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Gun Law Trendwatch: 2020 Year-End Review

A Roundup and Analysis of the Latest State Firearm Legislation

The incredible momentum behind stronger gun safety laws in America continued into 2020, with Virginia enacting numerous lifesaving bills passed by a new majority, including background checks on all gun sales.

Unfortunately, the onset of COVID-19 caused most legislative activity unrelated to the pandemic to grind to a halt until the horrific killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police provoked historic protests and calls for reform. This groundswell of activism helped reignite stalled legislative efforts, with lawmakers introducing bills and calling special sessions to address police and community violence. 

Community Violence & Policing

As our report In Pursuit of Peace: Building Police-Community Trust to Break the Cycle of Violence explores, extensive research demonstrates that when communities experience over-enforcement of minor infractions and under-protection from serious violence, they lose trust in law enforcement and the judicial system. Neighborhoods where law enforcement is seen as illegitimate and unresponsive have higher rates of violence, in part because when law enforcement is not trusted to protect the community, a small number of individuals seek protection in groups engaged in cycles of retaliatory violence. High-profile incidents of police violence further exacerbate this cycle.

Community-based violence intervention programs—some of which also integrate community policing strategies and reforms—have proven remarkably successful at reducing interpersonal gun violence in impacted communities. In 2020, a number of cities established or funded community violence intervention and prevention programs. 

Nearly all of these cities also invested in or reallocated funding for law enforcement racial bias training, criminal justice reform, community-based emergency response, and services for underserved communities. The following cities made standout investments in police reform:

  • Boston, Massachusetts, passed a budget that reinvests $12 million in public health initiatives aimed at addressing violence, trauma, racism, and poverty. Funds include a $2 million investment in community-based organizations and service providers engaged in violence intervention, youth programming, language and food access, and immigration assistance. 
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota, reinvested over $1.5 million in its Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) in order to operationalize the evidence-based Cure Violence model to reduce violence and implement paid community safety patrols. This funding is also intended to provide training, technical assistance, and supplies to the OVP. 
  • Portland, Oregon, is reinvesting close to $5 million in street outreach, $1 million in leadership development programs focused on Black youth, and $1 million to help address homelessness, though some funds remain unallocated.  

At the state level, five states established or funded evidence-based gun violence intervention programs, most notably:

  • Virginia established its inaugural grant programs for evidence-based gun violence intervention programs run by local agencies, nonprofits, and hospitals (HB 422, HB 1499, and SB 248).
  • New York appropriated $14.39 million for Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative, a criminal justice reform program; $4.87 million for Operation SNUG, a public health program that funds street outreach; and $10.5 million for additional community-based violence intervention programs (2019 SB 7503).
  • New Jersey allocated $20 million towards establishing the New Jersey Violence Intervention Program to launch and enhance violence reduction initiatives in communities impacted by interpersonal gun violence (2018 SB 3309 and 2018 AB 4803; funding by executive action).

While our nation still has an incredibly long way to go, these investments in violence reduction represent a meaningful step towards healing communities in crisis and creating a brighter future for our cities and the people who call them home.


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Gun Safety Victories

In 2020, 42 bills passed in 13 states and DC, bringing the total number of laws passed since the massacre in Parkland, Florida, to 179. Although our nation remains divided on many issues, this progress has been bipartisan—since the Parkland tragedy in February 2018, 16 states with Republican governors have signed gun safety bills into law.

Assault Weapons

California SB 118 broadens the state’s definition of “assault weapon” to include certain weapons designed to skirt existing restrictions.

Background Checks

Virginia HB 2/SB 70 creates a universal background check requirement for all firearm sales in the state. Washington HB 2467 creates a point-of-contact background check system for all firearms instead of only certain types and HB 2555 expands background checks for firearm frames and receivers to make them consistent with federal law.

Bulk Purchase Limitations

Virginia SB 69/HB 812 limits the purchase of more than one handgun from a federally licensed dealer in a 30-day period, subject to certain exceptions.

Bump Stocks and Trigger Activators

Virginia SB 14 bans trigger activators including bump stocks, the type of accessory used in the devastating shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. 

