July 21, 2015
Our founders' experiment in self-government gave us the gift of Federalism, where states unite under a centralized governing authority while honoring a state's rights. Though the power of the federal government has increased, the United States still maintains great contrast on the subject of gun ownership. Gun rights vary from states that have all but made it impossible to own firearms and related accessories to states where few restrictions exist. For the third consecutive year and first time in print, Guns & Ammo presents our assessment of each state's gun laws in a format that ranks them from worst to first for gun owners.
Rather than simply reverse the rankings made by anti-gun groups, G&A has conducted a thorough review of each state's laws and considered initiatives pending in state legislatures. Every effort has been made to create a ranking system that is fair, equitable, accurate and objective. States were ranked numerically in each of five categories: right-to-carry, right to own "black rifles" (i.e., firearms possessing a tactical appearance), presence of the Castle Doctrine, subjects relating to the National Firearms Act (NFA) and a catchall miscellaneous column.
Nearly every state in the union now has a regulatory system under which citizens can carry a firearm for defensive purposes. Though many states have laws in place that allow for concealed carry of a "weapon" (CCW), some states and municipalities do not issue permits. In these "may issue" states, a licensing authority may issue a permit, but whether a permit is actually issued sometimes depends on the political climate or how the local government views your social status. "May issue" states that issue permits frequently are given more points than those that don't, and states that say the licensing authority "shall issue" permits are given higher scores. Among "shall issue" states, points are awarded based on the factors used in G&A's "Best States for CCW" follow-up: training requirements, cost, reciprocity and the extent of locations where licensees are prohibited from carrying. States with permitless carry are given higher scores, whereas states that both issue permits and allow citizens to carry without one are given a full 10-point score. "Open carry" statutes are also considered and factor positively into these rankings.
Since 2013, G&A has examined restrictions placed upon semiautomatic firearms, usually modular rifles and carbines with detachable magazines given a tactical appearance. Referred to as "assault weapons" by gun-rights opponents, these firearms are generally categorized by their cosmetic features. Restrictions on this type of firearm or magazine capacity, or states that require owners to register detachable magazines, are penalized for score under this category.
The National Firearms Act regulates the sale, transfer and possession of machine guns, suppressors (also defined as "silencers" according to the act), rifles with barrels shorter than 16 inches (SBR), shotguns with barrels shorter than 18½ inches (SBS), Any Other Weapons (AOW) and Destructive Devices (DD). State laws can be more restrictive than the federal law in this area, and it often is. G&A ranks states on whether they ban any or all NFA items, with nine points going to states that default to federal law as to ownership. A full 10 points is awarded to states with "shall sign" legislation that prevents de facto NFA bans by requiring that a Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) either approve or deny the requisite NFA form without undue delay.
The term "Castle Doctrine" has become a shortcut for laws that protect the principles of self-defense and property rights. Some states require that an individual retreat until he is literally backed into a corner before using deadly force against an attacker. Such states that do not recognize an individual right to personal defense are given low scores in this survey. Many states allow deadly force to be used when necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury wherever the attack takes place. These so-called "Stand Your Ground" states rank higher, with a sliding scale used to reflect what are often complex statutes.
Easily overlooked, this "catchall" category represents many important factors. Potentially harmful laws that don't fit into other categories are represented here. Key qualities including whether a state has adequate shooting opportunities and limiting factors such as the availability and popularity of organized or informal shooting sports are also included. This column sometimes serves as a tiebreaker in the event of a numerical tie among two or more states. The firearms industry is a crucial component of America's gun culture, and an industry presence or major training facility in a state is given appropriate weight.
Worse to First
51. Washington, D.C.
While D.C. is hardly a home for America's gun owners, things have improved slightly in the last few years. After the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the District's ban on carrying a firearm outside the home for self-defense was unconstitutional, D.C. abandoned its attempt to enforce an outright ban on the carrying of handguns. Instead, the District is in the process of imposing a "may issue" permit system that is unlikely to issue many, if any, permits to law-abiding citizens within the city. D.C. residents must still register all firearms with the Metro Police Department, and legal shooting opportunities within the District are nonexistent. If you're a gun owner looking to move to the D.C. area, take a hard look at Northern Virginia instead.
