Put Common Sense Back Into Gun Control

These days, the topic of gun control fills news sources, opinion pages, blog posts, Tumblr rants, and a few odd dusty corners of the Internet.  But I find very little information or opinions that use common sense when referring to guns.  People either want to send armed guards to every public place, or ban types of gun as being "too dangerous".  It's one extreme or the other, but very little in the center.

But I'm a centered-type of gal.  I believe that moderation is the key to most of life.  So let me share with you my version of common sense gun control.

First, we need to define gun control.  According to Merriam-Webster, gun control is the "regulation of selling, owning, and use of guns".  Let's start with the first part - selling guns.  There are two types of people who fall into this category:  gun dealers and gun owners.  Gun dealers run a gun shop, work the gun show circuit, or otherwise make a living buying and selling guns.  Gun owners are individuals who own at least one gun and who might want to sell a gun.   For gun dealers, we need regulation, either on the state or federal level, defining the knowledge required to safely sell guns.  Currently, we have federal licensing regulations for this.

As for gun owners, we need the same level of regulations as we do for car owners, stereo owners, iPad owners,...  That is, none.  I know, I can hear it now.  "But that means a gun owner can sell a gun to anyone!"    Yes, yes it does.  But as a parent I learned early on to pick my battles to those that I could realistically win.  And there is no way to realistically create enforceable laws that cover individual gun sales.  So we as a society can spend a bunch of time and money, essentially beating our heads against the wall and creating complex tangles of law that still don't stop criminals.  Or we can admit that there is no reasonable way to regulate this without severely infringing on civil liberties, and just not make the futile attempt.  I do believe that we need laws to cover the case where a person doesn't want to pay the licensing fee and decides to become a gun dealers on the side.  But the laws need to cover the exceptions, not the norm.

The second part of gun control is ownership.  These regulations need to cover two different domains: eligibility and education  "Eligibility" means limiting access to firearms, keeping guns out of the hands of felons, mentally unstable people, and anyone else with a demonstrable reason not to have a gun. "Education" means all potential gun owners need a minimum level of knowledge about gun safety and gun laws before acquiring their first gun.

Right now, we have no educational requirements for owning a gun, and that is a mistake.  We need the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to develop federal standards that define what gun safety knowledge is essential before owning a firearm.  Then, each state can create a gun safety test using the federal standards and the state's gun laws.   Finally, change the eligibility rules to make passing the gun safety test mandatory before purchasing a firearm.  To clarify, I don't think that you need to pass a gun safety course every time you purchase a gun, just the first time.

As for eligibility, we need a new background check system that meets the following conditions:
  • Easy to use for the gun dealers
  • Shows only information relevant to the gun purchase, such as:
    • Age?
    • Passed the gun safety test?
    • Felony?
    • Mental Illness?
    • Other problems?
  • Provides a report to the gun buyer about eligibility
  • Provides a simple process for a person to challenge the report, in case of mistaken information
To help gun dealers that travel, such as with gun shows, I think the background check system needs to be available as an app on Android system, iPhones, or iPads.

Falling between gun ownership and gun use is the waiting period.  Today, there is no federal waiting period between purchasing a gun and taking possession of that gun, though several states have different regulations about this. The reasoning for a waiting period is that a waiting period creates time for someone who is buying the guy angry to calm down and not do something stupid in the heat of the moment.  But if a gun safety course is a prerequisite to buying a gun, there already is a built in waiting period, and we don't need a second one.

The third part of gun control, gun use, is already covered by current laws.  Killing neighbors for playing music loudly - illegal.  Killing a person breaking into your house - legal.

You might notice that I did not mention tracking gun owners, because that is not part of gun control.  We do not need state or federal databases of who owns which gun, and allowing the government to track the situation is to voluntarily give back some civil liberty.  I realized that this is a problem when the Journal News published an online map of gun owners in the New York counties of Westchester and Rockland.  At first, I felt furious that this newspaper would violate people's rights with such a stunt.  Then I realized that the newspaper simply used an existing database to pull the information, and I wondered why the database existed in the first place.  Does the government really need to know who owns a particular gun?

What would you do, if you could create your own gun control?

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