Community Violence Reduction Programs

California SB 74, Illinois SB 264, New Jersey SB 3309, New York SB 7503, and Virginia HB 1499/SB 248 and HB 422 allocate funding for evidence-based community violence reduction programs. 

Dealer Regulations

California AB 2061 authorizes the state Department of Justice (DOJ) to inspect firearms dealers, ammunition vendors, and manufacturers participating in gun shows to ensure compliance with state and local laws. AB 2362 gives the state DOJ the authority to issue fines to gun dealers who do not comply with state law.

Domestic Violence

Virginia SB 479/HB 1004 requires a court issuing a protective order to mandate that the respondent relinquish guns within 24 hours and file proof of relinquishment with the court. Washington HB 2473 closes the boyfriend loophole for domestic violence misdemeanors and HB 2622 imposes sanctions on defendants who fail to relinquish firearms as ordered.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

New Mexico SB 5 and Virginia SB 240/HB 674 create new state ERPOs that allow law enforcement officials to petition for orders. California AB 2617, District of Columbia B 685/B 686 and B 729/B 730/B 809, and Washington HB 2622 strengthen existing ERPO laws. 

Ghost Guns

California SB 118, District of Columbia B 681/B 682/B 746, Hawaii HB 2744, and Rhode Island HB 7102/SB 2004 either create new regulations for undetectable and untraceable firearms, or strengthen existing regulations. 

Gun Shows

California AB 2061 authorizes, and Virginia SB 543 requires, state-level law enforcement to be present at gun shows in order to determine whether transactions are lawful.

Imitation Guns

New Jersey AB 4260 prohibits the sale of toy guns that appear to be genuine firearms.

Guns in Schools

Virginia HB 1080 prohibits school boards from authorizing or designating any person to carry firearms in K–12 schools other than those individuals authorized by statute. 

Gun Safety Technology

California AB 2847 amends the state’s Unsafe Handgun Act to ensure that more handguns that are certified for sale and manufactured in the state come equipped with basic consumer safety features and a microstamping mechanism.

Location Restrictions

Virginia HR 17 gives the House Committee on Rules the authority to regulate guns in the state capitol, which resulted in the committee prohibiting guns in the Virginia Capitol. HB 421/SB 35 gives local Virginia governments the ability to regulate the carrying of guns in government buildings and in public spaces during permitted events. SB 71 prohibits the possession of firearms on the property of a childcare center or preschool.

Lost and Stolen Reporting

Virginia HB 9 requires gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm to law enforcement within 48 hours and requires the law enforcement agency to transmit that information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Open Carry

Virginia SB 64 strengthens the state’s law penalizing the use of a firearm during paramilitary activity. 


Virginia HB 421/SB 35 and HB 600/SB 593 loosen restrictions on local governments’ ability to regulate firearms.

Prohibited Persons

Indiana SB 335 prohibits individuals from gun possession if, as minors, they were convicted of offenses that would be considered serious violent felonies. The prohibition remains in effect up until age 28. Virginia SB 436 allows people to put themselves on a voluntary “no-buy” list for firearms. 


Virginia HB 1004/SB 479 and Washington HB 2622 enact or strengthen firearm relinquishment laws intended to facilitate removal of firearms from people who become prohibited from possessing them. 

Safe Storage

Virginia HB 600/SB 593 creates requirements for safe storage of firearms in licensed home childcare facilities. 

Safety Training

South Dakota HB 1182 requires renewal applicants for concealed carry permits to undergo live-fire and use-of-force training during each period of renewal. Virginia SB 263/HB 264 requires CCW permit training to be completed in person rather than online or electronically.


Indiana SB 335 expands the state’s prohibition on possession of handguns with defaced serial numbers to include long guns. Nebraska L 582 makes it unlawful to possess a firearm that an individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe is stolen.

Other Notable Laws

Hawaii SB 3054 requires people with registered firearms to notify the state if they move their registered firearms out of the state. Maryland HB 1629 requires the state attorney general to provide reports on firearm crimes, injuries, and trafficking to the governor.


Interested in partnering with us to draft, enact, or implement lifesaving gun safety legislation in your community? Our attorneys provide free assistance to lawmakers, public officials, and advocates working toward solutions to the gun violence crisis.




