"More than 20,000 gun laws" -- counting how, by whom?


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yhtomit
April 19, 2007, 08:23 PM
I've heard the claim that there are more than 20,000 gun laws in the United States about once per law claimed ;)

I'd really like to know if anyone can suggest to me what *exactly* that number reflects -- that is, the methodology used to add up to that figure.

I don't doubt that there really are 20,000 gun laws -- but whenever I hear that number trotted out, I want to know what the speaker means. (And I'll admit, I've tossed that figure around in heated conversations before, which I will call a linguistic crime, aka "The New, New McCarthyism.")

Broken down into several other questions, I'm asking about any / all of the following:

- The handful of federal gun statutes I've read through have many provisions; when people talk about the total number of "laws," sometimes I wonder if this number is inflated by counting each statute's provisions separately. It's not unreasonable, I think, to count different provisions as different "laws," since they apply to different people and situations, but if I were naysaying, I'd say this isn't a fair way to count. Either way, I'd like to know if that's part of the backstory.

For instance (copying gently from Wikipedia), the first three categories of persons to whom firearms ownership is prohibited by the Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986 are:

# Anyone who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year, excluding crimes of imprisonment that are related to the regulation of business practices.
# Anyone who is a fugitive from justice.
# Anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance

(Those are listed in the actual law at 18 USC 922(d)(1-3))
Again, I think it's fair to call each of these a separate law, but they're certainly all part of one statute.

- Are state laws being talked about? 20,000/50 (offer not good in Alaska, bonus points for Hawaii) gets me 400 laws per state (if there weren't any Federal ones adding to the total). Since many lawmakers like to squeeze in digs at guns / gun owners at all opportunities, it wouldn't surprise me that certain states at least would surpass that total easily.

- Does a good 20,000 count include BATFE regulations? In that case, I'm surprised that it was so low -- 20,000 would be dust on a mountain, I'd think.

So, can anyone point out to me an explanation of how any particular person / organization counted? Perhaps 20,000 gun laws were pre-inflation, so now it's 36,000 ;)

Cheers,

timothy

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rocinante
April 19, 2007, 10:54 PM
No one is responding because no body knows. Really public information has turned into such a biased self serving propaganda tool by all sides of all arguments I tune out all 'statistics'. When was the last time ANYWHERE you say a statistic that actually had a plausible reference to give it validity? Mark Twain was ahead of his times. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Lets just stick to debating with what works, feelings, principles, and self interest. Keep 'FACTS' out of it because nobody trust quantitative facts not because they do not believe in science but because they do not trust the messengers any more. Pick a subject - war, global warming, trade. I strongly believe that America's gut instinct is to keep our means of personal defense and the ranting utopia smoking antis goose is cooked. Choi scared the hell out of people but this time they are realistic and saying 'you know it would be nice to have a gun of my own if a madman or a jihadist came after ME'.

Elza
April 19, 2007, 11:10 PM
I try to stay away from the "20,000" number just for the reasons stated. I will generally say "untold thousands of laws". Good enough to get the point across, ambiguous enough to not have to explain where the number came from. :D

SDC
April 19, 2007, 11:14 PM
I'm sure that number was arrived at by adding up all of the federal laws, plus all of the state laws, plus all of the city/county/municipal laws.

ctdonath
April 19, 2007, 11:46 PM
The BATFE publishes an incomplete collection of state & major city gun laws. This 2.5 pound tome - not including federal laws - consists of 458 8.5"x11"pages of dense 8-point text. Arranged 3 columns, 78 lines per column, with .25" margins, a quick eyeballing shows each law* takes about 5 lines per column average. Doing the math estimates out to around 21,000 laws - and that's not including federal laws, less relevant state laws**, and minor city laws.


* - "law" being defined as fine-grain as possible.
Example: "The confiscated [on school property] weapon shall be disposed of or destroyed as provided by law."
Example: "[Any manufacturer who] fails to produce or account for a sheriff's permit for each machine gun sold by him for which a permit is necessary under the provisions of R.S. 40:1753, shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than one year no more than five years."
One longer law may be balanced out by something like six short ones, giving an eyeball estimate average of 5 lines per law.

** - the boundary for what is included can get fuzzy.
Example: NY forbids gun-shaped liquor bottles.

obxned
April 19, 2007, 11:47 PM
When walking through a busy feed lot, you don't need to count turds to know it's a whole lot of s***!

thirty-thirty
April 19, 2007, 11:51 PM
The purpose of numerous laws is selective scrutiny. It becomes "If-the-want-you-for-something-they got-you" rather than equal rule of law.

This is true for many aspects of law besides gun laws.

It doesn't mean much to most people.....if you are a whistleblower it's entirely another story.

cbsbyte
April 20, 2007, 12:00 AM
Personally, I believe its nothing but made up BS by the NRA. I don't trust statistics.

ctdonath
April 20, 2007, 09:24 AM
cbsbyte,
Did you bother reading what I wrote? I _HAVE_ an extensive comprehensive collection of gun laws, which one can EASILY estimate out to well over 20,000 individual laws. Ya wanna count 'em? I'll mail ya the durn thing if "BS NRA statistics" aren't enough.

