Skip to Main Content

2021 State & Local Legislative Outlook

Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, 32 states and DC have passed 180 lifesaving gun safety measures. In 2020, COVID-19 severely reduced state and local legislators’ ability to pass gun safety legislation due to legislature closures and budget restrictions. Over the summer, calls for police reform took center stage and Giffords worked with community partners to reform law enforcement practices and increase support for community violence intervention strategies. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, 13 state legislatures and the District of Columbia passed 43 new gun safety laws in 2020. In 2021, Giffords will continue to work in states across the country to advance evidence-based gun violence prevention policies and defeat the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda.

Expected Gun Violence Prevention Trends

Building upon the significant advances made in recent years, we will be building out our efforts to pass lifesaving gun safety policies at the state level and secure sustainable funding for evidence-based violence intervention and prevention programs. 


Loopholes in the background check system constitute some of the most dangerous gaps in federal firearms laws today. Although federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers, it does not require unlicensed sellers to do so. A 2017 study estimated that 22% of US gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check. States that require background checks on all handgun sales have fewer gun deaths per capita than states without that requirement. 

Efforts to strengthen background check laws at the state level have helped reduce gun violence. 2020 brought record gun sales as panic-buying continued to climb throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making strong background check laws even more important. In 2020, Virginia and Washington enacted laws to strengthen their background checks.

Some states have also enacted broader permitting or licensing laws that require gun purchasers to obtain a firearm permit or license after passing a background check, gun safety test, and/or meeting other eligibility requirements. Giffords will work towards the establishment of a permit-to-purchase law in Delaware and Minnesota in 2021. 


In January 2021, our nation suffered an attack on the United States Capitol and America’s democracy. Unfortunately, supporters of that attack continue to pose a very real and serious threat. Prior to the January 6th insurrection, dangerous extremism was on the rise across the country. Many communities experienced an increase in hate crimes, and states like Virginia and Michigan faced threats from mobs of armed extremists. As the nation works to ensure accountability for the acts of January 6th, states should take additional action to protect their own capitols and residents. Had the District of Columbia not had such strong gun laws, the prevalence of firearms among the insurrectionists would surely have been higher and the outcome even more deadly. 

To fight the rise in violent extremism and insurrection, states should prohibit firearms on state capitol grounds, in government buildings, and at polling places. In states where firearms are not already banned at state capitols, officials must act to prohibit firearms on capitol grounds. Efforts to prohibit firearms under these circumstances are already underway in states like Virginia, Michigan, and Vermont, where Giffords is working with lawmakers to take these critical actions to protect public safety and democracy. 


Ghost guns and 3D-printed weapons allow people who could not pass a background check to acquire guns to build their own undetectable and unserialized weapons. In recent years, Giffords has led efforts to strengthen and pass bills addressing these types of weapons. In 2020 ghost guns bills passed in California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia, even as legislatures were forced to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. Giffords will continue our work to regulate this dangerous source of illegal weapons with leaders in states including New York, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Mexico, and Virginia in 2021. 


Extreme risk protection order laws, also known as gun violence restraining orders, lethal violence protective orders, and “red flag” laws, allow families and household members, as well as law enforcement officers, to petition a court to remove an individual’s access to guns if they are found to pose an imminent danger to self or others. 

In 2020, Giffords worked with legislators and local leaders to pass extreme risk laws in New Mexico and Virginia, bringing the total of states that have enacted this lifesaving policy to 19, plus the District of Columbia. Giffords experts have helped shape legislation, testified in support of the policies, submitted testimony, and joined advocates at state capitols in support of the extreme risk laws. 

Building upon the successes of 2020, Giffords will work with legislators and local leaders to build support to advance the passage of extreme risk laws in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, and Texas in 2021.


Each year, nearly 115,000 people in the United States are shot. Underserved neighborhoods bear the brunt of the gun violence epidemic—Black men make up 6% of the nation’s population but account for more than half of gun homicide victims. It is crucial that our young people feel safe not just from school shootings but also on the way to and from school. 

Violence intervention programs have been proven effective at breaking the cycle of gun violence in our most impacted communities. Research and case studies have demonstrated that through a combination of low-cost, community-oriented intervention programs and much-needed firearms policy reforms, gun violence rates can be cut in half in as little as two years. 

Given these results, community violence prevention and intervention programs also provide a significant economic return on investment. In fact, the state of Massachusetts has already saved an estimated $7 for every $1 invested in their Safe and Successful Youth Initiative. The solutions to solve this problem exist—we just need to implement them. 

