How Many Federal Laws Are There? No One Knows.

February 7, 2013

No one knows how many laws there are in the United States.  Apparently, no one can count that high.

They’ve been accumulating, of course, for more than 200 years.  When federal laws were first codified in 1927, they fit into a single volume.  By the 1980s, there were 50 volumes of more than 23,000 pages.

And today?  Online sources say that no one knows.  The Internal Revenue Code alone, first codified in 1874, contains more than 3.4 million words and, if printed 60 lines to the page, is more than 7,500 pages long.  There are about 20,000 laws just governing the use and ownership of guns.

New laws mean new crimes.  From the start of 2000 through 2007, Congress had created at least 452 new crimes, so that at that time the total number of Federal crimes exceeded 4,450.

Of course, times change and laws need to be updated.  But many laws detract from, rather than contribute to, our quality of life and overall well-being.  It is impossible for anyone to know all of the laws that affect them and it is, therefore, impossible to not break any laws.  How many of the 4,450 crimes have you broken?

The role of Congress, unfortunately, is to create new laws, not to do away with old laws that don’t work.  Members of Congress running for re-election want to be able to say that they sponsored and passed new laws – regardless of how harmful the laws may be.

In a typical year, Congress passes at least 125 new laws, but Congress has fortunately slowed the pace of late.  In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congress passed just 90 bills into law.  As of last August, only 61 of the 3,914 bills that had been introduced in 2012 as of that date had been passed into law.

USA Today criticized the “do nothing” Congress for not passing enough new laws, as though Congress should be graded based on the number of laws it passes.  I say it’s a step in the right direction.

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