For an alternate viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: More Guns Don’t Equal More Crime.”
Following an alarming national spike in violent crime over the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, in 2023, we saw the largest one-year decline in murder rates in modern U.S. history. However, this remarkable drop hasn’t been felt evenly across the country — and states with the weakest gun laws are seeing the least progress.
If we want to avoid needless death and devastation like our nation has already experienced this new year, we’ve got to follow the data and pass stronger gun safety laws in every state.
We’re an increasingly divided country, and not just politically. Analyzing 2023 Gun Violence Archive data shows firearm homicides fell much faster in states with the strongest gun laws, while states with the weakest gun laws saw marginal improvements to public safety, if any. Of the 300 largest U.S. cities, those in states with the strongest gun laws experienced 19.4 percent fewer gun homicides in 2023 compared to the previous year, while cities in states with the weakest gun laws saw only 5.1 percent fewer gun homicides.
When it comes to gun violence, we’re now seeing two different scenarios play out. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio recently passed permitless carry laws, meaning that in most U.S. states, almost anyone can now carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit. On this side of America, such laws are resulting in increased violent crime, firearm robberies and mass shootings while also making it harder for law enforcement to solve cases. Still, some elected officials continue to buy the gun lobby lie that more guns make us safer, putting politics over people.
On the other side of America, states that already have strong gun laws are continuing to bolster their public health approach to gun safety. Last year, Illinois passed an assault weapons ban, New York increased access to victim compensation and services for gun violence survivors, and Maryland now requires gun owners to secure their firearms around children.
Elections matter — this past year Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed key gun bills into law after voters elected gun safety majorities in both legislative chambers.
Strong gun laws save lives. Not a single state that received an A grade for gun law strength from the Giffords Law Center last year saw an increase in their gun homicide rate in 2023. Colorado saw a 19 percent reduction in gun homicides last year. Rather than become complacent, the state legislature passed additional life-saving laws, including raising the minimum age to purchase guns, enacting waiting periods, and increasing access to justice for survivors. Colorado was the most improved state on Giffords gun law rankings, moving from a B to an A-minus.
Conversely, Mississippi suffered a 13 percent increase in gun homicides in 2023. Yet, the legislature passed dangerous laws incentivizing teachers to carry guns in schools and preventing agencies from maintaining gun records.
The disparity deepens further in cities since many have established local offices and leveraged federal funds to invest in community violence intervention programs. Chicago, Milwaukee, New York and Philadelphia invested heavily in violence prevention, and these efforts coincided with double-digit declines in 2023. Of the 10 cities with the biggest year-to-year declines in gun homicide rates, seven are in states with a gun law grade of A-minus or higher.
Still, gun violence remains higher overall than before the pandemic hit — and there are significant threats to these hard-fought gains. Our extreme right-wing Supreme Court could roll back critical state and federal gun laws that have protected American lives for decades, like the ability to disarm domestic abusers and regulate machine guns. States with progressive gun violence reduction programs need to follow California’s lead and get creative when it comes to funding these vital programs to avoid a dangerous fiscal cliff when American Rescue Plan Act funds expire.
The data clearly demonstrate that strong gun safety laws save lives when we’re willing to invest in them — yet some states still stubbornly cling to the false idea that looser gun laws mean more safety. A historic drop in violence now presents America with an opportunity to spearhead a holistic national approach to curbing gun violence. Still, we need every state to get on board and invest in gun safety for gains to be felt evenly. As 2024 has already shown, we can’t afford to wait any longer.