A compromise on guns


Apart from any constitutional questions involved, I think reasonable people can and do disagree on whether it is acceptable for private individuals to own guns. I myself over time have shifted my view away from totally opposing private gun ownership except under exceptional circumstances to thinking that people do have a right to own guns. But given that it is a lethal weapon, they have to earn the right to do so by showing that they understand the responsibility of it. This would require training in its use and certification of competence.

While I personally have little use for guns and would be comfortable living in a gun-free society, I know responsible gun owners who use it for hunting and while that is not a pastime that appeals to me, I do not see why my preferences for how to spend my time should trump theirs. Furthermore, I do not think that a total ban on gun ownership is likely to occur in the US and would like to see some compromise that would result in the reduction of the loss of innocent lives.

This is why I think we should try for a policy where we take as much care before issuing gun ownership licenses as we do with driver’s licenses. As with driving, people have the right to a license but only after showing competence. That kind of training instills not only skills in usage but also an awareness of safety and consideration for others and many gun owners, as alarmed as the rest of us by crazy people having easy access to guns, would support it. There will still be those who abuse the privilege, like we still have reckless and drunk drivers, but we can never eliminate that kind of risk. After all, even if guns were banned altogether, those with serious homicidal intent will still find ways to get hold of them.

What we can do is deter the person who decides one day, for whatever reason, to kill other people (or even themselves) and is easily able to do so. A friend at another university told me of a close friend and faculty colleague of his who went to a Walmart on a Saturday night, bought a gun, and came home and shot himself. Would he have still killed himself if he had to go through a process of training and certification before getting his hands on a gun? Would he have found another way? It is hard to say. But removing such an easy option must surely improve his odds of surviving. It is found that people who try to commit suicide with guns are far more likely to be successful than those who use other means. The thought of having to go through a training and certification program would act as a deterrent to impulsive acts.

It is always tempting to think that one’s own preference for a policy is the most reasonable one but I do think that the US will eventually end up somewhere close to the policy I recommend. But given the sad state of the current debate, it will likely take a long time and more massacres before people come around to the idea.

The biggest obstacle will not be from gun owners but gun manufacturers (who have managed to stay successfully in the shadows) who are making out like bandits by having as many people buy as many guns as they can possibly afford, the bigger and more expensive the better. They are the real villains who are preventing a reasonable compromise. For these people, wars are a good business model.

Comments

  1. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    Your plan is worth a try.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

  2. says

    But given that it is a lethal weapon, they have to earn the right to do so by showing that they understand the responsibility of it. This would require training in its use and certification of competence.

    I agree, but…
    If there is a certification and competence requirement (add to that: good storage – either in a community vault or personal firearms-rated safe) the end result is to raise the costs of gun ownership so that a smaller percentage of the population could own them. Basically, we’d be re-implementing the kind of two-tiered armed society as Europe in the dark ages or Japan under the samurai: the elite carry weapons and nobody else does. This is already perilously close to the case; if I wanted to spend the money I could get ClassIII certified and own suppressed/automatic weapons or military gear. If you’ve got $10,000 to throw around, sure, no problem… But in general I do not support things that increase the elites’ ability to have society deal with them separately.

    An argument I prefer more is that we should absolutely ban firearms and anything that looks like firearms, in order to reduce the ‘targeting problem’ in society. By ‘targeting problem’ I mean our perception of what’s right and what’s not – if nobody carries guns or gun-looking things at all except for uniformed police/military in extraordinary circumstances, then nobody ever has to pause for a second to wonder if that’s a real gun, or if that person is just playing around or is allowed to be carrying the thing. Then we can fall back to a very simple algorithm, namely “people carrying guns are bad- watch out!” (including cops and military!) It simplifies things a tremendous amount! As someone who was once pulled over by cops on his way to the shooting range, and had to explain the weaponry in my trunk, I can assure you that these conversations are as stressful for all involved as they are unnecessary. The only problem with simplifying targeting is that cops would then adopt the approach of shooting down anyone they saw that had anything that looked like a gun, because they’d then have a perfect excuse for keeping their brains in the neutral/park position.

  3. says

    Marcus Ranum
    In a regime like that, I’d expect that ordinary beat cops wouldn’t have guns either (indeed, I’d far prefer it that way). See Japan, for instance, where it is in fact illegal to own guns or anything that looks like one, and the only police that have/carry guns are the equivalent of the SWAT team.

  4. says

    The only problem with simplifying targeting is that cops would then adopt the approach of shooting down anyone they saw that had anything that looked like a gun, because they’d then have a perfect excuse for keeping their brains in the neutral/park position.