50. New York
All we can say that's positive about gun laws within the Empire State is that they haven't gotten any worse this last year. After extensive gun control efforts in previous years, the New York legislature actually killed two anti-gun bills this session, one to ban .50-caliber rifles and the other requiring gun owners to lock up firearms in their homes. New York remains a very difficult state for gun owners, with mandatory handgun licensing, magazine capacity limits and a total ban on NFA items. Carry permits are granted on a "may issue" basis, and obtaining one is no easy task. You'll still find some shooting sports activity in upstate areas, but the overall climate for gun owners is so bad that even industry giant Remington Arms Company is packing its bags for greener pastures.
49. New Jersey
New Jersey gun owners had a victory in 2014 when Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would lower the state's 15-round magazine capacity to 10 rounds. Another moral win occurred when the governor pardoned Shaneen Allen, a woman caught up in New Jersey's gun laws when she made the mistake of crossing the bridge from Pennsylvania. A final victory came when the state's attorney general ruled that the 2002 "Smart Gun" law (requiring handguns to be made with certain technology when it is commercially available) has not been triggered by "smart" prototypes in the marketplace. Ownership of tactical rifles is tightly regulated in New Jersey, and state law bans suppressors. Carry permits are "may issue" and are not readily available.
In case you thought the Bay State's gun laws couldn't get any worse, the legislature proved that it had room to ban more in 2014. Last year, those living in Massachusetts saw the enactment of legislation that allows mandatory firearm licenses to be denied for any arbitrary basis of "risk," permitting local government abuse. Licenses are required for the ownership of all firearms, and tactical-looking rifles are all but banned unless grandfathered and registered. The state's magazine capacity limit is 10 rounds. Carry permits are "may issue," but they are actually obtainable. The state police can issue temporary nonresident permits.
Thomas Magnum may have rolled around the islands with a 1911 stashed in his micro shorts in the 1980s TV hit "Magnum P.I.," but you're unlikely to find a Hawaiian do this under the state's tough "may issue" system. Hawaii's gun laws are very restrictive. Permits to acquire are required for all firearms and were denied to legal resident aliens until a federal court intervened this year. A 10-round magazine restriction is on the books along with a complete ban on NFA items. Self-defense laws are mediocre. If you're a hunter, there are some surprisingly good outdoor opportunities, which may be the only silver lining in paradise.
While many states have backed away from efforts to restrict the rights of their gun owners, California is moving full steam ahead. Although much of California's geography is true rural America, the big cities dominate the political landscape and enact strict gun laws accordingly. Gov. Jerry Brown signed five anti-gun bills into law since G&A last prepared this report. On the bright side, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of gun owners in the Peruta v. San Diego case, which relates to the constitutionality of the restrictive carry permit policies in many of the state's counties. That case will be heard by a nine-member panel in June 2015 and could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. California uses a restrictive "approved" handgun list that makes some models (many already discontinued by the manufacturer) available in the state, and the mere act of shipping a firearm to a dealer in California can be complicated. A 10-day waiting period is imposed on all firearms acquisitions, and registration is required. Tactical-looking rifles are restricted as are standard-capacity magazines not grandfathered in. Mere possession of certain magazines is banned in some municipalities, and most NFA items, including suppressors, are not allowed.
Connecticut residents have witnessed serious erosions in their state's gun laws over the past few years, and the trend continues this legislative session. Licensing requirements are in place for all firearms, and handgun owners are required to have a permit to possess a handgun anywhere outside the home. Mere possession of an unregistered magazine holding more than 10 rounds is a felony, and tactical rifles must be registered and grandfathered in. The state has decent use-of-force statutes including the Castle Doctrine. Carry permits are "may issue" but are generally given if an applicant meets certain criteria. Permits from other states are not recognized. Both suppressors and machine guns are legal if registered with both ATF and in-state authorities.
