A roundup and analysis of the latest state firearm legislation

An essential component of the work we do at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence involves tracking and analyzing firearms legislation in all 50 states, using that information to educate lawmakers, advocates, the media, and the general public on the latest developments in America’s gun laws as bills advance through statehouses across the nation. We research nearly 1,700 bills each year—many of which are modeled off policies crafted by our legal experts—and identify trends that help inform the movement’s advocacy efforts.

Distributed biweekly during the state legislative cycle, Gun Law Trendwatch rounds up and analyzes trends in state gun legislation, documents important victories, and monitors the gun lobby’s activity in legislatures across the United States.

Gun Violence Prevention Bills To Watch

An essential truth of gun policy in America is that laws regulating guns are most likely to be passed at the state level, by lawmakers concerned about the public safety of their home states. While Congress remains hamstrung by the gun lobby’s efforts to block lifesaving gun legislation at the federal level, remarkable progress has been made in states across the country, with momentum for smart gun laws continuing to build. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, more than 210 new smart gun laws have been enacted in 45 states and DC. We applaud these state legislators for the courageous effort they’ve made to shore up public safety at the state level and hope it encourages others to follow suit.

Background Check Bills

The number one priority of the gun violence prevention movement is to close the glaring gap in federal law that allows gun sales between two private parties to proceed without a background check. Too often, this loophole allows deadly weapons to fall into dangerous hands—prohibited people like domestic abusers, violent convicted criminals, and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis can easily purchase guns online or from private sellers. This year, legislators have introduced bills in over a dozen states that would help close the private sale loophole, either through enacting universal background checks, improving records reporting, or strengthening existing background check procedures. Both Washington and Hawaii passed laws strengthening background check procedures in 2017.

Gun Violence Protection Orders

Gun violence protection order laws allow families and household members, as well as law enforcement officers, to petition a court to temporarily remove a person’s access to guns if he or she poses an imminent danger to self or others. These are critical tools during moments of crisis—a GVPO prohibits a person experiencing a mental health crisis from accessing firearms and requires him or her to relinquish any guns they possess while the order is in effect. Since first being adopted in California in 2014, GVPO laws have begun to spread, and this year legislators in 15 states have introduced measures that would allow law enforcement and/or family members to intervene if someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others with a gun. Oregon passed a version of this law, called an Extreme Risk Protection order in August of 2017.

Domestic Violence Bills

Laws preventing guns from falling into the hands of domestic abusers are crucial lifesaving measures. Firearms are the most common, and by far the most lethal, weapons used by abusers who kill their partners. In fact, the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely the victim will die. Protecting families from domestic violence requires lawmakers to take steps to ensure that dangerous abusers and convicted stalkers don’t have easy access to guns. These laws tend to enjoy wide bipartisan support, and in 2017 nearly half the states have introduced bills that make it more difficult for domestic abusers to obtain deadly weapons. Seven states, including ones with strong gun cultures, like Louisiana and North Dakota, passed laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Gun Lobby Bills

The corporate gun lobby is engaged in a systematic effort to undermine sensible state gun regulation, putting profit ahead of public safety, despite the overwhelming support that smart gun laws have from the American public. Loosening gun laws has deadly consequences—over the course of two decades of studying trends in gun laws, we’ve identified a powerful correlation: states with stronger gun laws have fewer gun deaths per capita, and states with weaker gun laws have more gun deaths. These attempts to relax gun laws put guns in the hands of more people, regardless of whether they are violent felons, domestic abusers, or experiencing a mental health crisis, increasing the gun industry’s profits at the expense of public safety.

However, there is a powerful movement of advocates and lawmakers working to defeat this alarming agenda in statehouses across America—since 2012, more than 200 smart gun laws have passed and been enacted in 45 states and Washington DC. And, perhaps even more importantly, the gun violence prevention movement has consistently defeated gun lobby–sponsored legislation that would allow hidden, loaded weapons into public spaces like schools, government buildings, and even bars, as well as many other similarly dangerous bills. While the gun lobby achieves some wins each year, an overwhelming majority of its legislative efforts fail. Defensive victories, like stopping bad bills from advancing through the legislature, are a significant part of the progress the Law Center and our allies make each year.

Gun violence prevention advocates have achieved a host of defensive victories against the gun lobby that will help save lives in states across the country. Our movement defeated bills that would allow hidden, loaded guns in public without a permit in at least 10 states and bills that would have allowed guns on college and university campuses in nine states. In Iowa and Nebraska, activists defeated efforts to repeal permit-to-purchase laws, and in Arizona and Texas, bills died that would weaken rights of business owners to exclude guns from their premises. Stay tuned to Gun Law Trendwatch throughout the year for timely, detailed updates on the ways in which the Law Center and the rest of the gun violence prevention movement are blocked the gun lobby’s deadly agenda in state after state.

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