By Paul Helmke | Brady Campaign President
With over 100,000 gun deaths or injuries every year in America, it is clear what we're doing
now to reduce gun violence is not working. Last week, the Brady Campaign
released our State
Scorecard for 2008, the latest in our annual rating of the 50 states. Each
state is evaluated according to a detailed set of gun violence prevention laws
that it does, or does not, have. You can read the Scorecard here.
The state scores for 2008 reflect a sad reality that many Americans don't
realize. Contrary to the assertion that "thousands" of gun control laws are on
the books, there are really only a few designed to keep guns out of the hands of
dangerous people – and even those have loopholes.
Thirty-seven states scored less than 20 points out of 100 on this year's
Scorecard; 25 states scored 10 points or less. That means nearly three-fourths
of the states in America lack even a basic gun violence prevention safety net to
protect communities and families from dangerous people who find it easy to
obtain firearms. America's five most
violent states, for example – South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Louisiana, and Florida –– have no laws to require a Brady criminal background
check for every gun sale, no laws to combat illegal gun trafficking effectively,
and no laws to restrict access to military-style assault weapons.
One result is that – as the most recent figures show – South Carolina has the
highest violent crime rate in America; Tennessee has the fifth-highest
rate of gun homicide; Nevada has America's fourth-highest gun
death rate (including the fourth-highest rate of gun
suicide); while Louisiana has the highest gun death rate, highest gun
homicide rate, and highest accidental gun death rate in America.
Gun homicides in America rose
over 14% between 1999 and 2005, according to the latest available figures.
Ten states with the highest gun death rates in America have some of the nation's
weakest gun laws, including Louisiana, Alaska, Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, Nevada, Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
Overall rates are influenced by a number of factors, but the consequences of
dangerous behavior are only magnified by easy access to guns by dangerous
people. Reasonable restrictions on who gets guns, what types of guns they can
get, where guns can be taken, and how guns are sold, can help mitigate dangerous
behavior while still respecting the Second Amendment. Even though such
limitations on guns are a central part of last summer's Supreme Court decision, the gun
lobby tries to ignore that part of the decision.
At the other end of the Scorecard is California. With almost 37 million
people, California would rank among the most populous nations in the world. It
also has America's strongest gun violence prevention safety net. Laws
such as mandatory background checks on all firearm purchases, a
“one-handgun-a-month” law to prevent bulk handgun purchases that feed the
illegal gun market, a tough restriction on access to assault weapons, and many
other effective gun laws work together to help keep dangerous weapons from
dangerous people. Not surprisingly, California ranks in the lower half of all
states in total gun death rates, with a gun homicide rate half of
Other states are also making progress. For example, the Illinois legislature
is considering a bill to extend Brady criminal background checks to all handgun
purchases from unlicensed sellers, a crucial way to screen out as many felons,
fugitives, domestic abusers and dangerously mentally ill as possible from the
gun purchasing process.
New Jersey just passed new restrictions on military-style assault weapons, and is now
considering a limit on the bulk purchasing of handguns to cut illegal gun
trafficking. Also, New York has a bill pending to require handguns to "microstamp"
ammunition each time a round is fired, helping law enforcement find criminal
shooters faster. California recently enacted similar
After last year's Supreme Court decision in the Heller case, and the
election of Barack Obama as President, it is a new day for gun
violence prevention in America. There is much work to do, however, and I
hope that in the year ahead you consider joining our grassrootseffort to help improve your state's score, and make all of our
communities safer from the threat of gun violence.
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