Overall, gun deaths in the United States have dropped by 30% since 1993, but mass shootings are on the rise: there have been more mass shooting deaths in the past 11 years than in the previous 23. No matter which way you look at it, though, more Americans are buying guns than ever before. Federal background checks (which do not equate directly to gun sales) leapt from just over 9 million in 1999 to 19.8 million so far in 2015. These checks are meant to prevent people from buying firearms who have a criminal record, have been convicted of domestic abuse, are addicted to drugs or have documented mental health problems that have led to confrontations with law enforcement or to involuntary confinement. But in many Western states, private sales, such as those at gun shows or over the internet, are excluded from background checks.
Western states have some of the highest and lowest gun-ownership rates in the nation, and gun laws vary widely from state to state. Some states aren’t set up to report domestic crimes to the federal background check database, for example, despite the fact that many mass shooters — including Robert L. Dear Jr. — have a history of domestic abuse.
These laws matter. Four Western states with laws that received a “failing” grade from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and New Mexico — are also among the ten states with the highest per-capita rates of gun deaths (which also include suicides). Here’s a breakdown of how Western states’ gun laws compare:
This story was originally published Dec. 21, 2015 by Krista Langlois on High Country News. It was updated on April 18, 2019.