The data is clear: states with stronger gun laws have less gun violence. See how your state compares in our annual ranking.

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Gun Lobby Victories

For years, the gun lobby has advanced dangerous rhetoric and policies that allow more people to bring more guns into public spaces. These policies were on full display in 2020 when gun rights extremists protested gun laws and stay-at-home orders while carrying military-style assault weapons and other firearms. Although the overwhelming majority of protests for racial equality were peaceful, some counter-protesters brandished their firearms at demonstrators. In one tragic case, three people were shot, two fatally, by an armed teenager. 

While courageous advocates helped block many dangerous gun lobby bills, the following reckless laws passed in 2020. 

Concealed Carry

Idaho HB 516 expands the state’s permitless carry law by authorizing out-of-state residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit or background check. 

Guns in Schools

Kentucky SB 8 requires School Resource Officers in the state to carry firearms on the campuses of K–12 schools. 

Guns in Public

Iowa HB 2502 and South Dakota SB 169 expand the ability to bring guns into courthouses. South Dakota also repealed laws that generally prohibit people without permits from carrying loaded firearms off their property while riding motorcycles and certain other vehicles (HB 1094). Louisiana HB 334 expands the ability of concealed carry permit holders to bring guns into houses of worship. 


Iowa HB 2502 prevents local governments from passing laws to protect against unauthorized gun access by minors and others, and makes it easier for gun rights activists to sue local governments that attempt to pass gun safety regulations. Oklahoma SB 1081 preempts any local laws that deal with extreme risk protection orders and prohibits state or local agencies from accepting funding for the implementation or enforcement of ERPOs. West Virginia SB 96 removes the ability of local governments to prohibit people without permits from carrying guns during certain types of events. 

Minimum Age and Minor Access

South Dakota SB 120 allows minors to possess handguns outside of the presence of a parent or guardian as long as the minor has obtained prior written consent from the parent or guardian.

State of Emergency/Essential Business

South Dakota HB 1296 prohibits state and local governments from, among other things, curtailing or limiting the sales of firearms, including as a response to a declaration of emergency. Louisiana HB 781 declares firearm and ammunition sellers essential businesses that cannot be closed during a state of emergency. 

Prohibited People

Mississippi SB 2225 makes it easier for people who have been convicted of felonies to obtain concealed carry permits if their conviction was expunged rather than pardoned. Georgia SB 288 prevents the Georgia Crime Information Center from reporting the criminal histories of individuals who have received deferred judgment or probation for a first-time offense. 

In 2020, the gun industry’s efforts to profit off of American lives was curtailed by the courageous efforts of legislators and advocates. In 2021, the gun violence prevention movement will continue fighting to prevent the eradication of the laws that help keep us safe. 


Gun violence costs our nation 40,000 lives each year. We can’t sit back as politicians fail to act tragedy after tragedy. Giffords Law Center brings the fight to save lives to communities, statehouses, and courts across the country—will you stand with us?



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Defeated Gun Lobby Bills

In 2020, gun safety advocates prevented gun lobby–backed bills in the following categories from becoming law in 24 states. As the NRA continues its self-sabotage and unraveling into 2021, the gun safety movement must keep up the pressure. 

Permitless Carry

This year, bills to repeal concealed carry permit requirements—a gun lobby priority—failed in Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.

Guns on Campus

The gun lobby continually attempts to force colleges and universities to allow guns on campus. Campus carry bills failed in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Guns in K–12 Schools

Despite the evidence that the presence of guns makes students and teachers less safe, after each school shooting, legislators friendly to the gun industry predictably call for laws arming teachers and other civilians. This year, bills to allow guns in K–12 schools failed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

As 2020 draws to a close, we’re grateful for the victories we were able to achieve during this difficult and turbulent year. We’re prepared to continue monitoring and protecting Americans from the many dangerous intersections of gun violence and COVID-19, and to making continued lifesaving progress at the local, state, and federal levels in 2021 and beyond. 


We’re in this together. To build a safer America—one where children and parents in every neighborhood can learn, play, work, and worship without fear of gun violence—we need you standing beside us in this fight.