You can bet that some Baltimore residents are rethinking their state's highly restrictive gun laws in the wake of recent mob violence. Maryland actually ranked behind New York in G&A's "Best States for CCW" list, and we have since learned that Beretta is leaving the state for more gun-friendly Tennessee, which speaks volumes. Carry permits in Maryland are "may issue" and rare. Handguns must be registered and require a permit to own, though rifles and shotguns do not. Tactical rifles are prohibited, with some exceptions (including LWRC rifles, which are made in the state). This year, Maryland deleted the state's "ballistic fingerprinting" law, which cost its residents millions and solved virtually zero crimes.
Illinois has gone from one of the worst states for gun owners to "not so bad as long as you don't live in Chicago" these last few years. The state's "shall issue" concealed carry permit system is up and running for both residents and nonresidents, and the sky did not fall. Illinois' Firearm Owner's Identification, or "FOID," requirement remains in effect for all residents wishing to touch a firearm or ammunition except for those possessed by nonresidents in accordance with state law. Suppressors are not permitted in Illinois, though a bill to change that is currently before the legislature. Short-barreled rifles are not allowed. At the point of sale, there is a three-day waiting period before picking up a handgun, and a 24-hour waiting period is applied to all long guns. The state has strong use-of-force laws, and all tactical rifles are legal outside of municipalities such as Chicago and Highland Park.
42. Rhode Island
Despite numerous efforts to pass more-restrictive gun control laws in the Ocean State, none have passed since G&A's last review. Rhode Island requires a seven-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, and a safety course is required in order to purchase a handgun. The state has a decent right-to-carry law in place and does not restrict tactical rifles. The state has relatively weak self-defense statutes with no Castle Doctrine-type law on the books, and all NFA items are prohibited.
A rather cumbersome "may issue" CCW law prevents Delaware from clawing its way into a better ranking in G&A's list. The state has strong use-of-force laws including the Castle Doctrine, and it does not restrict tactical rifles or magazine capacity. NFA laws are a mixed bag, with SBRs and AOWs allowed in compliance with federal law. However, other items, including machine guns and suppressors, are banned. Delaware has strong preemption laws to keep municipalities from enacting their own gun control rules, and it has a range protection statute on the books.
Washington State is a classic case of a mostly rural state with a few cities that carry the bulk of the political influence. Washington issues CCW permits on a "shall issue" basis for only $7 per year. The state has a strong use-of-force law and doesn't require permits to purchase any category of firearm. A ballot initiative requiring background checks and de facto registration on all handgun transfers passed in November 2014. Tactical rifles are unrestricted, but machine guns are no-go, even in-compliance with federal law.
Minnesota is the quintessential Midwest state in which often visceral resistance to political change makes passing pro-gun legislation more difficult. Nonetheless, two omnibus pro-gun bills passed out of the legislature's respective chambers and were signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. Among the various provisions of these bills is a measure that allows Minnesota residents to own and hunt with suppressors in compliance with federal law. For now, Minnesota remains a middle-of-the-road state with a "shall issue" CCW system with few prohibited places enumerated by statute. Minnesota's use-of-force laws are strong, but CCW reciprocity is minimal. NFA laws are a bit of a mixed bag, with Curio and Relic (C&R) machine guns allowed along with SBRs.
Iowa placed 16th in G&A's last "Best States for CCW" ranking, with full recognition of out-of-state permits and strong use-of-force laws. Despite those strengths, the five-year retraining requirement for CCW and pistol permit to purchase hurt the state's score. Iowa's state law preempts municipalities from passing their own gun control regulations other than discharge ordinances. NFA items are essentially banned but for some narrow statutory exemptions. A bill to legalize suppressors died in the legislature this session with the Senate failing to act. Current law prohibits adults from teaching children under 14 to shoot a handgun, which doesn't exactly promote youth shooting sports such as the Scholastic Pistol Program.
