Best States For Gun Owners In 2017
Written by Guest Article / Contributor , in Section Truth About Gun Control
Over the past five years, we at Guns and Ammo have done our best to aggregate and analyze the gun laws of all fifty states and the District of Columbia. During this short window of time, we have watched the efforts of pro-gun groups in the states unfold into an increasingly-positive statutory landscape for gun owners. With the exception of a handful of states in the Northeast and on the West Coast, things are getting better rather than worse when it comes to state gun laws in the U.S.
Not everyone agrees with our rankings and, due to the complexity of these issues, it is impossible to rank the states with absolute precision in an article of this size— a line-by-line study of the gun laws of every state would fill many volumes of this magazine and would put you quickly to sleep. Whether or not you agree with our methodology, rest assured that we do our very best to approach this effort objectively and without bias. We have used the same basic ranking system for all previous editions of “Best States for Gun Owners” and have maintained it in our 2017 survey as it continues to be the best and most equitable method we can envision. As states become increasingly pro-gun, the ranking process has become more and more difficult which is a good problem to have.
As in years-past, each state has been ranked numerically in each of five categories: Right-To-Carry (RTC), access to “Black Rifles” (i.e., firearms possessing a tactical appearance), the presence and strength of a Castle Doctrine law, subjects relating to the National Firearms Act (NFA) and a catchall Miscellaneous column. The sum of these categories represents the state’s score; the higher the score, the better.
Right-to-Carry At this time last year, every state in the Union had some provision by which to obtain a carry permit or allowed for concealed carry with no permit whatsoever. Unfortunately, the authorities in Hawaii have announced that they will no longer be issuing carry permits. At this point, 49 states allow for concealed carry of a “weapon” (CCW), though many of them rarely issue permits to ordinary citizens. This category is evaluated using the criteria applied in our “Best States for CCW” rankings: standard for issuance, training requirements, cost, reciprocity and the extent of locations where licensees are prohibited from carrying. “May issue” states that rarely issue permits are graded accordingly and can receive 1-6 points, depending on the standard review factors. “Shall issue” states, states that require that a permit be issued so long as the applicant is qualified, are given 6-8 points. States with legal permitless or “constitutional” carry are given 9 points, whereas states that both issue permits and allow citizens to carry without one are given a full 10-point score. States that issue permits and allow for permitless carry for residents only are given 9.5 points. “Open carry” statutes are used as a tiebreaker of sorts and also factor into the miscellaneous column. This has been the most active category in 2017 with numerous states either considering or enacting permitless carry laws.
Black Rifles In the 1980s and 90s, states began restricting the ownership of semiautomatic firearms, often based on their appearance. These “assault weapon” laws often require registration of certain firearms and, in some states, ban ownership altogether. While some states have actually rolled-back these restrictions, some of the less-friendly states for gun owners have become even more restrictive in recent years. We use this category to rate whether a state regulates any category of firearm by its features or limits the capacity of magazines.
NFA 26 U.S. Code, Chapter 53 is a federal statute known as the National Firearms Act (NFA). This law has regulated the sale, transfer and possession of machine guns, suppressors, short-barreled rifles (SBR), short-barreled shotguns (SBS), Any Other Weapons (AOW), and Destructive Devices (DD) since its enactment in 1934. This federal statute allows states to further restrict these items (we use the term “items” since suppressors are not firearms but are covered under the NFA) and some states ban their ownership altogether or piecemeal; we rank each state based on a sliding scale of regulations. Our grading in this category will change a bit since the CLEO signature requirement for NFA ownership has been deleted by a regulatory change made by BATFE. Instead of 9 points going to states that do not restrict NFA items beyond Federal law, 10 points will be awarded.
Castle Doctrine The term “Castle Doctrine” is often used to describe a spectrum of use-of-force laws, many of which relate to a citizen’s duty to retreat before the use of deadly force is authorized. These laws relate to both self-defense and the defense of others, and vary wildly. States are ranked by how well they protect a citizen’s right to use force, up to and including deadly force, both inside and outside of their homes. Best-case scenario is a state that allows the use of force wherever a person has a legal right to be and protects that citizen from both criminal and civil liability if appropriate force is used. This is a complicated area of law and can lead to many gray areas, but we did our best to rank the states as fairly as possible.