In April 2019, Giffords Law Center issued its third report on community gun violence solutions, A Case Study in Hope: Lessons from Oakland’s Remarkable Reduction in Gun Violence. Based on the evidence provided in this report, Giffords led efforts in 2019 to establish funding for violence intervention and prevention solutions in multiple states. In California, Giffords led a broad coalition of violence prevention practitioners and advocates to pass the largest state funding investment in these proven solutions via the CalVIP program. New Jersey also took a huge step forward in 2019, passing a package of community violence bills and dedicating $20 million in VOCA funding to start and support nine hospital-based violence intervention programs across the state. 

In 2020, six states passed legislation authorizing new or expanded investments in community-based intervention and prevention strategies. Giffords worked closely with leaders in New Jersey and Virginia, which approved a budget that includes $2.85 million in state funding to boost evidence-based violence intervention strategies, marking the first time the state of Virginia has funded such programs. Giffords is working with localities and local groups on the implementation of this funding.

In 2021, Giffords will work on comprehensive legislation and pursue opportunities to meaningfully address community violence in states including California, Delaware, North Carolina, Oregon, Nevada, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Mexico, and New Jersey. In California, Giffords will also focus on efforts to establish a permanent revenue stream for the CalVIP program, including through potential legislation to place a modest excise tax on the profits earned by retail sellers of firearms, ammunition, and ghost guns.


Though federal law prohibits people who have been convicted of domestic violence offenses or who are subject to certain domestic violence protective orders from purchasing or possessing guns, there are significant gaps in these laws that put survivors and abuse victims at risk. Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other developed countries, and more than half of all murders of women in America are committed with a gun. Further, women who are victims of abuse are five times more likely to be killed by an abusive partner if that individual has access to a firearm. Laws that prevent people with significant histories of domestic violence and abuse from accessing firearms are vital to ensuring victims’ safety, and have experienced a tremendous amount of bipartisan support in states across the country. But significant gaps in many states still allow people subject to domestic violence restrictions to obtain guns or illegally keep them after they become prohibited from doing so. In 2020, Virginia and Washington expanded their domestic violence laws. Giffords will work with leaders in states including California, Colorado, Vermont, Texas, and Virginia to further protect survivors of domestic violence in 2021.


Violent armed extremists and hate groups, including the ones who carried out the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, often use firearms as tools of violence and intimidation. Further, recent mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina; a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia; and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, were among the deadliest hate crimes ever committed in the United States and among the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history. We know that these are just some of the most visible examples of a large and growing threat, as hate-fueled violence is on the rise across the country. In too many cases, the presence of a firearm turns ugly threats into deadly assaults. And yet, in 28 states, people convicted of violently injuring someone in a hate crime could still pass a background check and lawfully acquire weapons. That must change. In 2020, Giffords drafted and recommended hate crime legislation to prevent hate-motivated shootings and will work to pass these bills in states across the country in 2021, including Nevada and Rhode Island. 


Every year, hundreds of thousands of guns are lost or stolen in America, with one gun stolen every two minutes. Stolen guns are often diverted to the illegal market, where they are used to fuel crime across the country. Lost and stolen reporting laws help reduce gun trafficking by requiring individuals to notify law enforcement shortly after discovering the loss or theft of a firearm. In 2020, Virginia enacted a law requiring gun owners to notify law enforcement within 48 hours of discovering the loss or theft of a firearm. In 2021, Giffords will work with state leaders on lost and stolen reporting laws in Colorado and Nevada.


The presence of a gun dangerously compounds the risk of impulsive acts of violence, especially suicide. Waiting periods, or “cooling off” laws, create an important window of time for gun purchasers to reconsider impulsive acts of violence or self-harm, which can lead to a change of heart and a saved life. In addition, waiting periods provide additional time for the completion of a thorough background check. States with waiting period laws have lower rates of suicide. Waiting periods have also been shown to reduce gun homicides. In 2021, Giffords will work with lawmakers and advocates to advance waiting periods legislation in Colorado, Vermont, and New Hampshire. 


Harmful preemption laws allow the gun lobby to threaten lawsuits against cities and municipalities that pass responsible gun safety laws. These preemption policies have effectively allowed the gun lobby to prohibit municipalities from enacting gun laws that make sense for their communities. In 2020, Giffords worked in Virginia to pass a law that empowers localities to create gun laws for public spaces that protect their communities. In 2021, we expect to see similar preemption repeal bills in Nevada.

Expected Defensive Trends

In 2021 and beyond, Giffords will vigorously defend states against legislation that would harm public safety. We expect the gun lobby to continue to forcefully push its dangerous agenda, attacking the laws that are keeping us safe and making it easier for dangerous individuals to buy guns. We expect many states, including Iowa, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, to attempt to weaken gun safety laws despite the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans support these lifesaving policies. Giffords will work in those states and with partners to prevent these harmful policies from becoming law. 