A legislative committee defeated two bills that would have reversed some of Colorado's most stringent gun control laws this year, continuing the Californication of Colorado's gun laws. Magpul left the state in response to the 2013 magazine ban, which hardly helps the state in the miscellaneous column. Colorado's CCW remains a good one (with fees) with strong reciprocity and few prohibited locations, but the state's use-of-force laws could use some strengthening. All NFA items are allowed under state law. If you are a hunter, Colorado has lots going for it, and there is a strong network of competitive shooters in the state.
36. New Mexico
New Mexico is a "shall issue" CCW state, but it includes some odd provisions such as the maximum caliber a CCW holder can carry. Use-of-force laws are pretty weak in New Mexico, with no Castle Doctrine statute in effect. The state gets nine points in the NFA category, with no specific restrictions. The wide-open spaces of the state provide more shooting opportunities than most. The state places no restrictions on black rifles or magazines, and permits to purchase are not required for any flavor of firearm.
Things have gotten remarkably better for Ohio's gun owners since 2014. Residents have seen the passage of pro-gun legislation, and those laws have now taken effect. Suppressors are now legal for hunting, and CLEOs must sign NFA transfer forms, which makes the already good Class 3 category even stronger. Additionally, training for CCW permits was reduced from 12 hours down to eight. Ohio's CCW law has been changed to what is effectively a "full recognition" system, but the state does have a somewhat restrictive list of prohibited locations. The state enacted a Castle Doctrine law in 2008, but requires a particularly high burden of proof in the case of self-defense. An awkward definition of "automatic weapon" that created problems for certain firearms and magazines has been fixed, allowing for max points in the tactical rifle category.
Change comes slowly in the Cornhusker State. Getting any bills through Nebraska's unicameral is a challenge, and pro-gun bills are tougher than most. Passage of the state's CCW law took more than a decade, and things have improved slowly since that watershed event in 2006. State firearm preemption and "Stand Your Ground" bills are working their way through the legislature but have been carried over, and passage is a two-year prospect at best. Nebraska gets near-max points in the NFA category, and being the home to several shooting ranges and industry giants, including Cabela's and Hornady, gives this state some cultural points in the miscellaneous column. The use-of-force laws are relatively mediocre, and an antiquated permit to purchase a handgun system remains in effect decades after implementation of the NICS system.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation this year strengthening and modernizing the state's CCW permit process, which is good news for folks in Michigan. The state enjoys strong CCW reciprocity, but the list of prohibited locations cost it some points. Last year, both short-barreled rifles and shotguns became legal to own in Michigan, bringing the state up to near full points in the NFA bucket. Michigan's strong self-defense laws give it 10 points in the Castle Doctrine category, and Michigan's proud culture as a hunting state gives it a boost in the miscellaneous column.
Idaho is a strong state for gun owners, both culturally and legally. CCW permits are issued to both residents and nonresidents, and the state recognizes permits for every state that issues them. Holders of Idaho's "enhanced" CCW permit can actually carry on some college and university campuses, which is fairly rare nationally. The state cleaned up its CCW law this year, making it easier to interpret, and it lowered the fees. The Gem State places no restrictions upon tactical rifles or NFA items and has a ton of places to shoot. The only area where Idaho loses points is with its relatively weak use-of-force laws. Though case law establishes that there's no duty to retreat in the state, there's no such provision in state statute, which makes things a bit murky. The State of Idaho actually issues a Friends of the NRA license plate, destined to get a road-tripper pulled over in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a longtime friend of gun owners, signed an unprecedented eight pro-gun bills into law in 2015, making it a landmark year for gun owners in the Natural State. One of the bills removed the prohibition on carrying on private school property and shifts that decision to the schools themselves. Another provision allows active and former members of the military including those in the National Guard and Reserve to obtain a CCW at age 18. Immunity from civil damages for citizens who used deadly force appropriately improves the state's previously weak use-of-force law. Arkansas gets nine points in the NFA column and 10 in the tactical gun category.
