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.