Friday, March 8, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Congress continues to inch closer to considering a slate of bills to reduce gun violence, an issue that has proven to be emotional, philosophical and even cultural as lawmakers from different corners of the country are pitted against each other.
Nevada has traditionally been true to its Wild West roots when it comes to gun ownership and use. But how Nevada stacks up against other states in terms of its gun laws, gun sales, gun production and gun crime statistics may come as a surprise.
It’s no secret that Nevada has pretty liberal gun laws. But according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, they’re not the loosest in the nation. In fact, almost half the United States has more liberal gun laws than the Silver State.
The Brady Campaign, named after James Brady, an aide to former President Ronald Reagan who was shot during an assassination attempt on the president in 1981, gave Nevada a 5 out of 100 grade for the strength of its gun control laws in 2011.
But that ranks Nevada 28th for firearms regulation.
How does that stack up against the best and the worst in this category? Well, the Brady Campaign gave Alaska, Arizona and Utah a zero. Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky eked out a 2. The organization gave California its highest marks for gun control, with an 81 out of 100. New Jersey earned 72, Massachusetts earned 65, New York earned 62, and Connecticut earned 58.
Nevada may sell a lot of guns, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of them.
According to statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Nevada ranks just 21st among the states in gun manufacturing. One company is responsible for most of the production in the state: Jimenez Arms produced more than 35,000 pistols in 2011.
Think that sounds like a lot? Think again. Other states are producing millions of guns a year. Despite its stricter gun control laws, more gun production occurs in the Northeast than in the Wild West. Two of the top five states for gun production are Massachusetts and New York.
New Hampshire is the top-producing state, owing most of its million-plus manufacturing inventory to Sig Sauer pistols and Sturm, Ruger & Co. rifles and revolvers. Massachusetts’ million-plus firearms were mostly revolvers, rifles and pistols from Smith & Wesson, headquartered in Springfield. New York manufactured just shy of a million firearms, mostly Remington rifles, shotguns and pistols. Arizona ranked No. 4 with more than 600,000 Sturm, Ruger & Co. pistols manufactured in 2011; and Texas rounds out the top five with almost half a million shotguns made by Maverick Arms.
The five states at the lowest end of the gun manufacturing spectrum also make up an odd group: The ATF recorded only one gun produced in Hawaii, where gun laws are strict. Only five guns were produced in North Dakota, where gun laws are very liberal. Delaware recorded only 12 guns made, and anything-goes Alaska made just 27. West Virgina produced 91 firearms.
Guns in stores
Although it is difficult to procure comparable state-by-state statistics that accurately reflect the sale of guns, the ATF does publish monthly data on active federal firearms licenses. Any gun dealer, pawnbroker, importer, historical collector or manufacturer of firearms or ammunition must have a federal firearms license to conduct their business legally.
Though Nevada is a destination for would-be gun buyers from California, it actually has fewer federally licensed outfits than its neighbor to the west. Nevada has 674 federally licensed dealers. Only 13 states have fewer dealers.
But the number of federal firearms licenses in a given state is as much a function of population size as it is the popularity of guns. The bigger the state, the more licenses: Texas has more than 6,000 licensed dealers while Florida has more than 3,000. Pennsylvania has 2,752 licenses, Ohio has 2,651, and Missouri has 2,561.
The bottom five are Rhode Island, with 91 licenses; Delaware, with 129; Hawaii, with 134; Vermont, with 371; and New Jersey, with 337.
Guns on the streets
The ATF’s statistics don’t account for all guns on the streets. But the 2,204 firearms officials recovered in Nevada in 2011 give some idea of what type of firearms are popular. In 2011, over half the guns ATF officials recovered were pistols; they picked up nearly 400 revolvers and just more than 350 rifles.
Shotguns were not a particularly popular firearm recovered by police in Nevada, with only 223 picked up. Machine guns were far less common, with only 46 recovered.
Las Vegas is the source of the lion's share of these counted firearms, with 1,791 of the 2,204 coming from Sin City.
In 2010, the FBI ranked Nevada as having the worst violent crime rate of any state in the country (not including the District of Columbia, which eclipsed every state). That rank improved slightly in 2011, when the FBI ranked Nevada only fifth worst for violent crime, after Tennessee, Alaska, South Carolina and New Mexico.
But what about gun crime?
According to FBI statistics from 2011, Nevada ranks fourth worst among the states in robberies where a firearm was used, 16th worst in assaults involving a firearm and 19th worst among the states for murders involving a firearm.
Have gun, will travel
Nevada guns aren’t used solely in Nevada crimes. According to the ATF, guns purchased in Nevada were recovered in at least a dozen other states in 2011, showing up at crimes scenes as far-flung as Alaska, Maine and Puerto Rico. The bulk of guns the ATF traced back to Nevada, however — 491 of them — were recovered in California.