Oklahoma's self-defense statute got a boost in 2014 when Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation allowing the use of deadly force to defend any person, not just a family member. The state has a "shall issue" permit system and recognizes permits from all other states. Oklahoma gets max points in the NFA category, as CLEOs must sign for transfers within 15 days, preventing de facto bans in certain municipalities. Oklahoma places no restrictions on tactical-looking firearms or magazines.
Maine is one of a few states in the Northeast that broke from the pack in regard to gun laws. Maine has a "shall issue" CCW permit system, and Gov. Paul LePage just signed a bill legalizing permitless carry in the state. Maine's law does allow permits to be denied for non-criminal activity, which costs it some points, and reciprocity isn't great for many visitors. The state's self-defense statutes leave something to be desired, but NFA items and black rifles are fair game. A "shall sign" bill requiring CLEOs to approve NFA applications is on the governor's desk awaiting his signature as this goes to print. The governor already signed a bill strengthening the state's reciprocity. Most of Maine is very rural and boasts a strong gun and hunting culture.
Oregon's "shall issue" CCW law ranked 38th in the U.S. but only because of poor reciprocity. The state has relatively strong use-of-force laws and preempts cities and towns from passing their own restrictions on gun owners. NFA items are legal as long as federal law is followed, and the state places no restrictions on tactical-looking firearms or magazines. The bad news is that a bill was just passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Kate Brown that will require background checks to be performed on firearm transfers among private individuals.
27. South Dakota
A "D" grade by the Brady Campaign on South Dakota's gun laws once prompted a request by a South Dakota state senator to say, "Find out what it takes to get an 'F,' and I'll pass it." To say that the state is welcoming to gun owners would be an understatement. That sentiment doesn't always prevail in the state's legislature, however. The senate failed to pass CLEO "shall sign" legislation for NFA transfers. The same senate committee also defeated a bill that would have abolished the permit requirement for carrying a concealed firearm. SD's current permit system ranked 19th in our last "Best States for CCW" survey, thanks to low fees and very few prohibited locations. The state does not restrict black rifles or NFA items, and self-defense laws are strong.
26. North Dakota
North Dakota finished 6th in the nation for its CCW laws in 2014, and it does well across the board for gun owners. Governor Jack Dalrymple has signed a stack of pro-gun bills in 2015, including one that requires CLEOs to sign for NFA transfers within 30 days. Another bill expanded the rights of CCW permit holders, and a third bill allows both employees and students of universities to store firearms in their vehicles on campus. North Dakota has strong use-of-force laws and places no unusual restrictions or purchase requirements on gun owners.
Life improved markedly for gun-owning Wisconsin residents when former Gov. Jim Doyle was replaced by Gov. Scott Walker. Wisconsin's hard-won CCW law gets good marks for strong reciprocity and very limited "gun-free zones." The state has a Castle Doctrine statute on the books and doesn't restrict NFA items or tactical-looking firearms. A bill to repeal the state's 48-hour waiting period on handgun purchases was recently signed by Gov. Walker, yet another step forward for gun owners. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is about as outspokenly pro-gun as it gets, which is a rare thing in a major metro area.
When it comes to gun laws, crossing the Memorial Bridge from D.C. to Virginia is about like passing westward through the Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War. Virginia has a well-ranked CCW law, and open carry is legal throughout the state, thanks to a strong preemption statute. NFA items are legal with the exception of the Striker 12 shotgun (which is classified as a "destructive device," according to the BATF), but Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed "shall sign" legislation relating to NFA transfers. Tactical-looking rifles may not be possessed by persons under age 18 in the Commonwealth, which costs it some points in that category.
Tennessee's generally strong gun laws got a little stronger this year with the passage of several pro-gun bills. A "shall sign" NFA bill requires CLEOs to approve transfers within 15 days, and the state does not restrict any NFA items. Tennessee's CCW law gets high marks, and a lifetime permit is now available, thanks to one of the aforementioned bills signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The Volunteer State has a strong Castle Doctrine statute, and black rifles and magazines are unrestricted. Beretta's decision to relocate operations to Tennessee along with the welcome mat thrown down for the NRA Convention by Nashvillians speak to a strong pro-gun culture.
