Why Not Registration and Licensing for Guns?

While Congress wrangles with what to do about gun safety, I’d like to propose a solution that I suspect lots of others are thinking about, too: Gun registration and licensing very much like how car ownership and licensing works.

Why can’t every firearm in America be registered, and why isn’t some sort of licensing required to own them? If I can’t sell a car to my son or daughter without going to a notary to legally transfer the title, why can’t gun owners do the same?

And if I can’t legally operate any class of motor vehicle without the proper license, why can’t gun owners be required to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of how to safely use a firearm, while at the same time demonstrating their mental competency to be trusted with such an incredible responsibility as owning an object capable of being used to take another’s life in an instant?


Here are the broad strokes for how I propose it would work.

First, Congress passes legislation that makes clips larger than 10 rounds illegal. There’s no denying that those large clips have played a central role in places like Newtown, Aurora and others.

And while I’m no fan of assault rifles, I don’t see banning them as important as controlling the size of magazines. Banning assault weapons, frankly, seems more like a feel good measure than anything else. I admit that it would make me feel good, too, but I’m willing to concede the point that doing so may not have much effect on gun violence except in extreme cases like Newtown. Even then, there are lots of semi-automatic firearms that Adam Lanza could have used besides the AR-15.

In addition to limiting magazines, what I’d really like to see Congress do is to set minimum guidelines that organizations and citizens would be required to demonstrate and abide by in order to be licensed to own “classes” of firearms. This would be akin to various classes of driver’s licenses.

Class A: Hunting rifles and shotguns

Class B: Handguns

Class C: All other types (including assault-style rifles – I’ll explain later)

Organizations like the NRA, local gun clubs, shooting ranges, and anyone else who wants to can register and, by passing the federal minimum guidelines (and paying an annual license fee to their state), be inspected and authorized by their state police to offer free or fee-based training (their decision as to which), testing, and licensing in the various firearm license classes.

These organizations will also be the place where you can register your firearm. It could be an online transaction, too, I suppose. If I’m not mistaken, every firearm has a unique serial number. This database would create the accounting of every firearm. More than that, it would make every owner accountable and responsible for where that fireman is at any point in time. Being caught with an unregistered firearm would carry some stiff penalty, including jail time, and penalties would get progressively harsher for firearms used in any sort of crime. If your registered firearm is stolen and you don’t report it, you’re still held accountable.

Would this have stopped Adam Lanza?

Probably not, unless the license tests had also included mental health testing and he failed it. As for the concerns about firearms and mental health, why not include such testing or sworn affidavits from appropriate medical professionals as prerequisites for getting a firearm license?

Even with this kind of testing and licensing, and assuming the firearms Lanza used were obtained legally, he still could have committed his heinous crime.

What could have limited the killing could have been if clips of more than 10 rounds had not been available. It’s hard to deny the physics of having to change out 3 magazines as taking more time and effort than firing 30 rounds all at once from a single magazine.

That’s why Congress should make those clips immediately illegal to possess by ordinary citizens, and every citizen in the U.S. who now owns any should be ordered to turn them in to local law enforcement within 30 days of passage. Period. No exceptions. I’m not a fan of a buy-back, either, but if that’s what it takes, so be it. There simply is no rational justification for an ordinary citizen to own large ammo magazines.

More to the larger problem of gun crimes, this proposal creates an “audit trail” for all the transactions that put guns into the hands of gangs and criminals.

According to the CDC, there were 11,078 homicides by firearm in the U.S. in 2010. It’s absolutely feasible and technologically possibly to trace the ownership of every one of the firearms used in those killings had they been registered – starting with the manufacturer – into a centralized database. That’s why we should be registering every new AND existing firearm in the country.

The owner of a firearm needs to be held accountable for its use, and unless that firearm was stolen and reported as such before the crime, they need to be punished when guns are sold without registration and then used in a crime even though they didn’t pull the trigger. And if the same person reports multiple incidents of stolen guns, then perhaps they should lose their right to keep their gun license(s) and to own guns at all.

I see this proposal as benefiting everyone.

