State Gun-Control, Gun-Rights, and Preemptive Firearm-Related Laws Across 50 US States for 2009‒2018

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State Gun-Control, Gun-Rights, and Preemptive Firearm-Related Laws Across 50 US States for 2009‒2018

Category: Firearm Policies|Journal: American Journal of Public Health (full text)|Author: D Silver, J Pomeranz, S Lieff|Year: 2021


To assess state policy environments and the relationship between state gun-control, gun-rights, and preemptive firearm-related laws in the United States.



In 2019 through 2020, we evaluated substantive firearm laws and preemptive firearm laws across 50 US states for 2009 through 2018. For each state, we compared substantive measures with preemptive measures on the same policy topic for 2018.



The presence of state firearm-related laws varied across states, but with the exception of “punitive preemption” the number of gun-control, gun-rights, and preemptive measures remained unchanged in most states from 2009 through 2018. As of 2018, a majority of states had preemptive measures on almost all gun-control policy topics without enacting substantive gun-control measures. Several states had a combination of gun-control and preemptive measures. Only a small number of states had gun-control measures with few to no preemptive measures.



Even where state legislators were unable to pass statewide gun-rights measures, they succeeded in passing preemption, preserving state authority over a wide range of gun-control and gun-rights policy topics. The majority of states used preemption as a tool to support policy frameworks favoring gun rights.

Firearm violence is an increasing public health problem in the United States. In 2018, there were 39 740 firearm-related deaths (109/day) resulting from firearms used in suicides, homicides, and accidental shootings. 1 Yet, the Second Amendment of the US Constitution has been interpreted to protect most gun ownership, and, based on prevailing judicial interpretation, provides robust protection for gun rights. The federal government has enacted few gun-control measures, leaving the policy debate about reducing gun violence to state and local action. States have created different regulatory environments with respect to firearms, with the policy objective of either decreasing firearm-related death and disability (i.e., gun control) or protecting gun rights. 2 , 3 One legal tool that can be used for either purpose is preemption. Preemption occurs when a higher level of government (here the state) removes or limits the authority of a lower level (local governments) to act on a specific issue. 4

Previous research indicates that states preempt local control over firearms more than any other public health topic, 4 and yet firearm-related preemptive bills still outnumber preemptive bills on any other public health topic. 5 However, the question of whether states are preempting local control over firearm safety while simultaneously enacting state-level protections has not been empirically studied. States that do not enact protective measures but simultaneously preempt the ability of localities to do so create a regulatory void on topics that the federal government does not regulate 6 ; such preemption also eliminates communities’ ability to protect their members and hinders grassroots movements that may form around the policy topic. 7 This is particularly concerning for localities that have high rates of firearm violence but an inability to enact laws to address it because they are preempted. 8

Comparing states’ substantive firearm law measures and preemptive firearm law measures on the same policy topic is thus necessary to determine whether states that preempt local laws are simultaneously enacting statewide protections or simply retaining state control. We evaluated substantive and preemptive firearm law measures across all 50 US states over a 10-year period to understand the context in which preemption is occurring. In this context, we assessed the relationship between preemptive and substantive measures on the same policy topics that protected gun control or gun rights by examining and comparing each state’s firearm laws in 2018.