    But they’re already doing that, Marcus, so that’s not really a big loss. It’d also make it a lot clearer when they fuck up, and harder to defend themselves.

    This is, of course, basically the situation in the UK anymore, since Dunblane. If you see someone with a firearm, and they’re not wearing a uniform, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be a Bad Guy.

    I think we need to be clear that it’s not really possible to completely prevent mass shootings. Canada has reasonably strict gun laws, but we’ve had a few bad mass shootings. That’s the thing, though: we’ve had a few. I can think of two instances of multiple cops being killed (one in Alberta a few years ago, with RCMP, and again in Moncton this week), and two instances of major Columbine-style mass attacks (Montreal Ecole Polytechnique, and another Montreal school about fifteen years after), in the time I’ve lived in the country (about 40 years). Norway has typically European strict gun laws, and Breivik still was able to do his evil.

    In that same time, though, Mother Jones found dozens and dozens of attacks with three or more dead in the last 30 years in the US, and they used pretty strict criteria to bring it down to only 70-odd. And that was two years ago. 10 9/11s-worth of USans are dying by firearm every year.

    Y’all gotta do something.

  5. stephenyutzy says

    I’m actually entirely in favor of gun training, but struggle with the idea of making it mandatory. If literacy tests for voting are unconstitutional, how on earth could you mandate testing before exercising other rights? Press credentials required before exercising free speech?

    If we can get past the constitutionality argument though, how would this be implemented in such a way as to not discriminate against the poor? Do you get a waiver on the cost of your gun class if you fall into certain income brackets? Maybe we make it part of the school curriculum? The NRA already has their Eddie the Eagle program that has taught something like 25 million kids basic gun safety. Or if we do it like drivers licenses, no license is required unless you want to venture into public with your gun?

    One other thing that really worries me though is what would happen with license data? There’s of course the worry of registries and the confiscation that those always lead to. But I’m also concerned about something that’s actually happening right now: I have a license to carry a concealed handgun in Ohio, which based on Ohio licensing statistics means that statistically I’m a good order of magnitude less likely to commit a violent crime than the general population. However if I get pulled over and my plates are looked up, the police computer sends a warning to the officer just as if I had a warrant out for my arrest. That leads me to be discriminated against as a “bad guy” when in fact it’s just the opposite.

  6. says

    See Japan, for instance, where it is in fact illegal to own guns or anything that looks like one, and the only police that have/carry guns are the equivalent of the SWAT team.

    Yeah, that’s a good point. One thing that American cops need to learn is “you can’t outrun a radio” — all this bullshit about hot pursuit and charging in and engaging suspects violently, it needs to stop. Use a telephone.If there actually is a justification for the surveillance state (I don’t think so, but…) it’s that catching criminals “in the act” becomes increasingly less necessary.

  7. says

    If literacy tests for voting are unconstitutional, how on earth could you mandate testing before exercising other rights?

    Because literacy tests were being used as a way of disenfranchising certain minorities. It had nothing to do with its stated purpose (and, provably, illiterates can be informed enough to have political opinions, FOX news is proof of that)

    how on earth could you mandate testing before exercising other rights?

    Drivers licenses. Seems reasonable. Relatively little complaint.

  8. says

    how would this be implemented in such a way as to not discriminate against the poor?

    Teach everyone who serves in the military how to use a gun. Oh, wait.

    I still prefer my solution: if you want to be part of the well-regulated militia, join the army reserve or national guard. Besides, you’ll get to meet some minimal physical fitness criteria and possibly see the world.

  9. says

    stephenyutzy writes:

    If we can get past the constitutionality argument though, how would this be implemented in such a way as to not discriminate against the poor? Do you get a waiver on the cost of your gun class if you fall into certain income brackets? Maybe we make it part of the school curriculum? The NRA already has their Eddie the Eagle program that has taught something like 25 million kids basic gun safety.

    I hope the effectiveness of Eddie The Eagle Level 1 has gotten much better in the last 1015 years.

  10. smrnda says

    From what I recall, the “Eddie Eagle” program offers such banal platitudes as ‘if you see a gun, don’t touch it and tell and adult!” totally, no teenagers who has ever been told that is going to look at a gun and think it’s going to be cool to show off said gun to friends. Kids NEVER do anything you tell them not to do, which is why abstinence based sex education has been such a success.

    on the possible *horror* people have about registration of guns, think of all the records which already exist about things people own and use. If you drive a car, the car is registered and has visible identifying license plates – great, now the Man can track where you drive.