Miscellaneous This is the toughest category in which to award points and is, quite honestly, the most subjective. This column encompasses everything from preemption statutes (or lack thereof) to culture, from the availability of places to shoot to the frequency of matches in a given state. One could play with this category a bit and change our results significantly, especially once we reach the top 20.
51. Washington DC
Last year we reported that the “Good reason to fear injury to person or property” requirement of DC’s concealed carry permit application had been struck down by a Federal Court; that’s the good news. The bad news is that a stay has been issued to prevent that ruling from going into effect. But wait, there’s more. During the development of this article, the U.S. Court of Appeals entered an injunction against D.C.’s current (and highly-restrictive) CCW law. It’s too soon to know what the net effect will be for gun owners, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Despite rumors to the contrary, there are still no gun stores or public ranges open in the District. DC requires that all firearms be registered and both black guns and magazines that exceed 10 rounds are illegal. DC has adopted the California, Maryland and Massachusetts rosters of “drop safe” guns so, if a handgun isn’t eligible for purchase in those states, you can’t have it in DC either. No NFA items are allowed according to the Metro Police Department and firearms chambered in .50 BMG are also prohibited.
50. New York
The April, 2017 indictment of four individuals in-connection with a bribery scheme involving the NYPD’s Licensing Division is probably a surprise to no one and is a classic example of the corruption potential of “may issue” CCW laws. Getting a permit in NY is hit or miss and going into “The City” requires a separate permit that you apparently have to bribe someone to obtain. Magazines are restricted to ten-rounds (the seven-round restriction was struck down by the courts) and all NFA items are banned—an effort to exempt suppressors died in the state Senate this year. Although a legitimate gun culture exists Upstate, New York politics remain dominated by NYC and its suburbs. There is a reason that firearm manufacturers have fled the Empire State.
Last year, the Massachusetts Attorney General expanded the state’s 1998 “assault weapon” ban to include an extensive list of previously-legal firearms. Pro-gun groups have filed suit to challenge this “enforcement notice” but the ban remains in-effect. Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering a bill that would life the state’s ban on suppressor ownership but that effort faces a tough road. Massachusetts has a “may issue” CCW permit system but some permits are actually issued, unlike some states. There is a magazine capacity restriction of ten rounds in state law.
48. New Jersey
Life for gun owners got just a little bit better in 2017 thanks to Governor Chris Christie. The administration implemented a recommendation that will better define the “need” requirement of the Garden State’s “may issue” CCW law. Up until now, it was virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen to obtain a permit in New Jersey and the state does not recognize the permits of any other jurisdiction. Permits, known as FIDs, are required to purchase firearms and there is no right to bear arms in the state’s constitution. Technically, full-autos and certain AOWs are legal in New Jersey but ownership requires approval from the state and, well, good luck with that. Suppressors, SBRs and SBS are banned altogether. The state has a partial Castle Doctrine statute in-place.
Hawaii has taken a step backward in the CCW department as they have stopped issuing permits altogether. The state’s “may issue” standard was already extremely-strict but now a de facto ban is in-place. Hawaii has a 10-round limit on magazines and all NFA firearms and accessories are banned for civilian ownership despite an effort to legalize suppressors during the 2017 Legislative Session. The good news is that a strong hunting culture exists in Hawaii with huntable populations of game animals (mostly non-native species such as feral hogs and axis deer) everywhere from the Big Island all the way to Niihau.
Just when you thought the gun laws in California couldn’t get any worse, the state implemented one of the strictest black rifle bans in the nation on January 1. What was a very restrictive state for gun owners to live in has become outright hostile. If you didn’t obtain and register your semi-auto rifle before the deadline (which was extended by six months) you became an instant criminal. Magazines containing more than ten rounds were banned and cannot even be possessed—there’s no grandfathering of previously-legal mags. Read that again, America. It is one thing to deprive someone of their right to purchase something, it is another thing altogether to make someone a criminal overnight. I predict a spike in second homes in Nevada for plenty of California residents. Getting a CCW permit ranges from reasonable to almost impossible depending on which county you reside in and suppressors are illegal.
