Study Disputes Claim of 20,000 U.S. Gun Laws; Research of Federal and State Gun Laws Yields 300 Relevant Statutes
From: Steve Bowers of the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, 202-797-6414, email@example.com, or Mark Karlin of Mark Karlin and Associates, 312-474-1740, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 -- Since 1965, national political leaders and gun safety opponents have rejected calls for gun legislation, stating that there are already more than 20,000 gun laws on the books in the United States. A new study casts doubt on that claim, revealing only 300 relevant federal and state laws regarding the manufacture, design, sale, purchase, or possession of guns.
The study, "Description and Analysis of State and Federal Laws Affecting Firearm Manufacture, Sale, Possession And Use, 1970-1999," disputes the "20,000 gun law" claim based on a thorough examination of the number and type of state and federal gun laws in the United States. The number of laws per state range from one to 13; among the most common concern mandatory minimum sentencing, dealer background checks, "shall issue" or carrying a concealed weapon, dealer licensing, and child access protection.
The study will be released as a chapter in the book "Evaluating Gun Policy," a collection of articles on the consequences of gun possession and policies from Brookings Institution Press to be released the first week in February 2000. Copies of the chapter can be obtained by contacting the Brookings Institution.
State laws were organized into four categories in the study: 1) laws banning certain firearms; 2) sales and purchase restrictions; 3) possession, carrying, and storage laws; and 4) sentence enhancement laws for the use of a firearm in a crime. Jon S. Vernick, associate professor and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and co-author Lisa M. Hepburn, of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that even the most liberal interpretation of what constitutes a gun control law would still fall far short of the 20,000 figure.
"Since the notion of the United States having more than 20,000 significant gun laws has become such an important point of reference in the ongoing debate over guns in America, we thought that it would be worthwhile to document the meaningful state and federal laws," said Vernick.
The reference to 20,000 gun laws, which is often quoted by opponents of gun regulation, first appeared in Congressional testimony in 1965, but no source was given. The number, however, has taken hold in the public consciousness. In 1981, 11 weeks after being shot, President Reagan rejected a call for additional gun legislation, saying "there are today more than 20,000 gun control laws in effect -- federal, state and local -- in the United States." The study notes a search of an electronic news database for "20,000 gun laws" or "20,000 gun control laws" that yielded more than 200 such citations in the last five years.
Although the study does not include a tally of local gun laws, the authors contend that since more than 40 states preempt all or most local gun control laws, the inclusion of such laws is irrelevant. "In the future, rather than trying to count the number of gun control laws, we should try to better evaluate the effect of those laws," added Vernick.