Civilian firearm ownership is among the most defining aspects of American culture. The freedoms we cherish in the United States simply wouldn’t exist without the right to bear arms, and the preservation of liberty thrives on grassroots gun owners.
Unfortunately, the rights of civilians to arm and legally defend themselves are constantly at risk.
Gun laws in the U.S. vary extensively across the map, but geography is not always an accurate predictor of a state’s freedom index. Many states in the South and West have taken steps to expand the rights of their citizens during recent legislative sessions. In places like Arizona, Georgia and Kentucky, gun ownership is encouraged and shooting sports are widely popular. In other locations, gun ownership is condemned, heavily regulated and residents have few opportunities to experience the sporting aspects of firearms. States like California, Connecticut and New York have repeatedly illustrated their disregard for individual rights through legislation that restricts the ability of its citizens to purchase and possess firearms.
To examine which states are culturally accepted as the most firearm-friendly territories, G&A interviewed a variety of gun owners at the 2014 NRA Show. Find out where gun owners feel most welcome in the video below, then continue reading to see where your state ranks this year.
Drawing from trusted sources and numerous examples of state-specific legislation and case law, we took a fresh look at the gun laws of every state in America to put things into perspective for 2014.
States were ranked numerically in each of these five categories:
- Right-to-Carry: Each state was evaluated on whether it allows individuals to carry handguns, concealed or openly, with or without permits. If permits are issued, we evaluated whether they are issued on a “may issue” or “shall issue” basis and how readily ordinary citizens can obtain them. Close attention was paid to how restrictive state laws were in prohibiting carry in places such as restaurants, banks, parks and the like. In states where open carry is legal, we evaluated whether that right is prevented by municipal ordinances. A “perfect 10” included states such as Arizona and Wyoming, which allow permitless carry but also “shall issue” permits to allow residents to carry in reciprocal states. Scores trended downward from there based on the factors listed previously.
- Modern Sporting Rifles: We evaluated the types of restrictions states and their respective municipalities place on semiautomatic firearms not regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). These restrictions include limits on magazine capacity as well as banning or requiring registration based on cosmetic features such as bayonet lugs, pistol grips and folding buttstocks.
- NFA: Machine guns, suppressors (“silencers” according to the NFA), short-barreled rifles (SBRs) and shotguns (SBSs), Any Other Weapons (AOWs), and Destructive Devices (DDs) can only be purchased and owned in accordance with NFA laws. States can and do restrict these items in a complicated patchwork of laws across the nation. We examined which states restrict the ownership of NFA items and which do not. States that do not restrict ownership and compel Chief Law Enforcement Officers (CLEOs) to sign licensing documents were given top marks.
- Castle Doctrine: English common law established that a man’s home is his castle and he has a right to defend it. Laws that regulate the use of force to prevent death, serious bodily injury or forcible crimes vary significantly from state to state. We examined the statutes and case law in each state and ranked them accordingly. States that allowed the use of force, including deadly force, in defense of life were given the highest score if the right applied anywhere someone has a right to be. States that impose a duty to retreat before using force were ranked accordingly, and jurisdictions that severely restrict a citizen’s ability to use a firearm in self-defense were given the lowest scores.
- Miscellaneous: This category included a variety of substantive issues such as state constitutional provisions, state firearm law preemption, purchase/registration requirements, percentage of gun ownership, shooting range protection statues, availability of ranges and access to the shooting sports. States with a healthy firearms industry presence were noted, as were the attitudes of citizens toward the shooting sports and established shooting ranges.
- Right-to-Carry: 0
Class 3/NFA: 0
Castle Doctrine: 0
While our leaders are protected by legions of heavily armed police, ordinary citizens of our nation’s capital are routinely deprived of their rights by a weave of gun control laws. There is no better case to describe the outright absurdity of D.C.’s gun laws than the 2014 conviction of a man for possessing a dud shotgun shell and an empty .270 Winchester cartridge case in his home. Residents of D.C. must register all rifles and shotguns with Metropolitan Police, and ammunition can only be purchased for those registered firearms. There is no method of obtaining a permit to carry a handgun in D.C. short of becoming a police officer. Magazine capacity is restricted to 10 rounds, except for tubular magazines on rimfire rifles. Gun owners should think twice about even passing through D.C., where a forgotten cartridge or magazine in a vehicle can lead to serious charges.
*Editor’s note: State-specific gun laws are a complicated, frustrating and fluid subject. We have consulted sources such as the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation and state and law enforcement agencies to compile these rankings. Some states are very hazy on certain statutes, so our data reflects those confusions with general statements based on our understanding of the law. All information is current as of May 21, 2014.