Gun Control Group's Statistical Study Called 'A Waste of Time'

By Michael L. Betsch | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - What's in a number? Plenty, when you're calculating the number of gun control laws currently on the books in America. A new report by a liberal Washington think tank dismisses the view by Second Amendment supporters, that there are more than 20,000 existing gun laws.

But, by labeling local gun ordinances "irrelevant," and pegging the overall number of gun laws at 300, the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy has fired up its conservative critics.

The Brookings study, instead, counted only those "relevant federal and state laws regarding the manufacture, design, sale, purchase, or possession of guns." The authors claimed it was "irrelevant" to count the local gun laws superseded by state laws in more than 40 states.

The study was authored by 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 Lisa M. Hepburn of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Gun control advocates Vernick and Hepburn are claiming that conservatives such as former President Ronald Reagan exaggerated the figure of 20,000 in order to defeat calls for additional gun legislation. The authors said there is "no source" for Reagan's statistic other than references in Congressional testimony back in 1965.

In an effort to settle the statistical debate, Vernick said he and his colleague, Hepburn, took it upon themselves to "document the meaningful state and federal laws."

According to John Lott, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book More Guns, Less Crime , the Brookings Institution's study is basically a publicity stunt for an upcoming book soon to be released by the liberal Washington, D.C. think tank.

"They have a book coming out this month," Lott said. "The best as I can figure out, they're giving like one news story out a day ... It's going to be something we'll see dribbling out for awhile."

But, where Vernick and Hepburn said they were unable to find any attribution to the '20,000' statistic, Lott said the proof is readily available in a compendium prepared twice a year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He did say the gun law information takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to compile.

"About ten years," Lott said, "somebody actually took the time to go and do this."

Lott said final analysis of the B.A.T.F. report found approximately 20,000 gun laws to exist in the U.S. and he suspects more federal, state and local laws were added or amended by lawmakers over the past decade.

Nelson Lund, a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia and an expert on Second Amendment matters, said the question of how many gun laws there are in the country is "a very interesting question, and probably, unanswerable."

"There's no central database of all the laws in the country," Lund said. "So, even finding out what they all are is probably impossible."

According to Lund, the conservative estimate of 20,000 has been circulating around pro-Second Amendment circles for decades. While Lott claims the B.A.T.F. has statistical proof of such a number, Lund doubts anyone can prove its existence.

"What difference does it make how many there are," Lund asked "If you had one law that said nobody can have any guns, that would just be one law. But it would be much more restrictive than thousands of laws that just dealt with things like who can purchase them and whether felons can purchase them."

Joe Waldron, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, disagreed with Lund's assertion that the number of existing gun laws is irrelevant.

"Go ahead and ask some of these people who have been caught by the other 19,700," Waldron said. "I think the whole purpose of the Brookings Institution study is to pooh-pooh that [and] to denigrate that."

Waldron urged the Brookings Institution and other gun control advocates who subscribe to the authors' nationwide tally of 300 gun laws to recognize that the 20,000 figure is a compilation of every "stray ordinance" that exists in towns, cities and states across America.

"Federal law," Waldron said, "is a general rule that doesn't tell you where and how you can possess a firearm." That's what state and local laws focus on, he said.

"They might say that the state laws and local laws are irrelevant, but that's not really true. I mean, how often do they really enforce federal gun laws," said Dennis Jackson, advisor to Armed Females of America. "Not very often. They leave it up to the states."

Jackson said there is no doubt that 20,000 or more gun laws govern American society today. He pointed to two gun control acts alone that now contain several additional provisions since Congress passed the original legislation decades ago.

"Take a look at the gun laws that are on the books now, going back to NFA 34 (National Firearms Act of 1934) and the Gun Control Act of 1968," Jackson said. "Those are two laws, but what about all of the individual restrictions they have built into each of those acts? I think that's where we get the [20,000] number."

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