THE BEST STATES FOR RESPONSIBLE GUN OWNERS

An Analysis of Gun Laws by State

Posted on April 2, 2021 in News

The Second Amendment provides all United States citizens with the basic right to bear firearms. However, this essential right to gun ownership has, unfortunately, come with a contentious debate of what it means to own a firearm in the United States. As gun violence and gun deaths have spiked in some states, this has led to local governments imposing more regulations regarding gun control – but this has also led to unnecessary, over-the-top restrictions on the vast majority of responsible, respectful gun owners.

Which states are the best for responsible gun owners? With help from data visualization agency 1Point21 Interactive, we analyzed each state’s comprehensive gun laws, culture, and sentiments to determine where responsible gun owners may find their liberties preserved by state law and oversight.

*This map is interactive.  Hover over each state to reveal each state’s Gun Friendly Index (GFI) score and its rank among the 50 states and D.C.

U.S. Gun Laws and Regulations: A State by State Look

*This table scrolls horizontally to reveal more information.

Rank State Waiting
Period?
Univ.
BG Checks?
Open
Carry
CCW Castle
Doctrine?
Gun
Bans?
Capacity
Limit?
1 Alaska None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
2 Arizona None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
3 Wyoming None None Yes Consitutional
carry
(residents only)
Stand Your
Ground
None None
4 Montana None None Yes Shall issue
(residents only)*
Stand Your
Ground
None None
5 Idaho None None Yes, but
no “body of men”
except under
specific circ.
Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
6 Oklahoma None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
7 Kentucky None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
8 Kansas None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
9 Missouri None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
10 Texas None None Yes for
long guns,
and handguns
(permit required,
only on shoulder
or belt holster)
Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
11 South Dakota None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
12 Utah None None Yes;
loaded firearms
require a CCW
Shall issue* Stand Your
Ground
None None
13 West Virginia None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
14 North Dakota None None Yes for
long guns,
and handguns
(unloaded only
during day,
all times if
CCW permit holder)
Constitutional
carry
(residents only)
Stand Your
Ground within
one’s vehicle
None None
15 Alabama None None Yes Shall issue
(residents only)*
Stand Your
Ground
None None
16 Tennessee None None Yes for
long guns
(unloaded),
Yes for handguns
(permit required)
Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
17 New Hampshire None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
18 Mississippi None None Yes for
long guns
Constitutional
carry
Stand Your
Ground
None None
19 Nevada None Yes –
all sales
Yes Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
20 Michigan None Yes
permit required
for handguns
Yes Shall issue
(residents only)
Stand Your
Ground
None None
21 New Mexico None Yes –
all sales
Yes Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
22 Indiana None None Yes for
long guns,
Yes for
handguns
(permit required)
Shall issue* Stand Your
Ground
None None
23 Georgia None None Yes for
long guns,
and handguns
(permit required)
Shall issue
(residents only)*
Stand Your
Ground
None None
24 Vermont None Yes –
all sales
Yes Constitutional
carry
No stand
your ground,
but no
duty to retreat
LCAM 10 rounds
for long guns;
15 for handguns
25 Arkansas None None Handguns not
allowed, except
under specific
circumstances
Shall issue* Castle Doctrine only None None
26 Iowa must acquire
permit, which
takes 3 days
to go into effect
Yes permit
required for
handguns only
Yes for long guns
(under specific
circumstances),
and handgun
(permit required)
Shall issue* Stand Your Ground None None
27 Nebraska None Yes permit required
for handguns only
Yes Shall issue Castle Doctrine
only
None None
28 Pennsylvania None Yes –
handguns only
Yes, except for
Philadelphia
(permit required)
Shall issue* Stand Your
Ground
None None
29 Illinois 72 hours Yes –
permit required
No Shall issue* Stand Your
Ground
None None
30 Florida 3 days
or time required
to complete
background check;
does not apply in
certain
circumstances
None No Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
31 Ohio None None Yes Shall issue Stand Your
Ground within
one’s vehicle
None None
32 North Carolina None, but it
may take 14 days
to receive a license
to purchase a
handgun
Yes permit
required for
handguns only
Yes Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
33 Minnesota 5 business days,
up to 7
depending on the
circumstances
None No for rifles
and shotguns,
Yes for handguns
(permit required)
Shall issue* Castle Doctrine
only
“Semiautomatic
military-style
assault weapon”
None
34 Louisiana None None Yes Shall issue
(residents only)
Stand Your
Ground
None None
35 Wisconsin None None Yes Shall issue Stand Your
Ground within
one’s vehicle
None None
36 South Carolina None None Yes for
long guns
Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
37 Oregon None Yes –
all sales
Yes Shall issue* Stand Your
Ground
None None
38 Virginia None Yes –
all sales
Yes Shall issue* Stand Your
Ground
Assault firearm
under certain
circumstances
None
39 Colorado None Yes –
all sales
Yes Shall issue
(residents only)*
Stand Your
Ground
LCAM 15 rounds
40 Delaware None Yes –
all sales
Yes May issue
(residents only)
Castle Doctrine
only
None None
41 Maine None None Yes Constitutional
carry
Castle Doctrine
only
None None
42 Washington 10 days
on “semiautomatic
assault rifles”;
10 days to complete
background check
Yes –
all sales
No, except under
specific circumstances
Shall issue Stand Your
Ground
None None
43 Maryland 7 days,
on “regulated
firearms”(handguns
and assault weapons)
Yes –
handguns only
Yes for
long guns,
and handguns
(permit required)
May issue Castle Doctrine
only
LCAM,
Assault weapon
10 rounds
44 Rhode Island 7 days Yes –
all sales
Yes for
long guns,
and handguns
(permit required)
Shall issue* Castle Doctrine
only
None None
45 Hawaii 14 calendar days;
does not apply in
certain circumstances
Yes – permit required Yes, with
a permit/license
May issue Castle Doctrine
only
LCAM,
Assault pistols
10 rounds
(handguns only)
46 Connecticut None Yes –
all sales
Yes for
long guns,
and handguns
(permit required)
May issue Castle Doctrine
only
LCAM,
Assault weapons
10 rounds
47 New Jersey 7 days for all handguns,
up to 30 days pursuant
to permit processing
Yes – all sales Yes for long guns
(relevant ID required),
and handguns
(permit required)
May issue Castle Doctrine
only
LCAM,
Assault firearms
10 rounds
48 California 10 days,
up to 30 days
pursuant to
DOJ approval
Yes – all sales All firearms
not allowed, loaded
or unloaded
May issue
(residents only)
Stand Your
Ground
LCAM,
Assault weapons
10 rounds
49 Massachusetts None Yes –
permit required
Yes, with a
permit/license
May issue Castle Doctrine
only
LCAM,
Assault weapon
10 rounds
50 New York None, but all
handgun owners
must obtain license,
which can take up
to six months
Yes – all sales Yes for
long guns only;
New York does
not issue licenses
for open possession
of handguns
May issue Castle Doctrine
only
LCAM,
Assault weapons
10 rounds
51 D.C. 10 days Yes –
all sales
No Shall issue Duty to
Retreat
LCAM,
Assault weapons
10 rounds

