Which are the worst three states for exercising your right to keep and bear arms? There are several contenders for that dubious distinction. The worst states can be found with the answers to a couple of questions.
First: Do you have to ask government permission to purchase a firearm? Some states require that you obtain permission before purchasing handguns. A smaller subset require that you obtain permission before purchasing any gun. That infringement is a must have for the worst states. There are twelve states that have the requirement for all guns. They are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington State. Maryland does not make the list, because you do not need a permit to purchase most rifles and shotguns.
Second: Does the state claim the power to arbitrarily deny people the right to bear arms outside of the home, even after jumping through the hoops to obtain a permit? The power may be vested in police chiefs, a board or committee, or some other appendage of the state.
The clear infringement is the state can arbitrarily say “sure, you meet the legal qualifications; you have not committed a felony. You haven’t been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. You have not been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. You have taken the proper course, passed the test, and are legally allowed by law to own weapons…but…the semi-feudal authority figure does not like the cut of your jib, so he says “Denied”, and your rights are infringed. This often takes the form of a subjective judgment that you do not have a “good reason” to have a permit. Strangely, those with money and political connections are usually able to come up with “good reasons”. Not having legal access to carry outside the home cuts the list down to six states.
California, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are at the top of the list for states hostile to the exercise of Second Amendment rights.
Of those six states, picking the worst three is much more difficult. There are differences. Delaware Requires a background check, but not a separate license to purchase. While the state is “may issue” in law, it is reported as being “shall issue” in practice. It comes off the list.
Massachusetts requires a permit to buy a gun. They require a permit to carry a gun. One permit will allow you to do both, so people are opting for that permit instead of alternatives that are only slightly less onerous. Because of this , the number of people with Massachusetts carry permits is a respectable 7.6% of adults. Getting a permit may be difficult in Massachusetts. A permit is not guaranteed. Most Massachusetts residents who want one can get one and may bear arms. Massachusetts gets dropped off the list.
California bans private sales. You must go through a government controlled dealer to legally buy a gun. You have to register guns that you make yourself. But California does not require a special state permit to buy a gun. Many areas of California issue concealed carry permits on essentially a “shall issue” basis. California is a contender because of the insane and recent spate of anti-rights laws, but they are off the list of the top three. That leaves the three worst states: Hawaii, New York, and New Jersey.
New Jersey is the worst of the three. While they issue more permits to carry than Hawaii, the permits nearly all go to retired judges, police officers, and people with considerable “pull” (political connections). It is extremely difficult to obtain a New Jersey carry permit. New Jersey had about 1200 permits active in 2016. All other states issue more carry permits than that. All firearms ownership and use in New Jersey is controlled by statute. That is, everything about firearms that is not permitted, is forbidden. There are regular stories about people with innocent intentions being caught up in firearms laws that defy common sense. New Jersey is the only state that defines a tubular magazine fed .22 hunting rifle as an “assault weapon”. For a while, a Daisy BB gun was considered an “assault weapon” in New Jersey. A large, subjective part of what makes New Jersey the worst, is the state structure seems quite willing to ignore their own rules, such as time limits on issuing permits. The impression is the rule of law is more the rule by local power brokers in New Jersey. New Jersey is one of the six states that has no right to keep and bear arms provision in the state constitution.
New York might not have made the list except for the “SAFE” Act passed in 2013. New York eliminated the New York State lifetime handgun permit. Permits now have to be renewed every five years. The SAFE act requires that all firearm purchases go through a government dealer, with extremely limited exceptions. The act requires that all ammunition purchases be done through a licensed dealer, a provision that is not yet fully law in California. There is widespread resistance to the SAFE Act, especially in upstate New York. But 43 percent of New York State residents live in New York City, where it is very difficult to obtain a permit to even purchase a pistol, let alone carry one. In California, while it is very difficult to obtain a permit to carry in the urban centers, it is much easier to purchase handguns legally. In California, carry permits are valid throughout the state. State carry permits in New York are not valid in New York City. Stories where New York authorities ignore their own firearms law to impose more stringent restrictions are rampant. New York is another of the six states that have no right to keep and bear arms in the state constitution.
Hawaii is as bad as New Jersey for most of their firearm laws. They are worse when it comes to issuing carry permits. In a fair number of years, there are no permits issued to private citizens for self defense for the entire state. You have to apply to a permit authority to buy any firearm legally. The authority to buy long guns only lasts for one year. The authority to buy a handgun only lasts for 10 days. There are a fairly large number of long guns that were grandfathered in the law before July 1, 1994. They are not required to be registered. No one knows just how many exist. Hawaii has a better reputation for following their own rules than New Jersey or New York. The Hawaii Constitution’s right to bear arms provision is a copy of the Second Amendment.
Reasonable people can differ on the three worst states for the exercise of Second Amendment rights. Nearly every list will contain New Jersey. Contentions exist about the other two. My vote is for New York and Hawaii.