Once a year, Nevada becomes the home of America's gun industry when the National Shooting Sports Foundation's SHOT Show rolls into town. Nevada's gun owners saw positive changes during 2015 with some major pro-gun victories taking place in the statehouse. Handgun registration is officially a thing of the past in Las Vegas, and Nevada's CCW reciprocity got a boost with the passage of a bill signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval that expands reciprocity to 23 states. The state's Castle Doctrine statute was also extended to include citizens' vehicles. Nevada does issue permits to nonresidents. As the world's most popular "machine gun tourism" spot, Nevada does not restrict NFA items. The state has good self-defense laws and does not restrict black rifles or magazine capacity.
21. West Virginia
NFA enthusiasts in West Virginia got a boost when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin autographed a "shall sign" bill in 2015 requiring CLEOs to approve NFA forms within 30 days unless the applicant is prohibited from owning the item in question. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed for permitless concealed carry. West Virginia ranks high in just about every category, with no restrictions on NFA items or tactical-looking firearms. The state's self-defense laws are good, and CCW reciprocity is broad.
Pennsylvania's biggest gun issue has always been the battle between gun owners and municipalities. Last fall, outgoing-Gov. Tom Corbett signed a strong preemption bill to ensure that gun laws are consistent across the Keystone State and allows groups such as the National Rifle Association to sue cities that defy state gun laws. A lawsuit against gun control ordinances in Philadelphia, Lancaster and Pittsburg was filed by the NRA in January. Preemption battles aside, Pennsylvania has a strong Castle Doctrine law, it doesn't restrict tactical firearms, and all NFA items are available.
19. North Carolina
A bill that would improve various gun laws in North Carolina is currently moving through the state legislature but is running short on time. The bill would remove the handgun permit requirement currently in statute as well as create a "shall sign" requirement for NFA transactions. Under current law, NFA items are allowed in North Carolina, but machine guns require a permit from the county sheriff, and there's nothing to guarantee that one will be granted. North Carolina recognizes CCW permits from all states, which is good news for visitors. The state has good use-of-force laws and does not place restrictions on tactical firearms.
Mississippi ranked 20th in G&A's survey of CCW laws for its wide reciprocity and strong Castle Doctrine statute, and the state's carry laws just got even stronger. A bill was recently signed into law that eliminates the CCW permit requirement for "off body" carry in purses, briefcases and similar containers. Permit fees are also reduced under the new law, and a separate bill signed by Gov. Phil Bryant assists veterans in obtaining CCW permits. Mississippi places no restrictions on tactical firearms, magazine capacity or NFA items. This survey isn't specifically about hunting, but a 2014 ballot initiative to guarantee the rights of hunters is a good harbinger of Mississippi residents' attitudes toward firearms. The measure passed with 88 percent of the vote.
Louisiana has a very strong "Stand Your Ground" statute and wide CCW reciprocity, which is good news, since your chances of being a crime victim in New Orleans are pretty decent. Louisiana does not restrict NFA items, and as of 2014, it allows suppressors to be used when hunting.
Indiana's CCW is among the strongest in the nation, with permits issued without training to residents and nonresidents for only $10 per year. If you're an open-carry kind of person, that's fine with the Hoosier State. The state recognizes permits from all other states, and the use-of-force laws get 8 out of 10 points. Short-barreled shotguns (SBSs) are now allowed under state law as of July 1, and no restrictions are imposed upon tactical firearms or magazine capacity.
At the stroke of Gov. Greg Abbott's pen, Texans can stroll around the entire Lone Star State with a gun openly carried starting on Jan. 1, 2016. CCW permits are issued to both residents and nonresidents, and the state has very good reciprocity. Carrying a long gun openly is already legal, as evidenced by the recent media attention on the subject. Texas has strong use-of-force laws, and all tactical-looking firearms and NFA items are welcome.
