Best States for Gun Owners (2020)
Guns & Ammo’s annual ranking of gun-friendly states. From worst (New York) to best (Arizona), here are the best states for gun owners from data collected in 2020.
Top 5 – Best Gun-Friendly States
Bottom 5 – Worst Gun-Friendly States
48. New Jersey
51. New York
Each year we provide an update on firearms-related legislative activity and use each state’s laws and rules to create our Best States for Gun Owners rankings. Calling 2020 a “different year” would be a gross understatement. As COVID-19 swept the world and the nation, states suspended or adjourned their legislative sessions midstream. Thousands upon thousands of bills died on the vine as lawmakers vacated their respective state capitols. Some legislatures, including those in Texas, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, meet every other year and did not go into session in 2020 at all. The short version is, as a result of these events, very few changes in firearms laws occurred this year.
Due to this unusual set of circumstances, this year’s rankings will be a bit different than in years past. Where states made meaningful changes in law, we will outline those. Where states took no action that would change our scoring, we note that as well. As in previous years, we evaluate each state numerically in each of five categories: Right-To-Carry/CCW, access to “Black Rifles”, the states’ use-of-force laws i.e., Castle Doctrine, the prohibition of items regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) and a catchall Miscellaneous column.
States are awarded 0-10 points in each category and ranked according to their total number of points. In the case of a tie, which is common, we dig deeper into the “intangibles” category and rank states accordingly. Please note that while we have done our best to rank states as objectively as possible, reasonable minds disagree with our findings. No article of this length could capture every nuance of a state’s statutory and regulatory framework. Each year I receive comments from readers on individual states’ rankings and, in many cases, I learn something new from that feedback — please keep it coming.
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 as 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 laws are considered under the miscellaneous column and can also be used as a tiebreaker.
This category examines whether a state regulates or bans firearms based on their appearance. These laws often require registration of certain firearms and, in some states, ban ownership altogether. Our rankings reflect whether a state regulates any category of firearm by its features or limits magazine capacity.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) regulates the sale, transfer and possession of machine guns, suppressors (actually called “silencers” in the law), short-barreled rifles (SBR), short-barreled shotguns (SBS), Any Other Weapons (AOW), and Destructive Devices (DD). 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. This has been an active category in recent years as states have moved to legalize the ownership and use of suppressors.
The term “Castle Doctrine” has become shorthand for a state’s use-of-force laws. Some states require citizens to retreat before the use of deadly force is authorized. We rank states based on the right to use force both inside and outside of homes and businesses. We award maximum points to states that allow the use of force wherever a person has a legal right to be and protect citizens from both criminal and civil liability if appropriate force is used.