Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference with a coalition of members of Congress, mayors, law enforcement officers, gun safety organizations and other groups on Capitol Hill in Washington to introduce legislation on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — There is a legal way to try to get any gun you want somewhere in the United States, thanks to the maze of gun statutes across the country and the lack of certain federal laws.
An Associated Press analysis found that thousands of laws, rules and regulations exist at the local, county, state and federal levels. The laws and rules vary by state, and even within states, according to a 2011 compilation of state gun laws by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
President Barack Obama this month announced a $500 million plan to tighten federal gun laws after a school shooting in Connecticut killed 20 children and six adults and pushed gun control to a national focus not seen in decades.
Obama is urging Congress to pass new laws, some of which would set a minimum standard for the types of firearms and ammunition that are commercially available. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday said she was introducing a new assault weapons ban.
The powerful gun lobby argues that enforcing all existing laws makes more sense than passing new ones.
"Which begs the question: Why are we putting more laws on the books if we're not enforcing the laws we already have on the books?" said Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the National Rifle Association.
The current patchwork of laws and regulations governs who can carry a firearm, what kind of firearm is legal, the size of ammunition magazines, and more. In some places, a person can buy as many guns as desired.
Not only can people acquire military-style assault weapons, they can also get gangster-style Tommy guns, World War II-era bazookas and sawed-off shotguns.
"If you regulate something on the local or state level, you are still a victim to guns coming into other localities or states," said Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney at the California-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In California, most guns come from Nevada, where there is almost no regulation of firearms, Cutilletta said, and in Arizona, gun owners don't need a permit.
Any new gun laws will face tough opposition in Congress, particularly from the many members who rely on the NRA during election campaigns. The NRA contributed more than $700,000 to members of Congress during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Congress is also busy with a series of fights in the coming weeks and months over the country's massive deficit, and leading lawmakers have warned that those debates will push gun control issues aside.
Recognizing the opposition in Congress, states already are passing their own new gun laws while officials from some states are promising to ignore any new federal mandates.
As the national debate on gun control and the Second Amendment right to bear arms escalates, the terms being used won't mean the same thing everywhere, due to the thousands of laws, rules and regulations across the country.
"The patchwork of laws in many ways means that the laws are only as effective as the weakest law there is," said Gene Voegtlin of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "Those that are trying to acquire firearms and may not be able to do that by walking into their local gun shop will try to find a way to do that. This patchwork of laws allows them to seek out the weak links and acquire weapons."
Obama wants to address this, in part, by passing federal gun-trafficking laws that carry heavy penalties. It's difficult to crack down on trafficking because the penalties are too low to serve as a deterrent, and federal prosecutors decline many cases because of a lack of evidence.
Obama has also called for a new federal law banning magazines that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition — a measure that was in effect during the previous assault weapons ban, between 1994 and 2004. High-capacity magazines have been used in recent deadly mass shootings, including those in Connecticut and in the Colorado movie theater attack last summer.
A high-capacity ammunition magazine means different things in different places
In California, considered by many to have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, a large-capacity magazine is one that holds more than 10 rounds. In Illinois, there is no state law regarding magazines. Yet there are laws regarding magazines in the state's largest city, Chicago, where the threshold is more than 12 rounds. But about 40 miles (64 kilometers) away in Aurora, Illinois, this type of magazine is called a large-capacity ammunition feeding device and means anything more than 15 rounds.
In 44 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Texas and Virginia, where these magazines have been used in deadly mass shootings, there are no laws against using them, according to a 2012 analysis by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
If a federal law banned magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, it would become the minimum standard.
The definition of "assault weapon" also varies. There is no federal definition of an assault weapon, and the meaning of the term is inconsistent even within the gun industry. California defines an assault weapon as a "firearm (that) has such a high rate of fire and capacity for fire-power that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings." The law specifically lists 60 rifles, 14 pistols and five shotguns.
Neighboring states Nevada and Arizona have no assault weapon restrictions.