I get so weary of fighting this "I'm ignorant, but I'm right" attitude.
Please tell me you don't vote.
:banghead:

yhtomit
April 20, 2007, 10:28 AM
Thanks to all who've replied, and in particular ctdonath -- that gives me the best answer I've seen yet. I'd have no trouble based on the existence of that book with saying that we have (for instance) "on the order of" or "approximately" 20,000 gun laws. (Better IMO to round down than up when it's in your favor that the number *actually* be higher in proving a certain point ...)

timothy

waterhouse
April 20, 2007, 11:40 AM
ctdonath posted basically the same thing, but:

Back in 2005 someone asked and I started actually counting, but then got bored and attempted to extrapolate, using the same tome that ctdonath mentions. This is what I came up with:

I just opened up the ATF "State Laws and Published Ordinances" book. I started counting all of the numbered codes (eg: 13A-11-60 Possession or sale of of brass or steel teflon coated handgun ammunition), but did not count the subsections of the codes. Sometimes there are about 15 subsections, so often there are only one or two laws per page, but sometimes there are 15 or so laws per page. Also, some of the fancy numbered codes are "definitions", so that might throw the folowing numbers off.

I didn't count super carefully, but there were about 112 laws in the first 16 pages, or about 7 laws per page. I don't know whether 16 pages is a sufficient sample size or not to get an average, but also I don't really care that much, I was just a little curious.

Anyhow, the book has 426 pages of gun laws, which by my math approximates out to around 3,000 "laws".

However, if each subsection of a law counts as a law, I'm sure there are well over 20,000, since page 1 alone contains almost 30 if you include the a), b), c) etc. subsections.

Keep in mind this tome is just a list of gun laws by state, and does not include federal or local laws, etc. For example, Austin apparently has a law that says you can't operate a gun sales business out of your home inside Austin city limits. (the ATF told me there was a law like this, thankfully I live a couple hundred yards outside the limits.) I'd be willing to bet there are other firearms laws specific to the city limits, and that many hundreds of cities and towns throughout the U.S have at least a couple laws on the books mentioning firearms, and these would be pretty difficult to quantify.

ctdonath
April 20, 2007, 01:51 PM
Yeah, I wondered too about how to break it down. Decided that the finest-grain definition was best, as each little subsection really does amount to a separate rule one can be subject to. Also included definitions, as those interact with other laws to form separate rules (ex.: a simple line prohibiting "assault weapons" interacts with the multi-page definition to create dozens of separate issues/rules one is subject to).

ctdonath
April 20, 2007, 01:53 PM
For those interested (and/or dismissive), you can download (http://www.atf.treas.gov/pub/index.htm#Firearms) the state (http://www.atf.treas.gov/firearms/statelaws/26thedition/index.htm) and federal (http://www.atf.treas.gov/pub/fire-explo_pub/2005/p53004/index.htm) books from the BATFE (http://www.atf.treas.gov).
Start counting.

James T Thomas
April 20, 2007, 02:27 PM
"yhtomit:"

You realise, don't you, that if that statement would have been given by a "liberal," that it would have read 20,000,000!

And the thing is that there would have been mostly acceptance of it as fact.
Especially amoung the elite and higher educated.

Don't believe it?

Try -Global Warming; disaster is only a short time away! We must do something now.

yhtomit
April 20, 2007, 02:33 PM
Grrr. I should be working on a paper, and so won't be downloading those right now, but I appreciate having them handy for later perusal :)

You're right too about the complexities introduced by interaction w/ definitions etc. making it very hard to say "how many."

The replies here have given me some good food for thought.

timothy

jfh
April 20, 2007, 03:01 PM
I read an article in, I believe, Combat Handguns magazine. The editor / author of that article actually cited a study done to verify that nominal 20,000 number referred to here.

Keep in mind that number--20,000--is about 10 years old, and obviously did not include later additions by local/state/national governments.

I suppose one can haggle over details--i.e., does each subsection count as a 'law'--but it does seem to me that since people can be charged under each subsection, the count is assuredly 20,000-plus laws at this time.

I haven't bothered to google on this--but feel free to do that if you need to pick the nuts off gnats on this issue. Meanwhile, there are good links to the laws listed above.

Jim H.

rmurfster
April 20, 2007, 03:37 PM
Would it be more accurate then to say there are over 3000 actual laws and over 20,000 regulations concerning guns?
The BATFE publishes an incomplete collection of state & major city gun laws. This 2.5 pound tome - not including federal laws - consists of 458 8.5"x11"pages of dense 8-point text. Arranged 3 columns, 78 lines per column, with .25" margins, a quick eyeballing shows each law* takes about 5 lines per column average. Doing the math estimates out to around 21,000 laws - and that's not including federal laws, less relevant state laws**, and minor city laws.
Anyhow, the book has 426 pages of gun laws, which by my math approximates out to around 3,000 "laws".

However, if each subsection of a law counts as a law, I'm sure there are well over 20,000, since page 1 alone contains almost 30 if you include the a), b), c) etc. subsections.

ctdonath
April 23, 2007, 01:34 PM
The 3000 number refers more to groupings of discreet rules, linking things that may or may not really be related.
Example: NY's assault weapon "law" could be labeled as a single law, yet links a ban on >10-round magazines for rifles to a ban on pistols over 50 ounces ... not really a fair or relevant connection.
Remember, as comparison, the federal budget is technically a single law - despite being thousands of pages long.

The 20,000 number refers to individual rules which you are required to adhere to, and thus must be concerned with individually and separately; grouping several as "one law" is flatly not relevant to you having to obey each discreet part thereof. Each subsection of the 3000 addresses an issue differently enough that it is effectively a different law.

It's kinda like saying a car has 4 parts: engine, cab, frame, and wheels - convenient, but not particularly useful.

Tim James
April 23, 2007, 04:11 PM
Discussed in Alan Korwin's federal gun laws book.

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