It is a pretty common trope from the right, but no less true for that – it’s not the guns that kill people, it’s the people who kill people. Yes, this country has a problem with gun violence – a huge problem – and there is a rôle for legislation in combating that. I do not, however, think the answer lies in banning certain weapon types. Instead, I argue that such policies serve mainly to evade other, deeper issues; and since they antagonize a significant part of the electorate, pursuing such measures is ultimately self-defeating. Instead, why not change the conversation, and pursue common-sense measures to which both sides can conceivably agree? This stands the best chance not only of making inroads into the extraordinary levels of violence that plague contemporary America, but of standing the test of time and keeping a wedge issue out of our elections. So long as guns remain one of those social flash points motivating voters on both sides, there is little chance of making progress on other economic and social issues which affect the entire country.
In exchange for backing off on restrictions covering the types of firearms and magazines one wishes to collect, we impose instead a system of universal background checks applying to all purchases (stores, shows, and private sales), and a set of federal guidelines on basic safety and operations training. Yes, gun ownership is a right under the US Constitution, but so are life, liberty, and property, and we have specific requirements affecting all of those areas. We mandate seat belts in cars and keep toxic chemicals out of food; we require buildings to meet safety codes, and that physicians not engage in medical experiments on patients, and we regulate home sales to prevent fraud; and on and on it goes. Common sense policies constantly affect our natural and constitutional rights in the interests of better securing the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all: Why should guns be any different?
With that in mind, I am proposing three main areas of change, one simple and two more complex. The first is easiest – remove the pointless restriction on the CDC studying gun violence. All other forms of death in American can be studied, but lobbyist money has made this one off limits, and that reduces our understanding. Second, background checks on all firearms sales – an idea with broad popular support across party lines. According to Pew surveys, background checks for private sales are supported by 79% of Republicans and 91% of Democrats. Finally, a system of training, certification, and licensing for gun ownership, patterned essentially on the DMV, should be put in place. Basic training and levels of certification for each class of weapon ensures that our fellow citizens are competent in their storage and handling, reducing the fear which currently surrounds lawful gun owners in many cases. And a licensing requirement could assure us all that conditions have not changes in ways that could imperil our safety, as through some form of illness like advancing blindness or paranoid schizophrenia, or the development of a violent criminal record. In addition, current systems like the terror watch list need fundamentally to be reformed, so that any denial of certification for weapon ownership can be appealed in a transparent and fair manner. No law-abiding person should be deprived of a constitutional right without due process and just recourse.