength laws. But Illinois is home to Chicago, which records more murders each year than any other city despite New York and Los Angeles having significantly more people. Its police department also takes more guns through enforcement than any other city, CNN previously reported.
In Minnesota, after Democrats gained control of the state government in 2022, the legislature passed a historic gun safety package in April, which includes a bill to require background checks on all handgun and semi-automatic military-style assault weapon sales and an extreme risk law. It was the first action on gun safety in Minnesota in nine years.
Some states saw their rankings go down, such as Florida and Nebraska, both of which enacted legislation in 2023 allowing most residents who legally own a firearm to carry it openly in public without obtaining a permit. North Carolina also saw a notable decline after legislation was passed making it legal for residents to buy a pistol without a permit.
“It’s a very important study, especially given its breadth and depth and its bottom-line recommendations,” said Spitzer, “which just punctuates the fact that gun laws really do matter, and this is doubly important in our American system of federalism where there’s great variation in gun laws from state to state.”
Written by Emma Tucker and Omar Jimenez
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