14. South Carolina
South Carolina gets max points for its Castle Doctrine statute, but its CCW laws could be better. The Palmetto State's reciprocity isn't great, and the list of locations where carrying isn't allowed is rather long. The reciprocity issues could have been addressed by the legislature this year but they failed to pass the bill in question, which was amended to contain permitless carry. Otherwise, South Carolina gets nearly top marks in every category, with no restrictions on what types of firearms can be owned or possessed in the state.
Georgia's strong gun laws got even stronger in 2014 when Gov. Nathan Deal signed a sweeping pro-gun bill. Georgia's use-of-force law is among the strongest in the nation, and cities such as Atlanta cannot regulate any aspect of gun ownership except for where a gun can be discharged. All NFA items are allowed in the state as long as federal law is complied with, and black rifles are unrestricted. Georgia will lose a bit of its gun culture cachet when Freedom Group moves Advanced Armament Corporation to Alabama this year, but Daniel Defense remains in Black Creek, and Polycase now manufactures ammunition near Savannah.
An effort to allow guns to be carried on college campuses in Florida was defeated when the Florida House of Representatives went home four days early this session. For many years, Florida's gun laws have been the envy of gun owners nationwide. The Sunshine State places no restrictions upon modern firearms, magazines or NFA items, and the state has a healthy competitive shooting network. Finding a place to shoot in the larger metropolitan areas was a challenge for many years, but the private sector has responded to the demand, and ranges can now be found in nearly every corner of the state.
Montana has legalized the use of suppressors when hunting. A bill that would have extended the rights of gun owners on college and university campuses was defeated in the house after making it through the senate, and Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill that would establish permitless carry across the state. Under current law, permitless carry is generally legal outside of the cities, but this bill would have extended that right from border to border. Montana has a model Castle Doctrine law and places no restrictions on semiautomatic firearms or NFA items. The gun culture in this state is as strong as it gets with one of the fastest-growing gun industry presences in the nation. The Flathead Valley around Kalispell is loaded with everything from custom-gun makers to innovative barrel manufacturers.
10. New Hampshire
A bill establishing permitless carry has passed out of both houses of the legislature in the Granite State, but a veto by Gov. Maggie Hassan is likely. New Hampshire finished eighth in our "Best States for CCW" review, so it still gets strong points for CCW laws. Permits to carry in New Hampshire are inexpensive, quick to obtain and enjoy good reciprocity. The state gets full points in the Castle Doctrine column and, unlike most of the Northeast, does not restrict tactical firearms, magazine capacity or NFA items. There's virtually no gun-related crime in New Hampshire, so it must be doing something right.
Missouri is one of those states that has done an about-face on its gun laws in the past several years. A ballot initiative affirming the Second Amendment rights of Missouri residents passed with more than 60 percent of the votes in August 2014. Known once as one of the last holdouts against CCW, the Show Me State is now ahead of the curve when it comes to gun rights. The state's CCW regs could be better, with lots of prohibited locations and high permit fees, but reciprocity is strong. Unfortunately, permits are only issued to residents. Missouri gets full points in the tactical gun category, and all NFA items are available as long as the ATF approves.
Kansas went from one of four states without a CCW statute in 2005 to one of few states approving permitless carry in 2015. What a difference 10 years and a pro-gun governor can make. Open carry has always been legal in Kansas, but local governments used to ban it by municipal ordinance. That's no longer true as of July 2014. CLEOs "shall sign" NFA forms within 15 days in Kansas, giving the state full points in the NFA column. Taxpayer-funded firearm "buyback" programs have also been banned by the state legislature. Under the leadership of strong pro-gun advocates such as Speaker of the House Ray Merrick, Kansas has become one of the strongest states for gun owners in the nation.
In 2014, Alabama residents voted overwhelmingly to adopt ballot initiatives to strengthen the right to keep and bear arms in the state as well as affirm the right to hunt. Alabama's economy got a boost as well, as the giant Remington Outdoor Group (formerly Freedom Group) is in the process of consolidating nearly all of its operations to one big facility in Huntsville. Sweet Home Alabama will now be home to one of the largest firearm industry operations in the nation. Obtaining a CCW permit is quick and easy and does not require training. Gov. Bentley just signed a bill into law repealing the state's antiquated pistol registration scheme as well as the overly restrictive pistol possession law for minors, which is great news for Alabama residents. Alabama's Castle Doctrine law is very strong, and no restrictions are placed on tactical firearms or NFA items. Competitive shooting is popular in most of the state, and the Civilian Marksmanship Program's range in Anniston is fantastic.