    I also think it is 100% justified for police to be given warnings about people who have concealed carry permits – the individual with the permit has chosen to make their self more potentially dangerous than average and knowing ‘this person might have a gun’ would help the cops judge a situation. If you want to pack heat, it’s because you obviously think other people might pose a danger to yourself – don’t whine when people apply the same logic to you that you can’t just be assumed to be safe. This is not discrimination or making you to be a bad guy – the fact that you have a gun is kind of relevant. It’s not enforced much, but people who have studied extremely dangerous fighting systems are supposed to register with the police in some capacity.

  11. Holms says

    By ‘targeting problem’ I mean our perception of what’s right and what’s not – if nobody carries guns or gun-looking things at all except for uniformed police/military in extraordinary circumstances, then nobody ever has to pause for a second to wonder if that’s a real gun, or if that person is just playing around or is allowed to be carrying the thing.

    This can be solved equally by allowing private ownership of certain gun types (no full auto etc.) under laws that emphasise responsibility as outlined by Mano, coupled with a public carry ban.

  12. G. Priddy says

    Driving a motor vehicle on public roads is a privilege (not a right). The privilege of driving is gained by becoming licensed. Owning a gun is a constitutionally-granted right. Once you start licensing gun ownership, it seems to me like you’ve infringed on that right.

    I’m not a gun-ownership advocate; my views on guns are pretty much the same as Mano’s. I just don’t think the “driver’s license” argument is valid in this case.

    I’m not sure how you mandate gun safety training as a condition of gun ownership without running afoul of the 2nd amendment, but a reasonable society would see the value in such a practice. I would think gun owners would see the value most of all, knowing the destructive potential of a firearm in the hands of someone who may not t know how safely handle it. How many YouTube videos are out there of someone pulling the trigger on a semi-automatic weapon and being surprised to find a round still in the chamber?

    IMO, American culture will have to change before the American gun situation will change. The gun manufacturers, and their lap dogs the NRA, with their stranglehold on lawmakers, have pretty much ensured gun laws won’t change anytime soon.

  13. kyoseki says

    I’m not sure how you mandate gun safety training as a condition of gun ownership without running afoul of the 2nd amendment

    That’s easy, you make it mandatory, for everyone.

  14. says

    G. Priddy writes:

    I’m not sure how you mandate gun safety training as a condition of gun ownership without running afoul of the 2nd amendment, but a reasonable society would see the value in such a practice.

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,

    It looks to me like mandatory safety training might be more constitutional rather than less.

  15. Mano Singham says

    I agree with augustpamplona. Because of the ‘well-regulated militia’ phrasing, I don’t think there is a constitutional problem with requiring training, provided it is not so onerous as to essentially nullify the Second Amendment right to actually own a gun.

  16. Friendly says

    Yes, certifying and licensing gun owners in operating their gun (like certifying and licensing car owners in operating their car) might help the problem. But something that might help more is to make gun owners carry liability insurance just like car owners do.

  17. kyoseki says

    I don’t think there is a constitutional problem with requiring training, provided it is not so onerous as to essentially nullify the Second Amendment right to actually own a gun.

    This is dead on, the problem with a lot of the training requirements that get found unconstitutional is that they represent an unreasonable barrier to exercising a constitutionally protected right, for example, DC required all gun owners to undergo a training program that wasn’t available anywhere within 300 miles of the District.

    It’d still be a tough sell, but in my experience, most gun owners are far less opposed to training & licensing requirements (registration wouldn’t fly with the hardcore nutters though) than they are to outright equipment bans, particularly things as ill thought out as “assault weapons” bans, plus, it’d be nice to know that the other people you’re sharing a range with aren’t complete and utter morons when it comes to firearms safety (the last time I was at an indoor range, someone managed to shoot the light fixture directly ABOVE the shooting station, I have no idea how badly you have to fuck up in order to manage that).

  18. kyoseki says

    Yes, certifying and licensing gun owners in operating their gun (like certifying and licensing car owners in operating their car) might help the problem. But something that might help more is to make gun owners carry liability insurance just like car owners do.

    I’m not sure this would be as effective as you might think, certainly I don’t think it would be particularly expensive, probably far less expensive than insurance on cars, given how infrequently gun owners shoot people compared with the frequency of traffic related injuries (guns injure/kill about 100,000 people a year, drivers injure/kill roughly 4.5 million).

    I can see it being a reasonable idea for people who carry concealed (or openly carry) weapons in public, but for people who only ever use their firearms for sporting/hunting purposes, I’m doubting it’ll have any major effect, because it simply won’t cost very much.

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