The good news in Connecticut for 2017 is that the legislature adjourned without doing any damage to the rights of gun owners. CT has one of the more-reasonable “may issue” CCW systems out there, permits are actually issued, so it gets five points in that category. The Castle Doctrine/use-of-force laws are fairly strong and suppressors are legal. The state’s “assault weapons” ban is strict and magazine capacity is limited—previously owned mags that hold more than ten rounds had to be registered and are now unobtainable.
Despite Baltimore’s endemic violence, obtaining a permit to protect oneself in Maryland is all but impossible. To make matters worse, applicants have to go through the training process before they can even determine whether they are eligible for a “wear and carry” permit. The mere purchase of a handgun in Maryland requires a permit and registration is required. Unlike neighboring Virginia, black rifles are restricted. Suppressors are legal for both possession and hunting in-accordance with Federal Law.
43. Rhode Island
A “domestic violence” bill that would deprive gun owners of due process is poised to become law in Rhode Island as the state’s legislative session nears its end. Fewer than ½ of 1% of Rhode Island residents have permits to carry which are available through both state and local authorities— 98% of applications submitted are approved, according to the latest data. There are no limits on magazine capacity in the Ocean State but there is no legal means of obtaining NFA items. Waiting periods are required on all firearm purchases and places to shoot are few and far-between. Citizens in Rhode Island have a duty to retreat when attacked outside of their homes which costs the state points in the Castle Doctrine category.
Hunting opportunities don’t play heavily into these rankings, if at all, but Delaware ended its outright ban on Sunday hunting this year with a handful of Sundays per-season now open. Carry permits are issued to residents for “particularized need” but the state does recognize permits from 20 other states. Black guns and magazines are unrestricted by state law, earning the state full marks in that category. Both full-auto firearms and suppressors are illegal for civilian ownership but Short-Barreled Rifles and Any Other Weapons are permitted. The state does have a preemption statute which protects gun owners from overzealous local governments.
“Permitless carry” bills were filed in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature this year but neither bill advanced. As we commented in last year’s rankings, Minnesota is probably the spot in this list where gun owners can live without unreasonable interference from the state. From this point forward in our rankings, states have shall-issue CCW laws and no restrictions on magazine capacity. Minnesota’s CCW permit allows for both concealed an open carry and also serves as a permit to purchase handguns and certain semi-auto rifles. Suppressors are allowed per federal law as are SBRs. Machine guns and short-barreled shotguns must be registered as Curio & Relic which means that the pool of available firearms is limited. Minnesota has a firearms preemption law and a strong hunting tradition.
Illinois gets a bad rap among gun owners thanks to its largest city but the rest of the state’s gun laws aren’t as restrictive as many would assume. Guns & Ammo’s offices are located in Peoria, in the state’s center. Illinois became the last state in the nation to implement a concealed carry statue in 2013, subject to a court order. There is no reciprocity but non-resident permits are available. Outside of Chicago and a few of its suburbs, black rifles and magazines are unrestricted. The state’s legislature nearly passed a bill this session that would have placed onerous requirements on gun dealers so it’s not all peaches and cream. Illinois is pretty-much a no go when it comes to NFA items—only two points are awarded in that category. A $10 state police-issued FOID (Firearm Owner’s Identification) card is required to purchase or possess a firearm in the state.
For the second year in a row, the Colorado Legislature failed to advance a bill that would have repealed the 2013 statute restricting magazine capacity to 15-rounds. That arbitrary limit costs the state key points in the Black Rifle category. Colorado’s CCW law earns the state 7 points and it gets full points in the NFA column. Colorado has a strong competitive shooting tradition and some fantastic range facilities—some of the pioneer matches of both the 3-gun and long-range precision rifle sports got their start on the state’s open landscape. 1911 builder extraordinaire Stan Chen makes his home in Durango.