Wyoming probably has more guns than people, but that didn't stop a senate committee from gutting a bill that would have allowed for carry on all government property, including schools. As one of the states that allows for both permitted and permitless carry, the Cowboy State gets full points in the CCW category. The only thing that hurts Wyoming's score a bit is its use-of-force laws, which are good but not ideal. Wyoming has very few prohibited locations for carry and doesn't restrict any type of firearm or magazine. Its gun and hunting culture is about as good as it gets, as it is thus far unspoiled by massive numbers of transplants looking to love it to death (compare with Californians moving to and changing Colorado).
Kentucky has always done well in the gun rights rankings with statutes and a culture consistently friendly toward gun owners. The state gets full points for its Castle Doctrine law, and G&A last ranked it as number 11 nationally in CCW. Kentucky passed a bill this year modernizing some of the training standards for its CCW permits, making the process to obtain a permit potentially even easier. Kentucky has a CLEO "shall sign" law in place and gets full points in the tactical firearm column. With a strong 47 points, its score remains unchanged for 2015.
An effort to establish permitless carry in Utah failed this year when the senate bill died on the calendar in the house. Still, Utah's gun laws are very strong by national standards. Utah actually finished second in G&A's CCW lineup due to the totality of its CCW law. Utah recognizes permits from anywhere, its fees are low at $10 annually, and it issues permits to nonresidents. Utah requires CLEOs to sign for NFA items, and it places no restrictions on tactical-type firearms. Its self-defense statutes are a model for the nation, and the gun culture in the state is widespread.
What can you say about a state that basically has it all? Alaska allows you to carry with or without a permit, openly or concealed. You can own anything that the feds don't ban, and you have millions of acres of public land on which to shoot. Alaska doesn't compel CLEOs to sign for NFA items, but G&A knows of none who have refused to do so. Hunting in Alaska is world class, and it's the one state where carrying a gun is probably more likely to protect you from four-legged predators than from the more common two-legged variety.
If there were a category for most overrated state for gun owners, it would go to Vermont. Don't get us wrong; G&A loves the Green Mountain State for its gun laws (or lack thereof), but the culture of the state is not as pro-gun as many think. Vermont is increasingly being populated by New Yorkers, and many of those people would love to import the strict gun control laws that they were subject to in the ironically named Empire State. The Michael Bloomberg-backed mayor of Burlington, Miro Weinberger, has sought to impose his own gun control laws, and only the state's preemption law and a 7 to 1 vote by a house committee held his efforts at bay. A bill to create "universal" background checks as well as an attack on the state's preemption statute were defeated this session. Efforts to gut the state's range protection bill as well as a bill to effectively ban lead ammo failed before the legislature in 2015. It's hard to crown Vermont as the champion of all things good for gun owners with attacks like these happening on a regular basis. Vermont remains the sole state with only a permitless carry system, with no method of obtaining a permit for the purpose of reciprocity. On the bright side, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin just signed a bill legalizing suppressor possession and ownership in the state. The state also does well in each of the substantive categories listed, but we can't justify full points in the miscellaneous column.
Still the reigning champion, Arizona combines strong laws with an unmatched shooting culture and strong industry presence. An effort to strengthen the state's preemption law failed to make it out of the legislature this year, but a clarifying bill did pass, specifying that the transfer of firearms was immune from administrative or municipal regulation. Arizona gets full points in every category with both permitless and permitted carry, strong self-defense laws, a "shall sign" NFA statue and a thriving competitive shooting scene. Whether you're into ISPC-style shooting, 3-Gun, long-range rifles, Cowboy matches, shotgunning or just shooting machine guns in the desert, Arizona has everyone covered.
*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 July 2015.
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