“Stand Your Ground” laws allow a person to use deadly force when they feel threatened in public, even if that force can be safely avoided. As a result, these laws encourage the escalation of violence in everyday conflicts. More than half of US states have now adopted Stand Your Ground policies—ignoring centuries of legal precedent and a growing body of research showing these laws significantly increase gun homicides and injuries. In 2020, Giffords worked to oppose this policy in Ohio and will continue to oppose these dangerous laws in Florida, New Hampshire, Alabama, and other states in 2021. 


One of the most dangerous gaps in federal firearms laws today is the background check loophole. Although federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers, it does not require unlicensed sellers to do so. States that require background checks or permits for all handgun sales have fewer gun deaths per capita than states without this requirement. However, in spite of the evidence that background checks save lives, the gun lobby has been pushing states like Iowa, Michigan, and North Carolina to repeal or weaken their background check or permitting systems.


Historically, nearly every state has enhanced the safety of its residents by requiring people to qualify for a permit in order to carry concealed firearms in public spaces. The gun lobby continues to pressure states to eliminate this fundamental safety standard, allowing people who have never passed a background check or fired a gun in their lives to carry hidden, loaded guns in public. Fifteen states currently allow unrestricted, permitless concealed carry. Giffords anticipates seeing renewed action by the gun lobby to advance this dangerous proposal in states like Iowa and Ohio in 2021.


Allowing untrained people to carry a gun almost everywhere in public poses a serious threat to public safety. Eliminating or weakening restrictions on carrying loaded guns in public places makes it much harder for law enforcement to identify people who are illegally possessing or carrying guns in public. We can save lives by preserving and strengthening state concealed carry permitting systems and limiting firearms in places like schools, public parks, and bars. Giffords will work to fight the gun lobby’s efforts to expand unregulated concealed carry of firearms in public spaces in Iowa and elsewhere.


Local governments across the country recognize the need to regulate firearms to protect their constituents from gun violence. However, a large majority of states have passed overreaching preemption laws that strip local governments of the authority to regulate firearms, rendering cities and towns powerless to address the devastating effects of gun violence. Giffords opposes legislation that would allow the gun lobby to threaten lawsuits against cities and municipalities that pass responsible gun safety laws. This type of policy has effectively allowed the gun lobby to prohibit municipalities from enacting gun laws that make sense for their communities. Giffords will oppose any efforts to enact extreme preemption in Pennsylvania in 2021.

Expected Local Work

In recent years, Giffords has expanded our work at the local level. We work with local governments to enact measures that will help keep these jurisdictions safe such as gun dealer regulations, safe storage ordinances, and laws regulating guns at public assemblies. 


To prevent everyday gun violence in cities, Giffords advocates for the implementation and expansion of evidence-based, community-driven strategies. In 2019, Giffords led a coalition of practitioners, community-based organizations, and violence prevention groups to preserve Sacramento’s Advance Peace program. Preliminary analysis from researchers at UC Berkeley indicates that the program is associated with a nearly 20% decline in gun homicides and assaults across program sites. In 2020, Giffords worked in cities such as Philadelphia, Richmond, Charlotte, Raleigh/ Durham, Baltimore, and Hartford to support violence intervention strategies.

In 2021, in addition to continuing our work in those cities, Giffords will also be working with a group of stakeholders in St. Louis, Missouri, to develop a citywide strategy to address community violence. St. Louis has one of the highest homicide rates in the nation and experienced a significant spike in community violence in 2020. Additionally, Giffords will work with community members, researchers, technical assistance providers, and city leadership to advocate for a plan inspired by the citywide strategy that led to a 50% reduction in homicides and shootings in Oakland, California. Giffords will serve as a convener to help organize local advocates and identify best practices and work to identify local, state, and federal funding streams that can be used to scale up the city’s violence reduction infrastructure.


While the gun lobby works to strengthen preemption laws, Giffords is supporting localities in their efforts to regulate firearms to better protect their communities. After a law empowering local authority of guns in public spaces was passed in Virginia in 2020, the City of Richmond passed a local ordinance prohibiting open carry of firearms during public events. Subsequently, several other Virginia localities, including Arlington, Charlottesville, and Falls Church, also passed similar ordinances to protect their citizens. Giffords will continue working to empower localities to pass laws around firearms in Virginia and across the country in 2021. 


Although all firearms in the United States originate with licensed gun dealers, these dealers are subject to very little federal scrutiny. This lack of oversight, due to inadequate funding and gun lobby-backed legislation, leads to irresponsible gun dealers facing few or no consequences, even when their misconduct threatens the lives and safety of others. Giffords will continue to support city-level efforts to strengthen gun dealer oversight and standards for responsible business practices.


Our experts can speak to the full spectrum of gun violence prevention issues. Have a question? Email us at