Bills that would have restricted magazine capacity and banned many semi-automatic rifles were defeated during this year’s legislative session and the state made some common-sense revisions to the state’s ill-fated ban on private transfers which passed on the 2014 ballot. The state gets full points in the Black Rifle column but both machine guns that and short-barreled shotguns are banned (machine guns owned and registered before July, 2004 are grandfathered-in and remain legal). Washington has strong use-of-force laws in place.
37. New Mexico
New Mexico’s CCW law has been around for many years and could use some updating. Bloomberg’s anti-gun group made an effort to pass a bill that would have effectively banned private transfers but, fortunately, that effort was defeated. The state gets full points in both the Black Rifle and NFA categories but loses points thanks to a weak use-of-force statute. If you are looking for a place to shoot, NRA’s Whittington Center in Raton is a gun owner’s paradise. This state holds a special place in my heart as the filming location for John Milius’ Red Dawn, one of the most pro-gun movies of all time.
Iowa leapt two points forward in our rankings this year thanks to an omnibus pro-gun bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Branstead. This bill improves the state’s Right-To-Carry statute, enacts protections for gun owners during declared emergencies, legalizes Short-Barreled Rifles and removes a citizen’s duty to retreat outside the home. Iowa issues CCW permits on a shall-issue basis and recognizes the permits of all other states. Iowa has gone from a so-so state to a very pro-gun state in just a few years, especially since Republicans took over the majority in the state’s senate.
Nebraska is one of the most difficult states in the country to pass legislation in, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of the state’s Unicameral Legislature—I spent three years there as an NRA lobbyist during the fight for Right-To-Carry. Pro-gun forces moved the ball forward on an important Firearms Preemption Bill this year when they moved the bill passed its first (of three) floor votes. This bill will carry-over to the 2018 Session where, hopefully, it will make its way to the Governor’s desk. City ordinances in Omaha and Lincoln prevent the state from gaining full points in the Miscellaneous column; the preemption bill would address those local rules. Nebraska’s CCW law, which was signed by Governor Dave Heineman in 2006, earns the state 7 points. There are no restrictions on magazines or Black Rifles and NFA items remain unrestricted.
A broad anti-gun bill before the Oregon Legislature was defeated this year but a bill that raises serious due process concerns for gun owners made its way to the Governor’s desk. Oregon requires background checks for private transfers but does not restrict Black Rifles, NFA items or magazine capacity. Here’s hoping that Oregon’s gun laws don’t creep in the direction of its neighbor to the south but the state’s politics suggest that is a real possibility.
Critical preemption bills have passed both houses of the Keystone State’s legislature but one of them must pass through the other chamber before it can be enacted. Passage of one of these bills would hopefully end the ongoing fight between the Pennsylvania Legislature and anti-gun municipalities. Another bill, which would allow school employees to carry concealed firearms with the permission of the local school board, has passed out of the Senate. Pennsylvania issues CCW permits on a shall-issue basis and does not restrict Black Rifles, magazines, or NFA items. PA’s Castle Doctrine law is a strong one, with no duty to retreat regardless of location.
32. South Dakota
This is the point in our survey where we really start splitting hairs to differentiate the states. The South Dakota legislature passed a bill this year that would have legalized permitless carry but that bill was vetoed by Governor Daugaard. Open carry without a permit is already legal in the state and the existing CCW statute earns it 8 points. The state does not restrict the ownership of any firearms, gaining it full points in the Black Rifle and NFA categories. The state has a very pro-gun culture and earns near max points in the miscellaneous column. The only category preventing South Dakota from ranking in the top 20 is the state’s use-of-force laws which hurt it significantly.
