After the recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, President Barack Obama made a statement from the White House, rattling off the names of other communities where similar gun violence has occurred. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Navy Yard, Isla Vista, Charleston and now Roseburg – all have become familiar touchstones in America’s complex relationship with guns, violence and regulations.
As he has done previously, Obama asserted that the Roseburg shootings meant Congress and state governments need to reexamine laws that deal with gun safety and background checks. Using data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign, InsideGov looked at how gun laws differ by state.
The two groups, which both advocate for more effective gun laws, rate states on a scale of 0 to 100 according to how stringent their firearm laws are, with 0 being not strict and 100 being the strictest.
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As the above map shows, East Coast states tend to have higher scores when it comes to gun laws. Of the top six states with the highest scores for strictness of gun laws, five are along the northeastern part of the country: Connecticut (84), New Jersey (82.5), Maryland (80.5), New York (79.5) and Massachusetts (74.5).
But the highest overall mark goes to California, which clocks in at a score of 89. According to the Law Center, California requires all firearm sales go through a licensed dealer, and people purchasing a gun undergo background checks, a safety certificate process and a written test. The state also limits people from buying more than one handgun per month and keeps records of gun sales.
On the other end of the spectrum, the four states with the lowest scores are Arizona (6), Alaska (7), Wyoming (9) and South Dakota (9.5). Three states – Kansas, Mississippi and Vermont – tie for fifth place, with a score of 10.
On its page detailing Arizona’s gun regulations, the Law Center states that Arizona doesn’t require dealers to have a state license or limit the number of purchases made at one time. The state also allows people to carry a concealed gun in public without a license and allows people to purchase or transfer assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles or large ammunition magazines.
But do more gun laws necessarily mean fewer gun deaths? Obama asserted as much during his press conference, saying: “We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens, and criminals will still get their guns, is not borne out by the evidence.”
Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, InsideGov mapped out gun deaths by state, per 100,000 people.
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The fives states with the most gun deaths per 100,000 people are Alaska (19.6), Louisiana (19.2), Alabama (17.8), Mississippi (17.6) and Wyoming (17.5). Three of those five states – Alaska, Mississippi and Wyoming – are also among the states with the most lax gun laws.
The five states with the fewest number of gun deaths per 100,000 people are Hawaii (2.7), Massachusetts (3.2), New York (4.4), Connecticut (4.5) and Rhode Island (5.3). Of those five states, two are also at the top of the list when it comes to strictness of gun laws: New York and Connecticut.
When connecting the two data sets into one graph, a pattern seems to develop – and that pattern seems to support Obama’s claim that stricter gun laws mean fewer gun-related deaths.
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In the above graph, points that are higher up along the Y axis indicate more gun deaths, and points further to the right along the X axis indicate stricter gun laws. The data confirms that, on the whole, stricter gun laws do result in fewer gun deaths.
But some cases run counter to the overall trend. Take California, for example, which sports the highest gun law score at 89. The Golden State has 7.9 deaths per 100,000 – the eighth-lowest in the country. But when consulting an L.A. Times list of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S., the most instances occurred in California. Nine mass shootings have taken place in California since 1984 (Texas comes in second, with four occurrences).
Although California is among the largest and most populated states, the total number of mass shootings there is an outlier. For example, California’s population is almost two times that of Florida, but Florida has been the site of only one mass shooting in the last 34 years.
While an overall look at the data suggests that stricter gun laws mean fewer gun-related deaths, exceptions like the number of mass shootings in California are important to note. Perhaps more than anything, the California exception shows just how complicated a topic this is for Americans – and shows why finding consensus on appropriate gun legislation continues to be a challenge.