*CCW – Concealed Carry Weapons

LCAM –  Large-capacity ammunition magazines

Our Selection Process

We ranked all states in a proprietary Gun Friendly Index, calculated by assigning scores to multiple parameters and weighing them based on importance to gun owners. At the end, this was then weighted based on the overall culture and sentiment toward firearms in the state. The following parameters include:

Waiting period

Any prolonged period of time in which purchasers must wait from the point of purchase until they finally receive their firearm. These laws can vary to no waiting period whatsoever, to complex processes that are further extended by required registration, permit applications, interviews, and final governmental approval.

Universal background checks

Although federal law requires licensed dealers to conduct comprehensive background checks on those buying a firearm, the same law does not apply to unlicensed or otherwise private transactions. Universal background checks aim to bridge that gap by mandating background checks for all firearms purchasers – regardless of a licensed dealer. However, opponents of this say that universal background checks may often be overreaching – especially in gun-friendly states where private sales among close members of the community occur.

Right to carry

Laws for or against open carrying a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) are heavily weighed in our score. Although reasonable laws preventing open carry and CCW may prove effective in curbing gun violence, many of the stricter states pass reactionary legislation that is over-the-top, introducing restrictions and definitions that are often impractical or otherwise incredibly inconvenient.

Those states which enable open carry with little restrictions scored highly in our analysis. In addition, any states which practiced constitutional carry laws in regard to CCW also scored the highest.