Virginia’s legislative session is one of the earliest and briefest in the nation. This year, the Commonwealth’s General Assembly put a package of bills on Governor McAuliffe’s desk that would have allowed citizens who had been issued protective orders to carry handguns without a permit for 45 days. The idea is to give these potential victims the opportunity to defend themselves until a permit could be issued. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed these bills and the Assembly failed to override. Open carry is legal throughout Virginia, thanks to a strong firearm preemption statute, and the state has issued CCW permits on a shall-issue basis for many years. Virginia gets maximum points for a very strong Castle Doctrine law. NRA is headquartered in Fairfax and the facility’s National Firearms Museum is a must-see for any gun enthusiast.
Continuing his tradition as a pro-gun Governor, Paul LePage signed a bill in June that would prohibit state and local authorities from maintaining registries of gun owners. Maine allows for permitless carry and issues permits to those who desire them, gaining it full points in the CCW column. The state also gets 10 points in the NFA and Black Rifle categories since it restricts neither. “Question 3” a Bloomberg-funded ballot initiative that would have mandated background checks, was rejected by Maine’s voters in November, 2016.
Last year, we reported that the Ohio Legislature was considering a bill that would allow active duty members of the U.S. military to carry firearms in the Buckeye State without a permit. Governor Kasich signed that bill into law in December. The bill also protects the rights of gun owners to store firearms in their locked vehicles while on their employer’s property. A bill before the legislature this year would require that permit holders be removed from locations where carry is prohibited rather than being charged with a crime. Ohio gets 7 out of 10 points for its use of force laws and gets full points in the NFA and Black Gun categories.
Like many states, the gun politics of Louisiana differ greatly in the rural areas than they do in the cities, especially in crime-ridden New Orleans. Last Fall, New Orleans enacted an ordinance that will fine residents who fail to report a lost or stolen gun within 48 hours and St. Charles Parish considered a plan to ban carry in local parks. Louisiana has a strong Castle Doctrine law on the books and does not place restrictions on Black Rifles, magazines or NFA items.
A bill that would add Michigan to the list of permitless carry states has passed out of the Michigan House but faces a tough road in the state Senate. If this bill were to pass, the state would go from 7 points to 10 in the CCW category. Open carry is legal in the state and Michigan has strong use-of-force statutes. Despite an attempt by Democratic legislators to enact a ban on “assault weapons” in the state in late 2106, NFA firearms, magazines, and black guns are all unrestricted by state law. Michigan law requires registration of handguns, a factor that costs it points in the miscellaneous column.
26. North Carolina
A bill that would authorize permitless concealed carry failed to make it out of the Senate this session, keeping North Carolina at eight points for CCW. NC doesn’t restrict black guns or magazine capacity and NFA items are legal to own so long as one complies with federal law. Cities such as Charlotte would probably love to have their own restrictions but a statewide firearms preemption law keeps them more or less under control. North Carolina does require a permit to purchase a handgun which includes a requirement applicants be screened for mental health records that would prohibit ownership. Mecklenburg County implemented a computerized instant check system to comply with this requirement in a speedy manner last June, and has reportedly decreased their CCW wait-times as a result.
A Bloomberg-funded effort to require background checks on firearm sales passed on the November, 2016 ballot in Nevada but the way that it was written leaves it unenforceable—so much for the $20 million they spent to pass it. Governor Sandoval signed legislation this year that allows military members and veterans who are under 21 to obtain CCW permits which sure seems like common sense. Nevada does not restrict black rifles or magazine capacity and all NFA firearms and accessories are legal in the state. Las Vegas is likely the “machine gun tourism” capitol of the world and, each January, is the home of the SHOT (Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade) Show which is a mecca for any serious gun enthusiast.
24. South Carolina
South Carolina’s Governor signed legislation this year that would prevent its citizens from being required to sell their guns to pay off creditors in bankruptcy cases; to the best of our knowledge, this is a first. South Carolina has relatively poor reciprocity due to the lobbying efforts of law enforcement groups in the state and a bill that would have created outright recognition of other state’s permits was watered-down during this year’s legislative session. Additionally, an effort to enact permitless carry in the state failed to advance from committee during 2017. South Carolina gets full points in the NFA and Black Rifle categories as those firearms and accessories are not restricted by state law.
