One of the outcomes of the Newtown tragedy is that a national conversation has started about gun control, and reducing the levels of gun violence in this country. It’s sad that it took the deaths of 20 children to bring this front and center, but unlike previous tragedies it looks like this one has staying power. As I’ve said in a previous post here, we need not only have sensible regulations, we need to change how our culture views guns. The cultural change is going to be a longer term effort, but there are some sensible things we can do with the laws.
First, we should put into place a licensing requirement to own a gun. Canada has a pretty strict set of laws relating to gun ownership, and while I think many of their rules would run afoul of the Second Amendment, it has some good ideas. This is what Canada requires:
Individuals who wish to possess or acquire firearms in Canada must have a valid possession-acquisition, or possession-only, licence (PAL/POL); either of these licences allows the licensee to purchase ammunition. The PAL is distributed exclusively by the RCMP and is generally obtained in the following three steps:
- Safety training: To be eligible to receive a PAL, all applicants must successfully complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) for a non-restricted licence, and the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC) for a restricted licence; the non-restricted class is a prerequisite to the restricted licence. The RCMP publishes information on the locations and availability of these courses.
- Applying for a licence: Currently only one type of licence is available to new applicants, the possession-acquisition licence (PAL). People can request a PAL by filling out Form CAFC 921.
- Security screening: Background checks and investigations are performed. All applicants are screened, and a mandatory 28-day waiting period is imposed on first-time applicants, but response time may be longer.
In short, if you want to have a firearm in Canada, you have to take a course – or two courses – on firearms safety, and you have to go through a background check. Most people – and that includes NRA members – think it’s a good idea that you should have safety training and know how to use your firearm. We already require a criminal background check and a waiting period for purchasing a firearm at a dealer. So making it mandatory to have a license to own isn’t a big controversial step, or at least it shouldn’t be. Yes, I know it will be. It would make things easier for businesses, and it would also close a loophole in the current system: That criminal record checks aren’t a requirement at gun shows. In other words, no license, no sale.
Second, we need to modernize the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Purposely it has been kept in the technological dark ages. To track a firearm, it has to be done by people looking through files of paper. That needs to change. There should be computerized databases, and firearm sales from dealers should be registered into the system, instead of filling out the reams of paperwork. Yes, it will cost money, but in the long run it will save everyone even more, and make it much more effective to track a firearm when it’s been used in a crime.
Third, we need to control or ban the military style weapons, AKA assault rifles. Seriously, the justifications for having them are complete and utter bullshit. You can’t use them for hunting in most states. Yes, I know about “varmint hunting,” but bolt action rifles do just as well, and if you have to fire as many bullets and at the speed the assault rifles allow, then you really need to stop and go learn how to shoot. “Personal protection?” Give me a break. Unless you live in a combat zone, or have hordes of bandits attacking you in your fortress home every other week, it’s a pretty stupid reason to have one. Did you ever look at the specifications for the ammunition? You want to fire a bullet which is designed to penetrate a centimeter of steel – 3/8″ – inside your house. Assuming the best case, you hit an intruder with a shot and it stops inside of them. Unfortunately, unless that bullet hits a bone, you’re going to have it go through and keep on going. If you miss, it’s going to keep going – through a wall or two, and maybe into someone you care about. Good idea!
Fourth, we need to look at the proliferation of concealed carry. We may not be able to do away with it, but we can have a requirement that people with them carry liability insurance. One of the arguments I’ve seen is that people are allowed to drive cars, and cars kill a lot of people. Yes, and it’s a requirement to drive a car that you be licensed and have insurance to do so. If you want to walk around with something that even you don’t kill someone with it is going to cause damage to property, then you’d better have insurance to cover that.
These aren’t by any means a complete list, they’re just some “doable” ideas. The third one is the one that’s going to be toughest politically, because the National Rifle Association will fight it tooth-and-nail. But we need to get back to the idea that there’s a responsibility that goes with a right. That it has gotten to this point, that we are talking about legislation – and that it’s needed – is saying that the notion of “responsibility” has been forgotten.