Stand-your-ground laws

Also known as “no duty to retreat” law, these statutes enable people to use reasonable force in order to defend themselves or others in the face of unlawful force. This is in direct contrast to a “duty to retreat” law, in which a person must first exercise their right to retreat from a hostile situation as best as possible. Only when this retreat has failed can the person then exercise their self-defense rights. A variation of this statute is also known as the Castle Doctrine, a law that mandates that stand-your-ground principles are only applicable within your own personal premises.

In our study, those states which preserved a gun owners’ right to defend themselves scored the highest, and those that enforce duty to retreat laws scored lowest.

Any relevant bans/restrictions

Many states attempt to place excessive bans on specific types of firearms and firearm accessories in an attempt to restrict availability to irresponsible gun owners – but in doing so, can block access for all gun owners. This can include restrictions on the max magazine capacity of firearms, as well as a ban on large-capacity magazines.

In addition, any relevant bans on assault-type rifles were considered under these parameters as well. Those states which enforced minimal bans and restrictions scored the highest – while those who had strict restrictions and excessive, unreasonable definitions of assault weapons scored the lowest.

Overall gun culture

A state’s final scores were weighted based on the strength of gun culture within the state. This was determined by a few key factors:

  • The political leanings of the state
  • The general acceptance of guns in a state citizens’ everyday lives
  • The number of notable shooting ranges and hunting grounds within the state

In general, those states which ranked high in responsible gun ownership also had an established appreciation and reverence for firearms in their history.

The Best States for Responsible Gun Owners

The following five states scored the highest total in our proprietary Gun Friendly Index.

#1: Alaska GFI: 122.90

In our findings, Alaska was the best state in the country for responsible owners and operators of firearms. Aside from the basic federal laws regarding firearms regulation, there are little to no statewide regulations on gun ownership – with much of the discretion left to those who practice responsible gun use.

Alaska practices no waiting period to own a gun, no universal background checks, and no bans or restrictions on assault weapons or magazine capacity. In addition, Alaska allows open carry of all firearms, as well as constitutional carry privileges for those who wish to conceal carry.

Further, Alaska scores perfect marks on gun culture, primarily due to its widespread acceptance of firearms into the Alaskan way of life. In the state, guns are not a privilege but rather a tool that allows citizens to go about their normal way of life. Additionally, with much of Alaska being rural, guns empower citizens to protect themselves and their families.

#2: Arizona GFI: 119.26

Not far behind Alaska is Arizona, which ranked second in our analysis. Much like Alaska, Arizona has been entirely accepting of firearms as a part of the state’s culture, and its laws on firearms reflect that. Arizona trusts its citizens to do the right thing regarding firearms, putting the benefit of the doubt on gun owners to practice responsible measures through and through.

Much like Alaska, firearms in Arizona are a way of life, scoring full marks in culture. The only reason that Alaska remains in a higher position than Arizona is gun ownership; Alaska has the third-highest household percentage of gun owners in the country – approximately 65% of Alaska households own at least one gun. By contrast, only 46% of Arizona households report owning at least one gun.

 

Rural States Dominate the Best States for Responsible Gun Owners

According to our findings, those states which provided a more rural lifestyle certainly ranked as the best places for responsible gun owners. States that had more expansive countryside and promoted a more wide-open, freer way of life tended to not only have looser restrictions regarding gun ownership, but also less judgmental sentiments regarding gun ownership.

THESE STATES INCLUDE WYOMING, MONTANA, AND IDAHO, which filled in the top 5.

These states include Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, which filled in the top 5 – and all of which have incredibly progressive policies on gun freedom and ownership. In all three, all gun owners are allowed to open or conceal carry without any license restrictions – all at their own personal discretion. Wyoming and Montana in particular had the highest percentage of gun owners in the country, with 66.2% and 66.3%, respectively.

Additionally, although both Montana and Idaho had stricter laws on paper regarding conceal carry provisions, they are more of a formality at best – and not subject to the same complex scrutiny and long-winded procedures as some of the coastal states.

Beyond conceal carry laws, there is not much that could be improved in these rural states regarding gun ownership for responsible operators – and ranking them is arguably splitting hairs on states that all treat firearms owners exceptionally well.

The Worst States for Responsible Gun Owners

The worst states for responsible gun owners are not much of a surprise; they are states that arguably implement too much governmental overreach with not much consideration to context or circumstances. Although there is a concern in unfit citizens securing firearms, in many of these states, strict practices and restrictions are implemented without consideration of those who may be genuinely responsible as gun owners. They are often subject to waiting periods that may be longer than anticipated, with bureaucratic oversight and red tape that can make securing even a home defense weapon an inconvenient hassle.