Wisconsin was one of the last states to enact a CCW statute, thanks to numerous vetoes by former Governor Jim Doyle. Things have changed for gun owners in the Badger State since Scott Walker was elected and now the legislature is considering a bill that would eliminate the CCW permit requirement, altogether. It’s too early to tell this bill’s fate but we will be watching for updates. Wisconsin gets full points for Black Rifles, NFA and its strong use-of-force laws.
Arkansas continued to move the ball forward this year but found itself leapfrogged by states who enacted permitless carry laws since last year’s roundup. This March, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed legislation eliminating many of the state’s “gun free zones” for enhanced permit holders including college campuses, churches and state offices. The state gets full points in the Black Rifle, NFA and Miscellaneous categories thanks to its lack of restrictions in those areas. The conditional duty to retreat statute that applies outside the home or property costs two points in the Castle Doctrine column.
Indiana passed several pro-gun bills this year, including one that allows state employees to carry firearms in the state capitol and another that repealed an ill-conceived statute banning “plastic coated” ammunition. Indiana has a strong CCW law with low fees, no training requirement and full recognition of out-of-state permits. Open carry is also legal in the Hoosier State. Full points are awarded in the NFA and Black Rifle categories as neither are restricted by state law.
Despite being one of the most liberal states in the nation, Vermont has remained a gun-friendly state thanks to its lack of gun laws. The state has had permitless carry for over a century thanks to a state supreme court case but does not issue permits so that its residents can enjoy reciprocity with other states, which costs it a point. I wouldn’t actually advocate for a permit system in the state as I believe that would be a slippery slope to ending permitless carry so the 9-point score shouldn’t bother anyone. The state’s gun culture has taken a hit thanks to transplants from nearby New York and Boston which has put more than one well-established shooting range at risk due to noise complaints—thankfully, a 2006 range protection statute was upheld by the courts to protect the North Country Sportsmen’s Club in Williston. I am proud to have worked closely with local pro-gun groups on the passage of that ’06 law.
Idaho is a permitless carry state for residents and, thanks to a bill signed by the Governor earlier this year, active military members can also carry concealed in the state without a permit. This change actually only applies inside the cities, as permitless carry is legal elsewhere in the state for residents and non-residents alike so long as they are over 18 and not otherwise prohibited of possessing a firearm. Idaho gets full points in the NFA, Black Rifle and Miscellaneuos categories but loses ground in the Castle Doctrine column thanks to its less-than-ideal use-of-force framework.
Alabama’s attempt to become a constitutional carry state failed when the legislature when the House failed to bring up Senate Bill 24 for a vote. CCW permits are issued by the county sheriffs in Sweet Home Alabama and fees vary considerably from county to county. This permit revenue is likely what has motivated the state sheriffs association to oppose permitless carry as well as efforts to create a standard statewide fee for permits. Alabama does not restrict Black Rifles, magazines or NFA items and suppressors are legal for hunting. Open carry is legal throughout the state and the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s range in Talladega is a fantastic facility.
Governor Mead, a rancher who has been largely pro-gun in the past, vetoed legislation which would allow for concealed carry during meetings of government entities (which would include the state legislature) but he did sign a bill that allows local school districts to allow their employees to carry on campus. Wyoming gets near-full points in the CCW column as a permitless carry state (for residents) and recognizes permits of all issuing states. Wyoming is a beautiful state with countless places to shoot and hunt and the gun culture is as strong as it could be. The only weak point for Wyoming’s gun owners is a use-of-force statute that doesn’t provide full protection for citizens outside of their homes.
Mississippi gets full points for its permitless carry law coupled with a shall-issue CCW permit system. The state gets full points in nearly every column as it does not restrict magazines or NFA items its use-of-force statutes are very good. Mississippi isn’t necessarily home to a nationally-meaningful competitive shooting culture but the general attitude of the state is decidedly pro-gun. Mid-South in the northern part of the state is one of the premier shooting schools in the world but, regrettably, is only open to law enforcement and military personnel.
