There’s probably not a day that goes by where we don’t see something in the news somewhere about gun control. A school shooting happens, people on the left call for gun control, people on the right say more guns could have prevented it. People on the left say we need more gun control, people on the right say we need to enforce gun laws that are already on the books. People on the left want to spend more money to add more laws that won’t necessarily change anything, people on the right don’t want to spend the money to make effective the laws the existing laws they say need to be enforced.
I suppose I should preface the rest of this by saying that I lean liberal (if you have read any of my other political or religious blog entries that should be obvious) and that I think gun control is a good thing. Now, before any rabid frothing-at-the-mouth begins, let me clarify that – GUN CONTROL, not BANNING GUNS. Now, I will admit that I disagree with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 2nd Amendment – their interpretation of it requires ignoring the text and smacks of blatant illiteracy. That being said, it has been interpreted as an individual right and that isn’t going to change (at least not in our lifetimes). We might as well just strip the line that mentions a well-regulated militia entirely, as with the current (and probably lasting) interpretation, it just adds confusion.
So let’s go ahead and start with some things that I and the gun lobby/right-wing/etc. can agree on. First, gun ownership has been interpreted as an individual right. Second, guns aren’t going anyway. Third, if we were to make guns illegal, only criminals would have them (and yes, normally-law abiding citizens would become criminals if they kept their guns under those circumstances; it’s a fact, get over it). Fourth, as correlation != causation, we can accept that in situations where gun ownership has decreased and violence has decreased as well, we cannot say that a lack of guns was the cause for the decrease. Fifth, responsible, enforceable, and enforced gun control laws are a good thing.
Next, some things that I and the gun control lobby/left-wing/etc. can agree on. First, limiting gun ownership to non-felons, responsible adults, and mentally competent individuals is a good thing (I’d like to assume the right would agree with me on this as well, and I am sure many would). Second, as correlation != causation, we can accept that in situations where gun ownership has increased and violent crime has decreased, we cannot say that an increase in gun ownership was the cause for the decrease. Third, responsible, enforceable, and enforced gun control laws are a good thing.
We all know (at least I hope we all know) that democracy doesn’t work if we simply shove views down each other’s throats. We cannot force gun-control advocates the just suck it up and hope they will give up and go away. Likewise, we cannot just force gun-rights advocates to just suck it up and give up their guns and hope they will give up and go away (we do love our guns, after all). Ignoring the fact that neither side will just go away, neither one of these options is a solution to gun violence. We need to find a middle ground that we can all at least begrudgingly accept is not going too far against our wishes. We need a middle ground that will reduce gun violence as much as possible without infringing on people’s individual rights.
Gun violence is never going away completely. To be perfectly honest, nothing we do, short of surgically removing from every human being the parts of the brain that make violence possible will eliminate gun violence. Our focus needs to be on reducing gun violence. The only way to do this is responsible gun control, put into place by a combination of psychological and reasonable background checks, gun safety education, and basic marksmanship training as prerequisites to actual gun ownership. Let’s go ahead and break out what I mean by each of these.
Psychological checks should be basic – we cannot put everyone through a complete evaluation. It simply isn’t feasible to begin with, and for some people would be completely unnecessary. Start with a basic check for warning signs. If there are more than what could be considered a reasonable number of possible red flags (reasonable in that an average person who would not likely ever flip out and go on a rampage might have a few of them), elevate to a more in-depth evaluation. If a person cannot make it through those two, then likely we don’t want them owning a gun anyway. Now, I recognize that this system would not be perfect, and so certain individuals who might otherwise be totally fine could get red flagged out of gun ownership. For this reason, individuals should be allowed to appeal their results. Get a private evaluation, and have the results compared by a higher authority. Do not limit the number of times an individual may appeal except by a reasonable waiting period between appeals (3, 6 months perhaps?). Also, make the appeals process paid for on the appellant’s dime. If they can’t afford it, I am sure the NRA would be happy to step in. Your dues/contributions to them have to benefit you somehow, right?
