Gun laws are a hot button issue within the United States, and the laws pertaining to guns vary from state to state almost as much as the opinions on them. While we're not here to get political, it’s good to know as much information about state laws as possible. Specifically, since some states are much friendlier when it comes to guns than others, which state has the strictest laws within the union when it comes to guns?
Understanding Federal vs. State Gun Laws
Before we get too far into the weeds here, it's worth acknowledging the reason that a state’s laws can be so different from one another. Despite the fact that the federal government dominates the news cycle in many cases, the United States is just that: a collection of states. The nature of the way the Constitution, and federal or state governments interact with each other is such that it allows for the individual states to determine, for the most part, what the regulations are within their own borders.
Additionally, since the federal government is the larger entity — and therefore much slower to move, so to speak — the individual states can take it upon themselves to enact legislation so long as it doesn't run afoul of federal jurisdiction or the Constitution.
Arguments of Constitutionality notwithstanding, if the individual states decide to enact measures regarding guns, they are largely within their right to do so. This is how we get 50 different states with 50 vastly different takes on guns.
What Constitutes Strict?
When looking to find out which state has the strictest gun laws, there must be some criteria by which to judge what makes a state strict regarding guns. Saying that a state is strict would naturally mean that there is a concerted effort by that state to regulate and control the guns themselves as well as their ownership.
Naturally, there could be some bias or partiality in regard to what constitutes strict regulation, as any law passed will likely have detractors and proponents. So, in order to eliminate that subjectivity, the best measure is to check with groups who support tighter controls and legislation involving guns to see who those proponents rate favorably in that regard. Meaning the strictest state would be the state with the most restrictive laws regarding all things firearms.
Which State Has the Strictest Gun Laws?
Going by the previously stated criteria, it will likely come as no surprise to anyone that the state with the strictest gun laws is California.
California is ranked as the best state for gun regulations by multiple groups that support increased gun control. Both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center give California the highest possible scores as a state doing its best to implement the agendas supported by those groups.
The Giffords Law Center goes so far as to praise California as having the strongest gun laws in the nation and points to it as an example for other states to copy. The Brady Campaign goes a step farther, referring to California as trailblazing and stating that it provides a road map for other states to follow. Even organizations which don't give official state rankings, such as Moms Demand Action, Everytown For Gun Safety, and the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, all tout California as a leader in the area of gun regulation.
Given that the organizations who support increased regulation of firearms rate California so highly, it's not unfair or biased in any regard to unequivocally state that California has the strictest gun laws. But how do other states rate? Is California alone? Or are there others who receive high marks from these groups?
Other States With Strict Gun Laws
The reality is that there are a number of states that are very close to California with regard to gun laws. In fact, the Giffords Law Center, which uses a grading scale similar to that of school systems in the U.S., gives California an A rating. It also ranks seven other states with an A grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois.
The Giffords group goes on to boast that for the first time since it has implemented the use of the scorecard, there are now more people living in A states than there are living in F states. On top of that, there are more A states than ever before, and the number of people living in A-graded states has increased while the number of people living in D and F graded states declined.
Why Does This Matter?
The purpose of this information is not to be political, but to educate. Gun owners cover all areas of the political spectrum, so this is not an attempt at partisanship. The goal of pointing out this information is to make gun owners and potential gun owners aware of the overall regulatory climate within certain states in order to prevent them from encountering problems. Pointing out which states are strict in their gun regulation can make people more aware of things they would not otherwise think of in regard to their guns and the laws that govern them. No one wants people to break the law, least of all gun owners, so it's important to know which states have the most stringent policies so you know what to look for if you live in these states, move, or travel there with your guns.
If you're a gun owner (or considering it) and live in one of these strict states (or are planning to move to one), familiarize yourself with what the state's laws are. It may go without saying, but being on the strictest states list implies a level of regulation that is sure to come with harsh penalties if broken. It's well known that ignorance of the law is no excuse, so learn your state's laws and make sure you're not inadvertently violating them. When it comes to guns, we always want everyone to stay safe and stay legal.