Three steps toward reducing firearm violence and fatalities
Proposals for gun control, for the most part, are ludicrous.
Not because the intentions of the “gun control” advocates are unworthy. To the contrary: reducing the number of firearm homicides is an eminently admirable intent, and decreasing the threat of mass shootings – especially school shootings – is a goal that every right-thinking citizen supports.
It’s just that many of the “gun control” spokespersons have no clue how to achieve those worthy goals. Not the slightest hint.
After each mass shooting that involves an assault-style rifle or a semi-automatic pistol, the calls go out for legislation to ban the sale of these military and police weapons, or at least to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and “bump-stocks,” and to require the purchaser of a firearm or ammunition be at least 21 years of age. None of these restrictions will advance us toward the goals of fewer firearm homicides or mass shootings. They cannot even advance the cause of safe and ethical use of firearms.
It is as if the list of “gun control” proposals was compiled by the NRA for the purpose of sidetracking the real issues, and making any meaningful action politically impossible. These proposals are screams to catch the mouse in the room while ignoring the elephant.
Not surprisingly, most of the advocates of stricter gun laws know little about firearms, firearm owners, and the shooting sports. They do rightly fear that their children or grandchildren could any day be killed in a mass shooting at school or in any public venue. They are well-intentioned but ignorant, and so they grasp at straws. The paltry list of gun legislation actions they propose is the slimmest and most brittle of straws.
Let’s not grasp at straws. Let’s address this heinous problem at the fundamental level and propose legislative actions that will result in significant advance toward the goals. The objective should NOT be restrictions on firearms; it should be reduction of the number of firearms in the possession of dangerous and untrained people.
First, gun control advocates need to understand that firearm ownership, personal possession of a firearm, is a Constitutional right. This right was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 in its 5-4, decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. The Court’s majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia’s opinion also clearly and definitively stated that the right to bear arms is not unlimited and that laws restricting guns and gun ownership would continue to be Constitutional and could be enacted and enforced.
Every ethical gun owner I know accepts this balance of rights and responsibilities in a free society. Gun ownership is a great right; it carries with it a great responsibility.
To advance the cause of firearm safety and ethical use, we need to respect both the right and the responsibility. For the most part, the “gun-control” advocates insist on social responsibility without regard for individual right, and “pro-gun” advocates insist on individual right without regard for social responsibility.
What is the middle ground between these (often hostile) positions? The middle ground is defined by two principles: 1) a citizen can own any currently legal firearm he or she chooses; 2) the possession and use of that firearm must be regulated. A citizen is granted the right to own any legal firearm; that citizens accepts the responsibility of ethical, moral, and safe firearm ownership.
There are three basic firearm regulations that can achieve that middle ground.
- Require universal and comprehensive background checks for every firearm purchase or transfer. Every sale or transfer must go through a background check by a person with an FFL (Federal Firearms License) who is authorized to conduct those checks.
- Require firearm training for every person who buys or acquires a firearm. Every person who possesses a firearm should know how to handle it responsibly and safely. Hunters in every state have long accepted that purchase of a hunting permit – a license to carry a firearm afield – requires the individual to take and pass a hunter safety course, which is primary a gun handling and safety course. To carry a firearm in any public venue, an individual should be required to take and pass a gun handling and safety course.
- Require registration and licensing of every firearm. The Constitution states I have a right to own a firearm; it also states I have a right to vote. I am required to register my identity as a law-abiding citizen of the nation and state to cast my vote. I should be required to register my identity as a law-abiding citizen of the nation and state to possess a firearm. A firearm should also be licensed, the same as any motor vehicle, watercraft, airplane, or any other personal possession subject to licensing laws and ordinances. There is a sound reason for licensing: some personal possessions that provide a benefit to the individual also imposes a burden or risk on the community. We want the individual to enjoy the benefits; at the same time we him or her to accept responsibility for the burdens and risks. Thus, we license their possession and use.
Enforcement of these regulations must be rigorous, and penalties for violators must escalate sharply for repeat offenses. Public opinion and support will have the greatest effect, as they did in reducing the number of accidents and deaths caused by intoxicated drivers.
I do not for one second expect the radical fringe of gun owners to accept any of these proposals. Their belief seems to be that their right entails no responsibility. Nor do I expect the radical fringe of the anti-gun movement to accept these basic and common-sense regulations. Their belief is that private ownership of all military and police-style firearms should be banned.
Those of us on middle ground — the majority of citizens – have the power, if we have the will, to insist that our federal and state legislators enact legislation based on these three regulations that balance firearm rights and responsibilities. That would be a good outcome for me, a gun owner, recreational shooter, and hunter.
A worse outcome would be the imposition of the more onerously restrictive gun legislation demanded by an increasingly large and adamant anti-gun lobby. As stated in a Feb. 12 article published in the online magazine of the Bloomberg financial company, “In 2014, 31 percent of American households reported owning a firearm, down from 47 percent in 1973…” – a rising tide of anti-gun sentiment in those households will surely result oppressively strict legislation if we do not reduce the horror of mass shootings.
The worst possible result would be federal and state legislators’ continued kowtow to the NRA and other pro-gun lobbies, which will surely result in increased firearms homicides and more mass shootings. Implementing these three common sense regulations for gun ownership (background checks, training, registration and licensing) will not immediately result in a major reduction of gun violence; the effects will be gradual over a period of years. But that is far, far better than the current trend of evermore gun deaths.
There is middle ground. Ethical firearm owners and advocates of meaningful gun safety regulations should claim that middle ground and hold fast to it.