15. New Hampshire
All it took was the election of a new Governor for the Granite State to join the growing ranks of constitutional carry states. Governor Sununu signed permitless carry legislation in March, bringing New Hampshire up to maximum points for CCW. The state also receives ten points for its Black Gun, NFA and Castle Doctrine statutes. The state has a variety of shooting clubs, though many are members-only. The only real strike against New Hampshire is that one has to run the gauntlet of Massachusetts, New York (via Vermont) or Connecticut to get anywhere.
Once again, Kentucky has failed to put a permitless carry bill on the Governor’s desk. Nonetheless, the state fared well in our “Best States for CCW” review and gets eight points for a strong shall-issue law. The state gets full points in nearly every category with no restrictions on individual firearms or accessories and a strong Castle Doctrine law on the books.
13. West Virginia
Three pro-gun bills were signed into law this year in West Virginia: a range protection statute, a law that allows for concealed carry in state parks, and a provision that allows parents to maintain firearms in their vehicles when dropping-off or picking up their children at school. The Mountaineer State nearly runs the table in our survey with full points for CCW, NFA, and Black Rifles. The state has strong, though not perfect, Castle Doctrine/use-of-force laws and a preemption statute that blocks all municipal gun ordinances that were not in-effect prior to 1999. I’m still waiting on the legislature to repeal the prohibition on displaying a firearm in a store window—if they do so, I’ll give them full points in the miscellaneous category in 2018.
When Florida passed its landmark “Stand Your Ground” law a decade ago, the legal system responded by forcing citizens to prove that they acted in-accordance with the statute in pre-trial hearings. This year, Governor Rick Scott signed legislation shifting the burden of proof back onto the prosecution where it belongs (as a former Florida prosecutor, I feel like have some credibility here). A Miami Circuit Court judge has decided that the law is “unconstitutional” but we’ll see what the appellate courts have to say about that. Florida led the modern CCW movement with the signature of its landmark law in 1987 by then-Governor Bob Martinez and the state gets 8 points in that category. Places to shoot can be a bit challenging to find in the more populated urban areas but new ranges in the state seem to be opening regularly. There are some incredible range facilities in the more rural areas of the state including CORE in tiny Baker, Florida which is home to at least two national matches in the rapidly-growing Precision Rifle Series.
Governor Haslam signed two pro-gun bills in the Volunteer State this year including one that would allow citizens to sue cities if they violate the state’s firearm law preemption statute with arbitrary “gun free zones”. Tennessee would be in a tie for first place if it passed a permitless carry bill as it gets maximum points in every other category. The state has a great statutory framework for gun owners as well as a pro-gun culture and a growing firearms and training industry.
Last year we reported that the Show Me state was poised to enact a permitless carry law—we can happily report that this statute was implemented in January of 2017 which moves the state to 10 points in that column and moves it way up to #10 in our lineup. Bills that would have allowed for campus carry in the Show Me State did not advance from committee during this year’s session. This state has done an about-face for gun owners since the 1990s: Missouri has been a leader in the Midwest and is a great example of what can be done when good people are elected to office and are held accountable. The state gets full points in nearly every category.
After last year’s veto, Governor Deal signed a compromise campus carry law in 2017 as well as a second omnibus gun bill that cleaned-up various areas of Georgia’s gun (and knife) laws. Georgia has one of the strongest CCW laws in the country when it comes to states that require permits and it gets full points in the NFA, Black Rifle and Castle Doctrine categories. I’m still waiting for Atlanta journalists to eat crow after all of the dire predictions they’ve made regarding Georgia’s pro-gun efforts in recent years. This year’s NRA Annual Meetings were held in Atlanta: I felt safer walking around downtown than I normally do—80,000 gun owners will have that effect on a city.
Governor Abbott signed a pile of pro-gun bills in Texas this Spring, including one that significantly lowers the cost of obtaining or renewing a CHL (which allows for both concealed and open carry). The state also repealed the “minimum caliber” restriction that required CHL applicants to demonstrate proficiency with at least a .32 caliber. .22 shooters rejoice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Texas has a strong Castle Doctrine law. The state gets full points for both the NFA and Black Rifle categories and boasts some of the best ranges in the nation. If you’re a hunter, Texas’ menu of native and exotic species is pretty hard to top though most opportunities are on private land.
