Gun control is easily one of the most contentious subjects in American politics, and has been for quite some time. If you've been on the Vine long enough to know who I am, then chances are you already know that I strongly favor sensible regulation; I've always maintained that we shouldn't be debating whether or not we should have regulations, but which regulations are the most effective without being overly restrictive. Advocates of the second amendment are quick to mention the "right to bear arms" line, but typically brush over the "well-regulated" phrase. Still, I'm an old-school Newsvine columnist; I want a healthy intellectual debate, so I promise not to mention that Ronald Reagan famously stated that "I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home." Well, okay... except for that one time that I just did it. Concessions, people... concessions.
In reading this article, I want you to try and imagine that we're wiping the slate clean of all gun legislation before we implement this new system. There are no waiting periods, no background checks... none of it. The only regulation of the second amendment is what you're seeing in this article. And while I'm sure the conversation will quickly go off the rails, I'm really hoping to get your personal take on what I'm proposing here, and your suggestions on how this could be improved on, regardless of whether you're a gun control advocate like me, or your home has more guns than light bulbs, not that those two things are necessarily mutually exclusive, as some gun owners will be quick to tell you they support even stiffer regulations than any I've proposed over the years.
What I'm proposing is a "gun license" program. Simply put, we'd make gun ownership work more like the ownership of a lethal weapon far more Americans own than guns... automobiles. The idea is that, hopefully, this system would better sort out the bad guys from the proper civilians, reduce accidents through education, and all while making gun ownership more accessible to the right people. We're going to walk through this process step-by-step, in a linear fashion, as if you were trying to purchase a firearm.
Step I - Your permit. To acquire your permit, you'll have to pass a written test on basic gun safety precautions. I realize some parents like to take their children hunting, so we'd make permits acquirable at an early age (to be determined). You cannot own a firearm with a permit, but you can use a registered firearm legally if the licensed owner is present with you (just like getting a permit to drive; you need a licensed driver with you to operate a car).
You must have your permit for a period of at least six months (negotiable, to a point anyway) without an incident resulting in injury to yourself or anyone else. As most people would be acquiring their permit before they're old enough to purchase a gun, this waiting period should not be an issue. And this gives a person ample time to get experience using a firearm and learning safety measures from someone close to them, while also letting them complete the other steps listed here.
Step II - Physical and mental health qualifications. Within one year of trying to get your license (not your permit, but your license), you must obtain a state-recognized document certifying that a physician has qualified you physically, and a psychiatrist has qualified you mentally, to own a firearm. This ensures you're able to see, hold and operate the weapon safely, and that you're mentally stable enough to safely own and operate the weapon. These tests could be streamlined somehow so local/ state officials could administer them, saving people from spending a fortune or using their health insurance.
Step III - Background checks. Local, state, and federal government background checks must be cleared, probably through some new division of the ATF working with local and state law enforcement. This process would need to be done as quickly as accuracy and safe protocols would allow, through a digital system. Criminal records, notes from educators and health practitioners concerned with mental health, etc., would all be checked. This can be handled during your six month permit period. You must obtain your certificate within a year of getting your license.
Step IV - The Five-Hour Course. In New York State, we have to take five-hour safety courses, under state-certified instructors, before we're allowed to drive an automobile. This system would require the same of gun owners. Permit holders would be required to pass a hands-on five-hour safety course under a state-certified instructor, possibly with a written test at the end. They would learn firearm safety, maintenance, and learn about the risks of irresponsible gun ownership and use. They would be given a certificate of completion, which they must've earned within one year of the fifth step, which is...
Step V - The Final Test. The permit holder will need to pass a live test, showcasing their ability to adequately clean and maintain a firearm, travel a short distance holding it safely (no sweeping/ aiming at others), fire the weapon, clear and reload the weapon, and safely holster it. Accuracy would not be tested too extensively; you'd need to be accurate to the point where you aren't a danger to yourself or others, but there's no sharpshooter pin waiting for you after the exam if you do well, as fun as I'm sure some gun owners would think that would be (in telling this idea to gun owners, I've actually had some of them suggest they get badges out of this... not kidding!)
Step VI - Your license. Having completed these tests, you'll have obtained a license with which you can own as many firearms as you want. However, licenses would be broken down into classes; "general class" would allow you to own pistols and sporting/ hunting rifles. There would be different classes, with different/ stricter requirements, for owning more powerful firearms. The assault weapons ban could be reworked extensively with this classification system, allowing people to own assault weapons if they acquire the right license for it.
Like a driver's license, your gun ownership license would need to be renewed annually, and with that renewal you'd need to pass physical, mental, and background checks, just as you did when you had your permit. Your license would also have "points" on it; you might lose your license to suspension or even revocation if certain incidents happen with you and/ or the firearms you own, if you're arrested for a violent crime, etc.
We'd of course have different twists on these rules for individuals trained in the military and/ or law enforcement, making firearms easier for them to acquire without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I've gotten a number of suggestions in reference to this idea since I first suggested it; liability insurance, hiring veterans for the new government jobs this would inevitably create, and countless others. I'm hoping you'll share some ideas of your own below.
Will this solve the violent crime problem in America? Of course not. So long as people have pointy teeth in their heads, violence will remain an issue in our society, as heartbreaking as that may be. But I do believe this is a reasonable rough draft for meaningful, coherent regulation that actually benefits people, rather than simply limiting their choices. Those wanting to own a gun under the age of 18 will not have to wait one minute longer than they do currently. Those over 18 will need to wait six months; annoying for their generation, easier and safer for every generation to follow. At any rate, please discuss below!