Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rethinking My Views On Gun Control

I am a gun owner. I have at times thought of myself as a gun enthusiast. I own quite a few firearms, not an arsenal by any stretch of the imagination, but more than enough of them. I've hunted with some of them. I've used all of them for target shooting. I've fired many thousands of rounds through them in the thirty plus years since my father first taught me how. I've put serious effort into learning to shoot proficiently and safely -- to teach others to do the same. I've long considered firearm ownership to be a generally good thing, but I'm finding myself becoming less convinced of that and more concerned with the laxity of gun control measures in my country.

When the Second Amendment to the Constitution was written and ratified the United States of America was a very different country than the one in which I now live. There was, with good reason, a genuine fear that America would be invaded by foreign powers or even reconquered by the British Empire. None of the original thirteen states nor the federal government had standing, professional armies that could hope to completely defend our young country. But in time of need, citizens could become a defensive fighting force. The muskets that citizens owned for hunting or protection were remarkably similar to those wielded by professional armies and that made every armed citizen a potential soldier to fight off an invasion or to at least make it costly for an invading force.

Now here we are in the 21st Century and much has changed. Our states have not been in any real danger of invasion for a long, long time. We do have a standing army now, the most well-funded and capable army in the world. A great gulf has grown between the destructive capability of civilian and state of the art military weaponry. The age of muskets is long over and so too is the idea that we civilians can be called up with our hunting rifles into a militia that can be effective against modern tanks, fighter-bombers, or infantry battalions.

Yet we are clinging to an artifact from the past, the idea that our nation is better off if civilian gun ownership is commonplace. Well that doesn't seem true to me. We have an extremely high murder rate when compared to other Western nations. We have an extremely high rate of gun violence when compared to other Western nations. We have an extremely high rate of mass shootings when compared to other Western nations.

It isn't as though Americans are somehow more murderous in our hearts than anyone else. Murder and attempted murder happen in Europe too, but Americans have a much easier time obtaining firearms and that seems to make our murderers more effective and capable of achieving higher body counts. Because compared to knives or tire irons, guns are very effective labor saving devices for killing people.

I don't think it is realistic to end civilian firearm ownership in America. But I do think that we can and should have policies that reduce the numbers of guns in circulation, restrict who can buy and sell them, and ban certain types of guns based on their firepower.

In most of America, a private citizen can sell another a gun without restriction or regulation. No one involved in such a sale is required to do background checks to see if the buyer is legally prevented from possessing firearms. No one is required to report the sale. No one is required to demonstrate proficiency or any understanding of proper gun handling or storage. Where we do place some restrictions on these sorts of sales, it is a piecemeal mess of largely unenforceable, loophole ridden, and incompatible municipal and state ordinances.

I think there should be a national firearms owners license and that such a license is necessary to purchase firearms or ammunition. I think that only people who have shown they understand firearms and have passed basic background checks should be able to obtain such a license. I think that there should be a national record of every firearm purchase and that individual firearms should be traceable to individual licenses. To that end I think that all sales should be required to involve a licensed and regulated gun broker of some kind.

I think that open carry laws, the concept that it is legally permissible to carry around a loaded unconcealed gun, is absurd. If someone is out in the country, actively engaged in hunting, sure, but walking around a crowded city street with a loaded rifle is utterly ridiculous and shouldn't be legal. I think that it has become far too easy to obtain a concealed carry permit, a license that allows someone to carry a hidden pistol on their person. I'm not completely opposed to such permits for those who have an occupational need, like bodyguards, but in my opinion far too many insensible, hair triggered, paranoids are carrying handguns these days.

I think that some kinds of firearms have no business being in the hands of civilians. As a concept, that isn't new or controversial. We already don't allow civilian ownership of fully armed main battle tanks, machine guns, or artillery howitzers. This is seen as sensible because those sorts of weapons are very destructive and best restricted to the military. But I am increasingly of the mind that we ought to move that line further.

Outside of law enforcement or some very tightly regulated classes of licenses, I no longer think that civilians should be able to own semi automatic firearms. I think that such weapons allow for too high a rate of fire, vastly increasing the destructive potential and capability of taking multiple human lives. I think that civilians should be restricted to firearms that require the user to cycle the action in some way, separate from just pulling the trigger, in order to fire the gun repeatedly. Pump action shotguns, lever action carbines, bolt action rifles, and single action revolvers are all examples of guns that cannot be fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled. All of them can still be effective hunting, self defense, and target shooting firearms in the hands of a proficient user, but none would allow a single shooter to lay down the volume of fire that recent mass murderers have achieved with their high capacity, semi-automatics.

I don't want civilian gun ownership outlawed. But gun policies in this country ought to be rethought with an eye towards deescalating gun violence and developing policies that are based upon modern realities not bygone eras.

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