When Congress failed this year to pass gun reform legislation in the wake of the deadly shootings last December in Newtown, it wasn’t just a big victory for the National Rifle Association and a defeat for those looking to reduce the scourge of gun violence in America. It also created a narrative that gun rights groups are winning the political fight over the issue.
In Washington, that may be true. But more quietly, in statehouses around the country, a different story has played out—one in which gun-control advocates have been far more successful.
Twenty-one states enacted new laws to curb gun violence, according to the 2013 State Gun Laws Scorecard jointly released Monday by the Brady Campaign and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The profusion of gun reform measures amounts to a broad shift in momentum on the gun debate that has often flown under the radar.
“A year ago, not only were we swimming unsuccessfully against the tide of these dangerous laws, there really wasn’t much hope at all that people felt in terms of passing meaningful laws that would actually save lives,” Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said during a press call on Monday morning.
Gross added that the country has made “unthinkable progress” during that time.
The scorecard described eight of the new state laws as major. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, and New York all closed a loophole that had allowed for the sale of firearms from private dealers without background checks. Additionally, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, and New York required gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms.
But this wasn’t just a blue state phenomenon. There were also constructive measures passed in some states with historically weak gun laws, including Florida, Missouri, and Texas.
The scorecard found that states with the most gun laws—like Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—also have the lowest gun death rates nationwide.
The organizations ranked all 50 states based on 30 policy approaches regulating guns and ammunition, including strengthening background checks, reporting lost or stolen firearms, and prohibiting dangerous people from purchasing weapons. States received points for executing “effective” laws in each policy area, and lost points for legislation that could increase the likelihood of violence, such as carrying loaded and concealed weapons in public without a permit.
California ranked highest, followed by New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland, which all received “A” grades. Arizona placed last.
Gross said he wants the states to serve as a model for Washington.
“Now it’s time for Congress to follow the lead of these states that have taken action," he said, "and expand Brady background checks to all gun sales."
Click here to view the point allocation for the 2013 scorecard.