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?