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Governors argue about gun laws in the press, but what are the facts?

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Gun laws
Illustration by Brent Holmes

California Governor Jerry Brown’s nerves must have been on edge last weekend when he said, from Le Bourget, France, where he was attending climate talks, that Nevada and Arizona are undermining the effectiveness of California’s strict gun laws by being a “gigantic back door through which any terrorist can walk.” Understandable. His state had, only three days earlier, been the scene of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

Also understandably, the respective governors of said states responded to Brown’s accusation with a combination of outrage and disappointment. Mari St. Martin, spokeswoman for Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, released a statement to the press:

“Nevadans share California’s grief during this time of tragedy following the horrific events in San Bernardino. However, Governor Brown’s assertion that our state laws create an opening for terrorists is wrong and irresponsible. … This type of political rhetoric is discouraging to hear at a time when all Americans are looking for thoughtful, honest leadership. Governor Sandoval's top priority has always been the safety and well-being of Nevadans and the millions of tourists who travel to our state annually.”

Support comes from

Nevada Firearms Coalition, a political action committee, quickly issued a statement of its own, indicating support for Sandoval’s position. That group describes Nevada as “the next major battle in the national fight to defend our gun rights.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, High Country News had provided some context for the Brown-Sandoval feud, in the form of a round-up of gun laws in the western U.S. by state. Looking at California and Nevada side by side there, you can see that California requires universal background checks and Nevada doesn’t, for instance; and that both states require mental-health reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Of the six regulations covered, California has them all, while Nevada has three. But perhaps the most telling is the one statistic included in the chart — number of gun deaths per 100,000 people, as of 2013: 7.7 in California; in Nevada, 13.8.

Nothing in the numbers says Nevada is an open door for terrorists to enter California, of course. But the laws and numbers are worth a look for anyone who wants to join the debate.