United States: Are the States with the Most Mass Shootings the Ones with the Laxest Laws?

The frequency of mass shootings in the United States keeps the debate on whether the use of guns should be restricted. This is all the more the case when each state has the power to legislate on the issue within its borders.

Donald Trump holding a rifle

Photo: Richard Ellis/Getty Images

LatinAmerican Post | Luis Angel Hernández Liborio

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Leer en español: Estados Unidos: ¿Son los estados con más tiroteos masivos los que tienen las leyes más laxas?

The most recent mass shooting in the United States left a balance of six dead in Nashville, Tennessee. Three adults and three children who add to the endless list of victims of this type of crime. The frequency with which these acts occur in the country always keeps the discussion on the use of weapons and topics as diverse as mental health, bullying or the political weight of the arms industry in force. Is it time to make a radical decision on the laws that govern access to weapons?

What Is a Mass Shooting?

Although it might seem obvious, there is currently no absolute definition of what a mass shooting is. The concepts have varied over decades, the problem lies in how to define it in order to differentiate it from domestic violence, terrorist acts, problems between criminal groups such as gangs or cartels, as well as victims of crossfire. The importance of a correct definition addresses the policies that can be adopted to deal with the difficulty, as well as the management of statistics. For the FBI, an active shooter is one or more people directly involved in the murder or attempted murder of people in a populated area. To define it as “mass” the shooting must have at least three victims in the same incident, not counting the shooter.

Considering this, there have been 130 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2023, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Of these, only 26 had at least three deaths, the deadliest reaching the figure of 12 last January. In the last five years, most of the shootings are concentrated in the south of the country: California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and Arizona lead the number of these events. However, explaining the reason these states have these statistics is not easy, since issues such as population size, mental health, racism and local laws on the use of weapons can influence. This last issue is the one we focus on.


So far in 2023, California has had more than 40 shootings, only in January they had three in a space of 44 hours. The state is one of those with the greatest restrictions on the use of weapons. However, the attacks have not stopped. In general, California law prohibits the use of assault weapons, high-capacity weapons, and mass casualty weapons in mass shootings. Silencers are also prohibited, and purchase processes have been tightened, but there are weapons that have been modified or that people have had since before the latest reforms. Even so, the “smaller” weapons continue to have greater distribution and fewer restrictions, although it is a problem that goes beyond the state.

Texas, Arizona, and Colorado

The US Constitution proclaims the right of its citizens to own and use weapons, a law that stems from the origins of the country and the context of its time, but which is far from being consistent with current reality. But as long as it remains in the law, it is taken seriously, and Texas is precisely one of the states where it is something "sacred." Culturally, gun carrying in Texas is an important issue. It is a typically republican state, so the defense of the use of weapons is ironclad and its laws, therefore, flexible. Age restrictions, public carry restrictions, and the paperwork to obtain them are not an issue in Texas. Being on the border with Mexico, drug cartels use this as an opportunity to easily obtain weapons.

Like Texas, two other border states have lax gun laws. Colorado and Arizona are also mostly Republican states, that is, they agree with the concept of "freedom" associated with the use of weapons, but also with problems associated with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and machismo. In the majority of shootings in these three southern states, we can trace these difficulties thanks to the size of the migrant population and the political and social profile of these entities. Therefore, for gun owners, amateurs or professionals, organized crime and the gun industry, the southern United States is a kind of "paradise."

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The state has gone a step further than Texas, Colorado, and Arizona. The state Congress approved a bill that allows the use of concealed weapons without any type of permit, adding to the unrestricted purchase that already exists in Florida. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is moving forward with his agenda by fulfilling promises to make the use of guns more flexible. Meanwhile, Joe Biden has made tepid progress on his gun control promises, limiting himself to managing to tighten the process to acquire them.

The Power of the National Rifle Association

To understand the power of guns in America it is important to understand the role of the National Rifle Association (NRA) whose lobbying skills are remarkable. Among its 5 million members we can find characters such as former President Donald Trump, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and relevant members of the arms industry. The weight of the NRA is noted in the congressional chambers and in the sympathy of governors and politicians, mostly (but not exclusively) Republicans. The NRA appeals to the Constitution as a guarantor of the use of weapons, so a fundamental change would have to come from the modification of the maximum law. This is something that seems almost impossible thanks to the power of the association at the state and national level.


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