One of the great things about federalism is that it decentralizes power and makes concentrating power over all citizens more difficult. It enables wiggle room for regional differences, and keeps the lawmaking process closer to the citizens living in those areas.
Laws will, to come degree, reflect the mores of the people in particular areas; that is, the habits of the heart. One need only look at states like California and New York vs Tennessee and Georgia to see that regions greatly differ in their tastes and habits.
In America, one of the most diverging cultural norms involves firearms and laws regulating firearms. So naturally, the states with a strong gun culture will not be inclined to pass stringent gun laws because the culture would not allow such. The results is a great deal of divergence in gun laws across the country, with some states being very good, and others being very, very bad.
Guns and Ammo magazine has ranked each of the states and District of Columbia for how good/bad their respective gun laws are. Among the various criteria the magazine used to rank the states were right to carry laws, regulation of “black rifles,” NFA rules, castle doctrines, and other miscellaneous items such as state preemption.
There is plenty I could discuss on each of these states, but I’ll just discuss the bottom 3 and the top three.
51. District of Columbia
In the District of Columbia, the city council has made legal firearms ownership exceedingly difficult. The city had a complete handgun ban that lasted from 1976-2008. They have since continued to make all gun ownership rather burdensome for the regular folks in their city. They have been forced to enact a shall-issue concealed handgun licensing policy by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but getting one is still an onerous process.
Magazines may not exceed 10 rounds in capacity, and all firearms must be registered with the Metro PD. There are no gun stores in the District, nor any shooting ranges. The District also has a “handgun roster” of approved handguns that may be legally owned, like California and Maryland. Needless to say, doing things legally in D.C. is rather frustrating.
50. New York
I grew up in New York, so I am all too familiar with the state’s gun laws. Things got especially restrictive after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2013, as the legislature passed knee-jerk legislation (SAFE Act) in the middle of the night that banned effectively all AR-style rifles, and instituted various other restrictions, such as a ban on purchasing ammunition online.
New York maintains a “may-issue” concealed handgun licensing system, and local jurisdictions have a great deal of deference granted to them on whether or not to grant that permit; some are permissive, others de facto no carry. In places like New York City and Long Island, forget about getting a carry license unless you have political connections, or actually have documented threats against your life (still very rare).
All handguns must be registered, and no one may possess a handgun without a pistol permit, which in some places can take a year or a year and a half to be issued. Costs for pistol permits in places like Nassau County on Long Island can be $200, pricing many people out of the possibility of buying a handgun. Rifles and shotguns are not required to be registered, nor do they require licensing except in NYC (though rifle selection is extremely limited). No magazines over 10 rounds are legal unless grandfathered in from before the SAFE Act in 2013.
Massachusetts is similar to New York with their restrictions on magazine capacity and on AR-style rifles. Their “assault weapon” ban from 1998 was expanded by the Attorney General in 2016 to be more expansive in its scope, and is the subject of litigation in the courts.
The Commonwealth issues carry licenses on a may-issue basis, but actually getting one in most areas of the state is actually feasible. Their training requirements are rather high and the bureaucracy is tedious as well. The state has an approved handgun roster list, and mandates a 10 lb trigger pull on handguns sold to individuals from dealers.
48. New Jersey
43. Rhode Island
37. New Mexico
32. South Dakota
26. North Carolina
24. South Carolina
15. New Hampshire
13. West Virginia
7. North Dakota
Kansas over the years has become a rather fantastic state for gun owners. Especially in the past 5 years, many new laws have been passed that protect residents’ right to bear arms. One of the biggest changes in recent years was the institution of permitless carry back in 2015, and extension of that right to public buildings, and even those on college campuses.
There are no restrictions on AR-style rifles, magazine capacity, NFA items, or any other kind of firearms you’d like to have as able to under federal law. The state has strong castle doctrine and stand your ground protections, and offers civil immunity for people who use firearms in self-defense against criminals.
In the great state of Alaska, residents have been able to carry a handgun without a permit for years. The state was one of the first to begin the renaissance of permitless carry laws that are now enacted in over a dozen states. The state almost passed a campus carry bill, but it never got to the governor’s desk.
There are no state restrictions on AR-style rifles, magazine capacity, or NFA items (the CLEO signature requirement for NFA items has been repealed). There is plenty of hunting ground in the state, and many places to shoot. Alaska is truly one of the best states for gun owners, but it is only beat out by one U.S. state in the west.
The desert state of Arizona is an oasis of personal freedom when it comes to firearms ownership. The laws regarding gun ownership just keep getting better every year, it seems. Back in 2010, Arizona removed the permit requirement to carry a concealed handgun, and this year Governor Doug Ducey signed into law a strong preemption law that prevents anti-gun local jurisdictions from regulating guns more restrictively than the state does.
The state has very strong castle doctrine and stand your ground laws, and does not restrict citizens from owning AR-style rifles, NFA items, or magazines. The state also has some good hunting grounds as well. It’s truly the best for gun lovers.
*Note on Virginia: As a resident of this Commonwealth, I would rank Virginia higher than the place where it is at here. Virginia has very strong self-defense laws like castle doctrine and stand your ground provisions as per Virginia Supreme Court rulings. AR-style rifles are not restricted, nor is magazine capacity.
One may carry a handgun openly without a permit at age 18, and concealed handgun permits are issued on a shall-issue basis. The state also accepts all permits from other states. In certain incorporated cities, one cannot carry a rifle openly with a magazine over 20 rounds without a CHP, but I’ve yet to see any instance of that being an issue.
I’d probably put my home state in the top 20 right now. Though we will have an important fight over the next couple of years as there is another Democratic governor, and razor tight margin in the House of Delegates and Senate.