Anti-gun violence advocacy gathered momentum in the wake of the Newtown massacre as state legislatures across the country enacted stronger gun control measures this year, including some with historically weak gun laws, according to a new analysis by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The organization’s “2013 State Scorecard: Why Gun Laws Matter” found that 21 states enacted new laws to curb gun violence in their communities and eight states passed major reforms, including more stringent background checks on all gun sales.

“There is no doubt that gun laws matter to the safety of our communities,” Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. “Our new research shows how smart gun laws can play a significant role in protecting citizens from gun violence…. nd after a tragedy as horrific as Newtown, we are proud to see the states taking huge strides to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”

The state scorecard ranked all 50 states by letter grade and a 100-point system after evaluating them based on 30 policy approaches to reducing gun violence. States received points for having effective laws in each policy area, including background checks on gun sales, reporting lost or stolen firearms, and prohibiting dangerous people from purchasing weapons. States lost points for measures that increase the likelihood of gun violence, such as laws that allow individuals to carry loaded, concealed weapons in public without a permit.

California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and New York topped the list of states with stringent gun violence prevention laws, according to the scorecard. Each of the five received an A- grade; no state received an A+.

In 2013, for example, Maryland enacted the Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which included a fingerprint licensing provision among other approaches.

In addition to Maryland’s comprehensive new law, five states passed new laws requiring background checks on all gun sales, four states approved provisions requiring owners to report lost or stolen firearms to police, three states enacted laws aimed at strengthening record-keeping and background check requirement for ammunition sales, four states strengthened existing restrictions on military-style assault weapons and five states added or strengthened existing restrictions on large capacity ammunition magazines.

Advocates said state-enacted gun control measures were critical given Congress’ failure to pass any new national gun violence prevention legislation, including a popular measure to expand background checks. Federal law currently requires background checks only for sales by a licensed gun dealer. That means that guns purchased at gun shows and online, which account for roughly 40 percent of all gun sales, do not have to go through a federal background check, making it easier for criminals to skirt the law.

“States have clearly led where Congress has failed, and passed gun measures that will save lives,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. “States with expanded Brady background checks have seen 38 percent fewer women killed by their husband or intimate partner.”

But states’ efforts must be matched by the federal government for gun violence prevention methods to be truly effective, activists said.

“We know state gun laws fill critical gaps in our federal law, but there is still work to be done when anyone can go to a neighboring state and evade Maryland’s critical gun measures,” Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders To Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. “That is why we need Congress to finish the job and extend background checks to all gun sales.” 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO