A mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that left at least 19 children and two adults dead has once again brought gun laws to the forefront. Tuesday’s shooting comes less than two weeks after 10 people were killed in a racially motivated shooting at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.
Gun control remains one of the most pressing and heated debates in politics. Although the federal government hasn’t passed gun control or gun rights legislation recently, states continue to pass measures of their own.
States with stronger firearms legislation have fewer gun deaths, according to a study by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun laws. Everytown identifies five “foundational” policies for reducing gun deaths: requiring background checks and permits to purchase handguns; requiring permits to carry concealed firearms in public; extreme risk laws, which allow courts to remove guns from those who pose a serious threat to themselves or others; requiring secure storage of guns and rejecting “stand your ground” laws.
Everytown tracks a total of 50 policies in each state, covering areas like the gun industry and product safety, guns in public, keeping guns out of the wrong hands, policing and civil rights, and sales and permitting.
States with least restrictive gun laws
Here are the states with the weakest gun control laws, according to a 2022 report by Everytown for Gun Safety:
- Mississippi, 28.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. According to Everytown, Mississippi lacks all five foundational policies, having recently repealed a permit requirement for carrying a concealed weapon in public. The state also leads the nation in gun deaths, with more than double the national average, per the Giffords Law Center. Mississippi does indefinitely bar people with felony convictions from owning guns.
- Idaho, 17.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Idaho has the fourth-highest rate of gun suicides of any state, according to Everytown. The state has weakened gun laws recently, repealing a concealed carry permit requirement, minimum age protections and a ban on public carry after a violent offense. Idaho does not allow guns in K-12 schools and prevents those convicted of a hate crime from having firearms.
- Montana, 20.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Montana is tied with Idaho when it comes to gun law strength, according to Everytown, with only four policies in place — none of them foundational. The state doesn’t permit guns in K-12 schools, has a hate crime prohibitor and funds community violence intervention programming in the state budget.
- Arkansas, 22.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Gun deaths increased twice as much in Arkansas (34%) than they did nationwide (17%) in the last decade, according to Everytown. Lawmakers repealed the state’s concealed carry permitting requirement in 2021. Arkansas prohibits public carry at the state capitol or at political protests, in K-12 schools, and bans possession for those with a felony conviction or found to be a danger to self or others.
- South Dakota, 13.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Of all gun deaths in the state, 80% are the result of suicide. South Dakota doesn’t force colleges and universities to allow concealed carry and prohibits domestic abusers from having guns after a misdemeanor conviction. The state also has a hate crime prohibitor and requires mental health record reporting.
- Wyoming, 25.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Between 2010 and 2019, gun deaths in Wyoming increased more than two-and-a-half times the national average and gun suicide increased nearly three times the national average, per Everytown. Wyoming allows school personnel to carry firearms in K-12 schools but does not mandate colleges allow concealed carry.
- Oklahoma, 20.7 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Oklahoma outlawed concealed carry in bars and for those convicted of assault or other misdemeanor convictions. According to Everytown, the state also prevents public carry at the capitol and political protests.
- Arizona, 16.7 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. According to Everytown, Arizona has the lowest household firearm ownership rate of the 13 states with the weakest gun control laws, which could help explain its relatively low gun violence rate. Arizona’s gun deaths rate is still 22% higher than the national average, according to Giffords. Arizona bans gun possession for those with felony convictions, stalker convictions and those found to be a danger to themselves or others.
- New Hampshire, 8.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. Nearly 90% of all gun deaths in New Hampshire are the result of suicides, according to Everytown, and the state’s lower-than-average death rate could come from being surrounded by states with tougher control laws. New Hampshire has one foundational policy: It requires that guns be locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition to prevent access to children under the age of 16.
- Missouri, 23.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. According to Everytown, St. Louis, Missouri has one of the highest rates of gun murders among all cities in the country. Missouri bans possession by fugitives, and those with a felony or hate crime conviction. State law also requires that law enforcement agencies collect and report data on use of force incidents.
Texas — where Tuesday’s elementary school shooting occurred — has the 17th-weakest gun laws in the country, according to Everytown. The same report ranks New York as the state with the third-strongest gun control laws. New York has 5.3 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, while Texas has 14.2 per 100,000 residents.
Where does Utah rank?
Utah ranks 14th among states with the weakest gun control laws, and its rate of 13.6 gun deaths per 100,000 residents is right at the national average. In 2021, the Legislature repealed the state’s concealed carry permit system, and in March, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill to prevent cities or counties from enacting their own firearm regulations.
Guns are the leading cause of death among children and teenagers in Utah, according to an Everytown report from 2019, and 70% of those deaths are the result of suicide. In Utah, 83% of gun deaths are suicides, 13% are homicides and 2% are shootings by police.
Utah has the 39th highest rate of gun violence in the U.S., with an average of 400 Utahns killed by firearms each year. Gun violence increased 12% between 2011 and 2020.