  • It allows the NRA to fulfill its original mission to, “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis” (and to perhaps even recruit lots of new members who come to them for training, testing, and licensing). Other groups and organizations like gun clubs and sports/outdoors associations can choose to participate, too.
  • States get to decide how to implement the federal minimum gun safety guidelines, as well as to make their own decisions about making those guidelines even more restrictive if they and their citizens, through the electoral process, choose to do so. States would also generate additional revenues from annual gun registrations – just like cars – and the licenses that must be renewed every few years – just like driver’s licenses.
  • Gun ownership would NOT be limited but would be defined by the level of knowledge and understanding the citizen can demonstrate by obtaining a license. I would support an approach in which what I’m calling Class C licenses that would include military-style assault weapons (however those turn out to be defined) would not be available to citizens outside of law enforcement and the military. It would also be unlawful for those Class C weapons to be sold to anyone not holding a Class C license.
  • Most importantly, gun owners would be held accountable for every firearm they purchase, while those committing crimes with guns – and especially unregistered guns – would be punished even more severely. Something like an automatic 10 years added to any sentence for committing a crime with an unregistered firearm.

So, why not registration and licensing for guns?

I can’t legally drive a bus without the proper license, and I have to register the ownership of every vehicle I have every year with the state.

Since it works for cars, why can’t it work for guns, too?


Author: Peaceful Patriot

Proud middle class husband, father, and progressive liberal. Registered Non-Partisan but have much more in common with Democrats than Republicans. Consider Libertarians to be immature and underdeveloped in their understanding of reality. An atheist who doesn't care what you believe so long as you stop pretending the Founding Fathers intended for you to legislatively force your beliefs on everyone else. Laughs out loud in mocking disdain at the abject lunacy of birthers, climate science deniers, and hard core tea partiers. If that offends you, too bad. You're not rational and have no place at the adult table.

22 thoughts on “Why Not Registration and Licensing for Guns?”

  1. Thanks for this calm, rational, and logical description. A plausible course of action, along with opinion, makes for such better reading (and thinking and considering and acting) than the usual “This should happen!” “This should not happen!” rhetoric that comes without any context or clear thought-through planning.

  2. No one needs an assault rifle. But then, no one needs a sports car that will do 120 miles per hour. They are just fun to own. I have been preaching something akin to this licensing suggestion for years. Thanks, Peaceful (and Coffee Party) for airing it.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I’m not against fun, and hasten to point out that I’m not calling for a ban on assault rifles (although I wouldn’t oppose it, either). All I’m suggesting is that law abiding citizens have fun 10 shots at a time instead of 30 if it means the next (and there will be a next) Adam Lanza has to reolad 3 times to get off as many shots. Those few seconds to change a clip is when the shooter in Arizona was stopped, and if a few seconds just means someone – just one – potential victim lives instead of dies, then I see limits on magazines as a very, very, very small price for the rest of us to pay.

  3. If the registration of guns is so we can follow them, then you should also be okay with an implant under your skin so the government knows where you are all the time. Just in case you decide to commit a crime. I have never committed a crime and never have any of my guns, but your law makes me a criminal or cost me money because someone else does criminal activity. I think the same applies to implants, because we never know when you just might commit a crime. Plus please raise the magazine number to 15 as that is what most modern semi-automatic pistols hold, or make it larger just for existing ones. I am not opposed to this part of the law, or requiring licensing for those who have a legitimate reason to need or want larger magazines.

    1. That tracking already exists, David. It’s called a smartphone. 😉 My proposal only makes you a criminal if one of your legal guns turns up being used in a crime. Thanks for the comments, and glad we do see some agreement on ideas like licensing. Cheers.

  4. “Registration historically is almost always the prelude to confiscation.”

    That’s funny, because cars have been registered with the government for decades and they haven’t started confiscating them yet. I think this is yet another fear-mongering tactic from the gun lobby. There is a lot of common sense in this article.

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Dialog is the first step to solving a problem. I’d like to respond to a few points brought up.

    I don’t see Constitutional rights as above being regulated and licensed in the interest of public safety. Even the First Amendment has parameters and limits codified into hate speech laws.

