Our fundamental rights come from God. We the People grant our government certain rights to enable it to keep our country functioning. Rights do NOT come from the government, who then grants the ones they want to give to the People. (See: The Five-Thousand Year Leap.) I believe that, as Thomas Jefferson said, The government that governs best, governs least. Having said that, however, I think it’s perfectly reasonable that we grant our governments the right to issue permits and/or licenses to regulate a number of things . . .
- Operating a motor vehicle on our streets, roads, & highways
- Constructing houses and buildings
- Selling prescription drugs
- Wearing Spandex
Okay, I threw that last one in as a public service. My question (again): should the government—any government— have the right and/or obligation to force citizens to get a license to own a gun? After giving it a lot of thought, I think the answer is (surprisingly) yes. And no.
Now, as my ex-used to say, I’m just “thinking in my mouth” (or in this case, thinking online). But stay with me here; the issue is more complex than something that can be reduced to a bumper sticker or sound byte.
On the one hand, I don’t want to cede any of my God-given rights (in this case, to self-defense) to a government. No matter how well-intentioned the government might be, there’s always a risk that the government will put their rights, goals, and desires ahead of my own, and that they won’t see things the way I do.
The classic example goes something like, if somebody you don’t know dies violently, it’s sad. If it’s somebody you know, it’s a tragedy. If it’s you that’s about to die violently, it’s a crisis. I don’t want to see my rights eroded, where the government could come in, at their discretion, and seize my guns, should I own any.
On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly reasonable that guns be kept out of the hands of those with criminal records, those with diagnosed, severe mental illness, and those that do not abide by our laws (i.e., those that are in our country illegally). I’ve got no problem denying these groups access to firearms.
The problem, of course, is how do you deny access to those that shouldn’t have access without curtailing the rights of those that should?
You see, just by requiring any kind of paperwork for the government when you want to buy a gun [at least potentially] puts you on the government’s “radar.” I have friends that are loathe to buy a gun from a sporting goods store or any kind of dealer because of that very fact. They are law-abiding citizens, but they’ve seen what happened in New Orleans after Katrina. They don’t want the police or military coming to their houses to confiscate legally-purchased firearms. But how do you weed out those with criminal records or mental problems from buying guns?
Currently (in Texas, anyway) you must undergo a background check if you want to purchase a firearm. Essentially, they run your ID through a computer database, to see if you have a criminal record or a restraining order against you in a domestic violence case. That’s all well and good, but it seems as if there’s a pretty good chance this database check might miss something important.
If you hold a concealed handgun license (CHL), you’ve automatically undergone a much more extensive check (that can take around six months), where they look at not only the database, but talk to references, run checks on every kind of database, et cetera. As a result, when a CHL holder wants to buy a gun, they don’t need to run the so-called “insta-check;” your CHL is proof you’ve already been vetted. Oddly enough, you can hold a CHL without owning a gun, and you can own a gun without holding a CHL.
The problem with the paperwork you fill out at a gun dealer: it duly records the make, model and serial number of the gun you purchase. The dealer retains those records for time immemorial.
So let’s say you sell your gun to a friend. He gets it stolen from his car. The gun is used to commit a crime. The police somehow find the gun at the scene and run a trace. You get a knock at the door. You get a trip down to HQ, where you’re questioned. Not a fun way to spend a day, I would think. If you’re smart, you might even have obtained a bill of sale, showing that you sold said firearm. That’s a good idea, but far from—aforgive me—a bulletproof defense, when John Law comes a callin’.
On the other hand, I don’t want to see anything get in the way of me acquiring self-protection, should I feel the need. If I start getting threatening letters or phone calls, I don’t want to have to wait for a couple of days/weeks/months before I can acquire something that will keep me safe if some nutjob comes after me.
So . . . what to do? On the one hand, honest citizens should have unbridled Constitutional rights. On the other, bad actors shouldn’t.
I think I have what something roughly akin to a solution. A proposal that might make sense—and solve some other problems we have regarding gun ownership, to boot. I’d like to see us move to a system whereby gun ownership is not tracked. To own or purchase a gun would require the equivalent of a concealed handgun license, as we do it in Texas.
