ILLINOIS — The coronavirus pandemic brought several state legislatures to an early halt in 2020, threatening any potential progress to address gun violence in Illinois and other states.
However, the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, both at the hands of police, sparked historic protests and calls for policing and gun reform. The swell of activism also prompted stalled lawmakers in several states to act by introducing and passing new gun legislation despite the ongoing pandemic.
In all, 43 new gun safety laws were passed in 13 states in 2020, bringing to 180 the total number of laws enacted since the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, according to the newest Annual Gun Scorecard compiled by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
This year’s scorecard reveals Illinois is among the best in the country when it comes to enacting laws and policies aimed at reducing gun violence.
In 2020, Illinois ranked at No. 8 out of 50 states for the strength of its gun laws. Our state also ranked 35th out of 50 states in gun death rates — approximately 10.8 out of every 100,000 people in Illinois are killed by guns each year, below the national average of 11.9 people.
Illinois received an overall grade of A-. The grade is the same as last year’s.
To grade each state, Giffords Law Center tracks and analyzes gun legislation in all 50 states, assigning each gun law and policy a point value based on their respective strengths or weaknesses. Once points are tabulated, states are ranked and assigned letter grades, which are then compared to the most recent gun death rates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year’s scorecard revealed that between 2012 and 2019, the number of Americans living in states with A grades increased by more than 45 million, while the number of Americans living in states with D and F grades declined.
In 2019, for the first time in the history of the Gun Law Scorecard, more Americans lived in A states (98.7 million) than in F states (94.7 million.)
This past year, however, placed a spotlight on the connection between policing and gun violence, according to the most recent scorecard.
Underserved communities of color — and especially Black communities — continue to bear the brunt of gun violence. In states receiving a failing grade on the scorecard, Black Americans are dying by gun violence at a rate 117 percent higher than the national average. At a national level, Black Americans are also 10 times more likely to be slain by a gun.
To end cycles of gun violence, “we must address police brutality and harmful practices that fuel mass incarceration and retaliatory violence,” the scorecard says.
“Ensuring law enforcement accountability is the first step in building police-community trust and fostering an environment where citizens don’t have to live in fear of being killed or wounded by a bullet,” the scorecard says. “Ending this crisis will require sustained work by the new administration, state legislatures, and advocates to fund community violence intervention programs and reform policing practices to create a safer and more just America.”
Despite accounting for only 4 percent of the global population, the United States accounts for more than 35 percent of global firearm suicides and 9 percent of global firearm homicides, according to this year’s scorecard.
A month after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to address gun violence at the federal level.
On Feb. 14, the third anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, Biden called on Congress to strengthen gun laws, including requiring background checks on all gun sales and banning assault weapons.
When the gunfire at Parkland ended, 14 students and three staff members were dead, and 17 others were wounded. The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, is still awaiting trial, according to an Associated Press report.
Over the years, deadly violence targeting schools has shaken the nation — including the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 that claimed 32 lives and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.
Even before the Parkland tragedy, there was already plenty of anguish in Florida over gun violence. Less than two years before, another gunman shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people.
None of the deadly events have produced comprehensive federal gun laws.
“We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change,” the president said. “The time to act is now.”