On Saturday, I hope to join the local walk for gun control inspired by the students in Parkland, Florida. In preparation, here are some thoughts on what a reasonable gun control policy might look like. First, a reminder of the second amendment to the U.S Constitution. It reads:
A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Automatic weapons—the AR15s and weapons like them, along with bump stocks and other devices that allow a gun to fire as if it were automatic—are weapons of war and should not be available to individuals. These are not weapons of individual protection and have no value to hunters. Since the Constitution encourages states to establish a “well-regulated militia,” automatic weapons and related devices, to the extent that they are needed at all, should be maintained in a well-protected armory, so that they are available to the militia in emergencies. However, they should not be available for individuals to purchase in sporting goods stores, gun shows, or anywhere else.
The situation is different for hunting rifles and pistols, given the long tradition of hunting in many American communities and concerns for home safety. Here, we can learn from the experience of states to control motor vehicles and drivers:
- States should conduct background checks on all individuals seeking to own or use fire arms.
- Owners and users of weapons should be tested on their ability to safely use the weapons and, having passed the test, should be licensed. Just as some states have separate licensing to drive motorcycles, cars, and certain trucks, states should require separate licenses for hunting rifles, pistols, and other weapons. User licenses should be renewed annually.
- Fire arms ownership should be registered and that registration should be renewed annually, as is done with motor vehicle ownership.
- Owners should be held legally responsible for any deaths or property destruction caused by fire arms that they own. States should require owners to maintain insurance on their weapons, just as is the case with automobiles.
- Owners should be required to report missing/stolen weapons to the local police within 24 hours of discovering that they are missing.
- There should be adequate penalties for possession of unregistered weapons and for unlicensed use of weapons.
The infrastructure to administer these requirements already exists in the Department of Motor Vehicles in most states. It should be relatively easy to add these requirements and support the work through registration and license fees.
Over the years, the process of registration and licensing around motor vehicles has become accepted as a part of daily life in America. The driver’s exam and first license are seen by many as a rite of passage. There’s no reason to assume that the same would not happen when similar requirements are tied to fire arms. Since it is unlikely that Americans will give up their guns, we need this basic regulation to help protect citizens.