Two certainties pop up on a regular basis when the subject of gun control, or its lack, gets discussed on the Internet. One is that a pro-gun-freedom poster will state that there are “20,000 gun laws already on the books” and the other is that it will only take a moment for a pro-gun-control poster to post and challenge that number as fictional.
This number has become as well beloved to many gun enthusiasts and supporters as pi is 3.14 (and so on) with mathematicians, the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second with physicists, and the earth is 24,000 miles in circumference with geologists.
But is it true?
Who knows? It is impossible to state just how many laws affecting firearms there are in existence. But we can make some fairly good suppositions that might help to clarify the issue.
A critical step in any discussion where there is uncertainly is defining terms. This helps lessen the opportunity that two people will talk past one another using the same term but meaning different things to each.
That’s why we are going to start by defining “laws.” There are federal, state and local legislative (or statutory) laws passed by a governing body and signed by an executive. Local can mean anywhere from the county level down to an ordinance passed by a hamlet with a few dozen people in residence.
For example, here in Indiana we have 92 counties, 119 cities and 447 towns that can pass laws. That’s not even counting the townships, which have the ability to pass their own laws.
There are federal and state “case laws” that come from judicial rulings and are required to be followed the same as legislative laws. These can range from the Supreme Court through the entire federal court system down to lower level state court cases.
There are rulings, procedures and regulations from federal, state and local agencies that have the force and nature of laws. You can be fined and even put in jail by violating one of these agency rules.
There are laws that deal with the importation, manufacturing, distribution, testing, selling and buying of firearms. There are laws affecting the carrying, storing and shooting of firearms. More laws deal with modifications to firearms and who can and can’t own firearms. There are also laws, rules, and regulations concerning peripherals around firearms such as what holsters are legal, the ammunition that can be sold, bought, and kept, and, according to the State Department, what information about firearms can be legally posted on the Internet.
Added together, no one really knows the number of firearm laws and regulations, but 20,000 is not out of the reach of reasonableness.
Up until July of 2011 I could guarantee you that virtually all of the 92 counties, 119 cities and 447 towns in Indiana had at least several firearm laws on the books concerning what types of guns were allowed in town, where and when they could be carried, and when they could be used. Indiana passed a state law early in 2011 to preempt the field of firearm law and consolidate the authority for them within the state. Therefore, all the local laws were wiped off the books.
There was such a wailing and gnashing of teeth from the towns that you could not imagine. Some of them are even attempting to defy state law now. There were, with a good, reasonable estimate, probably 1,000 local town and city laws that went by the wayside over the state preemption. And that was just in one of 50 states.
According to Bryan Lee Ciyou, an attorney with Ciyou & Dixon P.C. in Indianapolis, and author of “Indiana Firearms Law Reference Manual” there are 12 states that do not preempt local firearm laws. You’ll find the same hodge-podge of hundreds if not thousands of local laws in these states. Several large states such as Ohio recently joined Indiana in preempting the issue so is easy to see the up until just a short few years ago there was an opportunity for tens of thousands of local laws.
Yes, there easily could have been well-over 20,000 laws when this particular number started in being shared around the Internet. There still could be very close to that many that affect firearms by the time you add them all up. What is perfectly legal in Springfield, Indiana may or may not be legal in Springfield, Oregon, Springfield, Illinois, Springfield, Massachusetts, or Springfield, Missouri as the firearms laws change from place to place.
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