Reasonable background checks should also be very basic – if you do not have a felony on record, pending criminal charges of any kind, or a psychological marker on record indicating that giving you a gun would be a very bad idea, you should be able to pass the background check with flying colors. In order to streamline the process, all pending charges, recorded felonies, and psychological markers (specifics of those aren’t necessary – just having that such things exist in your record serves the purpose and protects your privacy) should be required to be entered into a national database. If such items do exist on record and have not been entered, the agency/individual which/who failed to enter those items should be at least in some part criminally liable for any crimes committed by an individual who slips through the system (with willful and neglectful caveats to determine severity).
Gun safety education should be a simple, basic class with at most a nominal fee that covers things every gun owner should know – proper storage of your weapon, basic gun mechanics (this is the safety, etc.), treating your weapon with respect (not pointing it at people as a joke or waving it around at the gun range like a deranged idiot), and so on. Basically, everything we should expect people who have proper respect for deadly weapons to know.
Marksmanship should also be basic but involved two parts – the first simply being able to hit the target most of the time, rather than the wide swath of background behind them that could include innocent bystanders. The second part of marksmanship training should include who not to shoot at, much like cops get. Admittedly, there should not be many situations for which random Joe gun-owner should need to utilize this training, but this is about reducing incidents of gun violence. It should also include some basic legal training as to who represents a legitimate target for deadly or possibly deadly self-defense, and training on how to disable a target who might not be likely to keep trying to kill you with a bullet in the leg. Training should be focused on when you need to kill someone in self-defense vice simply injure them so you can escape (taking of course into account that these are often split-second decisions and that if it comes down to “he’s gonna kill you” you should take less time thinking about where to shoot him and focus more on making sure he can’t kill you).
These are the four aspects I think proper gun control should encompass. You should require the box checked or certification (as applicable) in each of these four areas to be authorized to purchase a gun, and each item should be repeated if a certain amount of time has passed since you last accomplished them (say if it has been 2 years, you need to redo marksmanship and gun safety – perhaps an abridged re-certification course) in order to purchase a new weapon – except of course the quick background check that should be accomplished each time (since it is just looking for flags, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes if the system is set up correctly). Old marksmanship and gun safety training certifications should not stop you from possessing a weapon; merely from purchasing a new one.
If you at any point have criminal charges being filed against you, it should be a requirement to notify the authorities that you are a gun-owner. If your charges are not for any violent crime(s), there is no reason your guns should be taken away (temporarily, pending the trial process and possible sentencing). If you have a violent felony on record, your right to own a weapon is forfeit unless that record is expunged. If you have a psychological evaluation that amounts to “holy shit, don’t give this maniac a weapon”, you should have your guns taken away until such a time as you are given a clean bill of mental health (at which time the weapons should be returned to you).
If you own guns, and someone who is not legally allowed to have guns of their own or has not completed the requirements for gun ownership gets hold of one or more of your guns and uses them, you should be liable to at least some degree (barring of course having the gun stolen from you or something else deemed beyond your control). This could be as simple as a small fine for negligence (the guy found your case unlocked and had the gun on him but didn’t do anything with it) to being found criminally complicit (you gave the guy a weapon so he could use it in commission of a crime). Personally, I think that would encourage people to be more careful with their weapons.
Now, all of this will cost money if we want it to be at least in part taxpayer subsidized (I envision costs similar to getting a driver’s license for the final certification, and reasonable costs for each step along the way). I realize that not many people want their taxes to go up, but who objects to taxes that provide them with a benefit they actually want? You’re a gun-rights advocate? Your tax dollars are going to ensure that people can exercise their right to bear arms in a safe and responsible manner. You’re a gun-control advocate? Your tax dollars are going to ensure that people who should not own guns do not, and that those who do know how to properly and respectfully exercise their right to bear arms without putting others at risk.
I don’t know about you, but that looks like a win-win situation to me. But then again, that’s just my two cents.