7. North Dakota
North Dakota jumped to ten points in our CCW category this year thanks to a permitless carry law sponsored by my friend Rep. Todd Porter of Mandan. North Dakota gets high scores in nearly every category only losing points for a less-than-perfect Castle Doctrine law. If you’re a hunter, the state has some amazing opportunities available and places to shoot are abound in the expansive open lands.
Utah changed the law this year to allow 18-20-year-olds to obtain CCW permits, with only a lack of permitless carry keeping it from sweeping every category. Utah gets full points nearly across the board due to its protections of the rights of gun owners. The state has some fantastic places to shoot, hosts several top-level matches and is home to numerous firearm and accessory makers. There are no permits to purchase or own any type of firearm and municipalities cannot regulate virtually any gun-related activity. The state has a strong use-of-force laws and all NFA items are legal for ownership. Utah is an a six-way tie and one could argue the order of those states for hours.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock appears determined to prevent Montana from rising any further in our rankings: he vetoed both a permitless carry bill and a restaurant carry bill after their passage by the state’s legislature (permitless carry is essentially legal outside of the cities). Montana gets full points in every other category: NFA, Castle Doctrine and Black Rifles. It would be hard to top Montana from a “gun culture” perspective and the state has developed a vibrant gun industry presence with companies such as Kimber and Proof Research located in and around Kalispell.
Oklahoma’s Governor signed legislation this year allowing citizens to carry firearms on city buses, something that seems like a pretty good idea based on some of the videos I’ve seen on the internet over the past couple of years. Oklahoma scores well in every category with a shall-issue (and limited permitless carry) CCW law, no restrictions on NFA items or Black Rifles and a strong Castle Doctrine statue. Oklahoma recognizes permits from all other states and allows permitless carry for gun owners from other states whose laws allow it.
Kansas got even more gun-friendly this year when the state enacted a law that allows for permitless carry in public buildings, which includes those on college campuses. Kansas doesn’t restrict Black Rifles, magazines, NFA items, or anything else you’d want to own. It would be hard to give the state full points in the Miscellaneous column since the states competitive and recreational shooting scene isn’t as good as it could be and there isn’t much of a firearms industry presence. Kansas gun owners lost a friend in 2016 when former Representative Candy Ruff, who worked tirelessly and successfully to pass the state’s CCW bill, passed away due to an illness.
Last year we reported that a campus carry bill was pending before the Alaska Legislature—unfortunately, that bill never made it to the Governor’s desk. Alaska set the national model of allowing for permitless carry but also issuing CW permits to those who desire them for reciprocity purposes. Now that the CLEO signature requirement has been deleted from the requirements for NFA purchases and transfers, Alaska gets full points in that category. It really is a coin toss for the top spot as Alaska is nearly-tied in points for first place. If you love the outdoors, Alaska wins while if competitive shooting is your game, Arizona takes the prize. Since this survey is about gun owners and not hunting, we have to give the nod to AZ.
It’s hard to improve upon Arizona’s gun laws but they seem to make an effort every year. In 2017, Governor Ducey signed legislation into law preventing local governments from enacting background check requirements for gun ownership. Arizona maxes-out in every category thanks to its permitless (and permitted) carry, very strong self-defense laws, hands-off NFA and Black Gun policies and an overall hassle-free landscape for gun owners. The Phoenix area likely has the most active competitive shooting cultures in the nation and there are countless places to shoot in the deserts if you’re the kind that likes to take long shots. The hunting opportunities are some of the best in the country, though tags can be a challenge to draw, so if you’re a sportsman as well as a gun owner you’re in luck. The gap between Arizona and other states in the top-10 has certainly narrowed in the past few years but we have no justification for taking the winning slot away from our reigning champion.
*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 2017.