I often hear the argument that we should just "enforce the laws on the books" in order to reduce gun violence. That's important, but we also need to be aware how few laws we "have on the books" and figure out how to make what laws we do have more effective.
That's why, last week, the Brady Campaign announced a new system of scoring the 50 states according to the strength or weakness of their gun laws.
For the year 2007, each state earned a score and rank according to a comprehensive inventory of 42 gun regulations, divided into five categories. We assigned greater and lesser point values to each kind of law based on our Campaign Against Illegal Guns, as well as our 30 years of leadership in the gun violence prevention movement.
Under this new system, states can earn up to 100 points. Some may find it surprising, however, that two-thirds of all states scored less than 20 points out of 100 in 2007. In fact, almost half the states scored 10 points or less.
Given the 30,000 gun deaths every year in America, these scores shouldn't be surprising at all. Instead, they illustrate that many states don't have even a bare minimum of effective laws to combat gun trafficking, strengthen Brady background checks, or restrict access to military-style assault weapons.
States like South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida and Louisiana, for example, have virtually no laws on the books that effectively combat firearm trafficking or prevent dangerous people from gaining easy access to dangerous weapons.
California is at the other end of the scale. Ranking first in the nation, it has laws such as mandatory background checks on all firearm purchases, a "one-handgun-a-month" law to stop bulk purchases that feed the illegal gun market, and other effective laws that help prevent gun trafficking.
What's more, California further strengthened its laws last year by enacting legislation to help police identify crime guns by using new "microstamping" technology. This legislation gives law enforcement a powerful investigative tool to solve more gun crimes and apprehend more armed criminals and gang members by identifying a gun used in crime - even without the gun.
Part of our mission at the Brady Campaign is to help people evaluate the strength of the gun laws in their states. With this information, citizens can become active in their own communities and work to hold elected officials accountable.
Gun trafficking can be reduced, the illegal gun trade can be cut, and dangerous weapons can be kept out of the hands of dangerous people. Passage of common-sense legislation at the national level - like the NICS Improvement Act, for example - and "microstamping" in California, shows that America is turning a corner on the gun issue.
When families and law enforcement come together, elected officials listen. Parents and police can demand strong gun laws in their communities. The Brady Campaign's new state scorecards can help.
Always remember: sensible gun laws save lives. I hope you will use these scorecards as a resource in your area, and join us in our work to make America's neighborhoods and communities safe from gun violence.