    While I don’t understand the fascination with assault-style weapons, I think I made the point that, while I wouldn’t oppose it I’m not proposing that they be banned or confiscated. It’s not so much the firearm as the capacity, IMHO. It’s what it can do once it’s loaded.

    I also have to admit that I don’t put any credence whatsoever into the whole “pathway to confiscation” objection at least in terms that I suspect were implied in the comments. Again, I’m not proposing that guns be confiscated. On the contrary, I went out of my way to make the point that assault weapon bans are more “feel good” than anything. What I do propose is confiscation of magazines in excess of 30 rounds. Yes, I’m clearly ok with some confiscation in the interest of public safety, but for now I’m proposing that people can keep their AR-15s if that’s how they get their kicks at the range or in the woods. (I’m an ex-hunter and have hunted with semi-automatic shotguns before. Never a semi-automatic rifle.)

    As for insurance, I’m not sold on turning any of this over to insurance companies. 50+ years in this country and 3 decades working in large and small companies has taught me a lot of things. One of those lessons is that private companies are really not any smarter than governments, and they are just as faceless. That’s especially true the bigger the company gets. That’s why I really wouldn’t want private insurance companies to be the only ones setting rules. Their motivation is about making a profit – a good and noble thing for a business – but that’s also a motivation that doesn’t always work out all that well for the public.

    Take health care insurance. Speaking as someone who recently and on a number of occasions in the past had to pay for private health insurance, I can say with some authority that it’s really eye-opening and way, way, way too expensive. No offense to the entire industry, but I consider health insurance as the real “death panels” who add zero value as middle men between me and my health care providers. But I digress.

    If a gun owner wants to purchase insurance to replace a lost, stolen or damaged firearm, no problem. If the insurer wants to set premiums around conditions like those described above, I’m ok with that, too. But without any question in my mind, I believe that government and law enforcement ought to be the ones who establish the rules, registration, and licensing requirements, and they need to be the ones to administer the programs. And to be clear, any such insurance should never be a substitute for the individual being held responsible and accountable for their firearms, although I doubt that was the intent of the idea anyway.

    Thanks again to everyone for their thoughts.

    1. Great article, and great response: well-reasoned and moderate. I wish with all my heart that it would convince those who hold the power to change things.

  6. i like this. have thought of similar licensing programs. i can sense lash-back about the annual licensing. therefore, i thought a minor concession to a 2 year registration program might helpt their side accept this. regardless, not sure how any logical (not saying ‘they/nra’ are) person or group could object to this. over time (no people, this is not a corp 1/4 by 1/4 agenda) guns confiscated because of crime will diminish the illegal weapons, and accountable for existing/new guns will be accountable!!! spread the word; this is crucial to start a dialogue….

  7. I would also like to extend this idea of licensing (like cars) to see private insurance companies involved. Gun insurance would no longer be a policy rider, but its own separate category. The invisible hand of the free market would determine prices fairly and without discrimination; if agencies saw fit to provide discounts for those who kept their firearms in locked gun safes, ammo in a separate room, trigger locks, etc, then those would be market forces, not government agencies making that decision. How you choose to store your firearms would be between you and your insurance agent; it would not be determined by a faceless, government burocrat.

    This would also generate income for the private sector through insurance, and would keep insurance agents employed. Since private sector solutions are better than government solutions, I expect to see massive support for this proposal; although perhaps not from those people who have actually had to purchase health insurance on the open market.

  8. You wrote:

    “…why isn’t some sort of licensing required to own them?”

    The 2nd Amendment is a Constitutional guarantee that law abiding citizens have a right to own firearms. How about this – maybe there ought to be a license to be a journalist or a reporter? After all, just because the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech … ?


    “Why can’t every firearm in America be registered, ….”

    Because it would be a waste of time and money. A huge waste. Registration historically is almost always the prelude to confiscation.

    It is a Federal crime for a convicted felon or a person adjudicated mentally ill to possess or attempt to buy a firearm. How about just enforcing the laws we already have? No need to create new useless laws that will be largely used to harass law abiding citizens while existing laws are not enforced. Stupid.


    Who Needs An Assault Rifle?

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