Now before you go to one corner or the other in the gun debate, hear me out.
What I’m advocating is a system whereby you’d have to take formal classes, including range time and a range test along with a multiple choice written exam. This would give you the training you need to safely handle a firearm, and teach you how and when to use it. The background checks would be accelerated so that you would not have to wait more than say, a week or two, to qualify. (This is largely a manpower issue, more so than how extensive the checks would be.)
Once you hold that license, the world is your oyster gun-buying-wise—just as it is when you hold a driver’s license and want to buy/drive a car. If you screw up (commit a crime, get committed to a mental institution, threaten someone with assault) your license is taken away, either permanently or until you’re proven innocent.
Holding a CHL would not mean you own a gun, any more than holding a driver’s license means you own a car. If you had a military ID or could show proof of firearms training (such as having gone through the police academy), you’d qualify for your CHL without having to go through the classes.
Note that this system wouldn’t necessarily authorize a conceal carry permit. That could be set up like a motorcycle endorsement on a driver’s license; you’d take a little extra instruction to qualify. The permit would simply show that you’ve taken the training and passed the basic test.
If you’re stopped by an officer of the law for questioning—for instance, if you run a red light—you’d present your driver’s license AND your CHL. The officer would be able to run your ID. If you’d committed a crime, your CHL would go bye-bye—at least until things are cleared up. This would prevent those convicted of crimes, or who are wanted in connection with a crime, from keeping a permit. If you’re convicted or committed, you’d lose your CHL either permanently, or have to apply for reinstatement, depending on the offense or situation.
By requiring everyone who wants to purchase a firearm to get at least minimal training (as is required for driving), the system would eliminate at least one of the arguments posed by the Brady bunch and other anti-gun organizations. By eliminating registering individual gun purchases, it would reduce the concerns of law-abiding citizens that the government is tracking legitimate gun ownership. And it would help keep guns out of the hands of those that should not have them.
Of course, there are flaws. The system would prevent anyone with a legitimate need from acquiring a gun quickly. If, say, a victim of domestic abuse suddenly felt the need to arm herself, the system would prevented them from doing so in a timely manner. It’s legitimate concern. Some people always leave things to the last minute, and many people [rightly] view guns as a last resort.
Still, I believe that planning ahead is a legitimate requirement. And that if this were this gun ownership process was consistent from state to state, those that wanted a gun would get their permits in advance. It’d be a lot like getting a passport. If you wanna travel abroad, you’d best get your passport early. Last minute travelers are outta luck, regardless of their need.
Then there’s the question of what to do about current gun owners. I think you could phase in a plan like this, over a couple of years. Start with new gun owners. Then encourage gun owners to get a permit. Then legislate penalties for using a gun without holding a CHL. Remember, the government would not track what you own, or if you own a gun.
Keep in mind that laws are designed for those who obey them. No criminal is going to worry about getting a permit to carry a gun. They’re just gonna steal or trade for a weapon and then use it as they like. If the penalty for using a gun without a permit were jacked up to, say, a mandatory 10 years in the pokey without possibility of parole, it might—might—change some behaviors. Then again, even if it didn’t, it would serve to, as Dennis Miller said, “thin the herd” and keep the bad guys off the streets.
Readers on either side of this issue will find fault with this system. The very definition of “compromise” is a plan whereby neither side gets exactly what they wants. But I think this is a reasonable step. Anybody that wants a gun would be better-trained. We’d stop forcing dealers to track gun purchases—a process that is open to abuse and so poorly thought-out as to make it mostly useless. And we’d have a way to preserve our freedoms without endangering the populace at the hands of criminals or the mentally ill.
If we lived in a perfect world, gun permits of any kind wouldn’t be necessary. Until everybody is willing to respect each other’s rights and live responsibly, that’s just not realistic. i would rather see a system whereby responsible, honest citizens can own and carry guns without fear of government reprisals, and yet keep guns out of the hands of those who’s intent is to harm others.