The worst state for responsible gun owners is New York by a large margin.

The worst state for responsible gun owners is New York by a large margin. This is not only due to the restrictions that the state implements in its laws, but also in the limitations that even responsible gun owners are subject to after qualifying for a gun purchase. This is especially true in the case of handguns; rifles and shotguns, by contrast, have very little restrictions in regard to possession, registration, permit to purchase, and license to carry.

Possession of a handgun in New York requires a permit to purchase, license to carry, and registration of the firearm before it is transferred to your possession. Further, New York issues different types of carry licenses based on specific factors. Although this is intended to restrict the unauthorized use of handguns, it arguably implements unreasonable limitations on reasonable gun owners. For example, a license may be issued to those who wish to possess a handgun within their own dwelling – but only within their dwelling. Other licenses may allow you to possess and carry at your place of business – but only if there is reasonable cause, and not necessarily in an unrestricted concealed basis.

New York receives further scrutiny for its draconian restrictions within New York City itself. NYC has laws that are considerably stricter than the state laws, with more stringent restrictions – and an application process that is unreasonably longer than most other states. In fact, a permit or license application in NYC can take upwards of six months to process – essentially half a year to obtain a firearm you may have already paid for.

This unreasonable stigma toward gun ownership is reflected in the state’s culture; although there are pockets of the state where possessing a firearm is celebrated, the culture in general looks to firearms as a dangerous nuisance rather than a useful tool in responsible hands.

 

Other states which are not recommended for responsible gun owners includes:

#49 Massachusetts GFI: 20.61

Ranked second worst state, Massachusetts arguably has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Compared to other states, permitting and gun registration is taken very seriously. In most states, permitting occurs at a gun store as part of the purchasing process. By contrast, Massachusetts requires prospective firearms owners to apply for a permit at the local police department. In addition, even if you do pass the checks, the police chief at the department has the ability to deny you at their own discretion.

Although this may be a contributor to the relatively low number of gun death rates in the state, it has also resulted in the lowest gun ownership rates in the country. The result is a state where gun culture is nearly nonexistent – and gun owners may find themselves feeling singled out and subject to unfounded scrutiny.

#48 California GFI: 24.06

Much like Massachusetts and New York, a permit is required to purchase a firearm in California, and the application process is equally lengthy. The state has implemented a standard waiting period of 10 days for an application to be approved. However, at any point the state Department of Justice may intervene and extend the process up to 30 days. Open carry of all firearms is not allowed in California, loaded or unloaded – and although it is a “may issue” state regarding CCW, its selective processes make that permit incredibly difficult to obtain.

Although California does have a rich past celebrating gun culture, the significant swing toward liberal policies throughout the state (as well as an incredible rise in gang violence in its inner city) has given firearms a stigma in the state that it may not recover from.

#47 New Jersey GFI 24.18

The Garden State implements much of the same laws as its East Coast neighbors, Massachusetts and New York. Handgun permitting requires passing an extensive application process by a local police chief or State Police superintendent, and obtaining a carry permit for a handgun is increasingly rare, if not impossible, with recent legislation tightening requirements for a carry permit.

Washington, D.C. is Not Gun-Friendly – But That May Be Changing

Although the District of Columbia ranks incredibly low in our findings on the basis of its laws, it is important to mention that the general culture in the nation’s capital may be changing. Prior to 2008, most residents of Washington, D.C. were completely prohibited from possessing firearms both in their homes and in public. However, in 2008, a Supreme Court decision declared that all citizens had an individual right to gun ownership. In addition, a 2017 court decision struck down a city law that required prospective gun owners to present a compelling, “good reason” to carry a firearm outside their dwelling.

As a result, there have been a significant increase in both the purchase of firearms and the approval of conceal carry permits in the state. In March 2020 alone, more than 4,000 people were given gun permits from the police department.

In March 2020 alone, more than 4,000 people were given gun permits from the police department.

Although the permitting process is still relatively exhaustive, like most of the states that join D.C.’s lower ranks, this easing of restrictions may be a hopeful beginning of more empowerment in responsible gun owners – a change in the tide for general sentiment of guns in the nation’s capital. As time goes on, this change in sentiment may hopefully trickle down to other states which have expressed displeasure at gun ownership as a whole.

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