I’m just going to lay out how I think a comprehensive firearms licensing and registration system would work in America and let you be the judge. Nothing in it is set in stone but I don’t think it can be reasonably argued against (see the bottom for a rebuttal to some of the counter-arguments).
To the gun control advocate: Guns are a part of American culture. They’re not going to go away, period. This isn’t Europe. This isn’t China. This isn’t Australia. Advocating total gun control, abolishing guns or taking guns away from police is unrealistic at best and delusional at worst. The only reasonable course of action is to advocate for a middle ground that could/would reduce the issues we have with guns in this country.
To the gun ownership advocate: I am one of you. I am a long-time gun owner and hunter. I HAVE taken your views into consideration. So please, don’t dismiss this, read this carefully, and leave a comment. We have a problem with gun violence in this nation, and it is worth solving.
So, let’s cover what’s on the minds of every gun rights advocate first…
Existing firearm possession:
One of the biggest hurdles to a licensing and registration system for firearms is the notion that the government will take away weapons that are currently owned legally by private citizens. Therefore, I feel that the following rules must be followed for a licensing system to be successfully enacted. These rules mean that it would be around 50–75 years before firearms were completely under control as guns would be passed from one generation to the next. But I believe that these stipulations would be acceptable to the more adamant gun rights activists who would, by all accounts, “fight to the death” to keep their guns.
And given that it’s taken nearly 300 years of cultural development to get to this point, 50 years is a pretty good timeline.
These necessary rules are as follows:
- The licensing and registration would NOT be retroactive: No gun or amount of ammunition purchased or owned before the licensing and registration system went into effect, would be required to be registered or licensed.
- Registering guns that are already owned would carry with it a reward of free licensing for life for the class of weapon being registered.
- Failing said licensing and/or testing would not result in the confiscation of that person’s unregistered weapons unless they so chose to relinquish them pending their passing of the tests in order to get the aforementioned free testing and licensing.
Licensing Class System
Because of the nature of weapons and the varying destructive capacity of different kinds of weapons, it seems only logical to have a licensing system that takes this into account. Different and more powerful weapons require that people have a different class of license requiring more rigorous testing as the power of the desired weapon increases.
This mirrors driver licensing which doesn’t allow a 16-year-old who just passed their driver’s license for cars to drive a bus full of kids, a tractor-trailer loaded with nuclear waste, or a motorcycle.
NOTE: The “Class Z” exists so that nearly anyone can purchase a muzzle-loading firearm as long as they can show they understand how to operate it by passing a VERY minimal test. This is to satisfy the 2nd amendment while leaving the licensing system to fully regulate other firearms with more rigor.
- Initial certification: All licensing would require periodic retesting (psychological, technical, and practical) depending on the class of weapon involved. Psychological: Testing for psychological stability. Technical: Understanding how to store/secure, maintain, and operate the weapon(s). Practical: Marksmanship, and/or proficiency testing.
As with vehicles, there would be different class licenses to cover different class weapons. It would go something like (this is not absolute) the following:
- Class Z) Can be obtained at any gun store, or licensed gun seller with two forms of valid photo ID and a crash course followed by a simple 10 question test on technical aspects of owning and operating the weapon.
- Class A) Bolt action rifles below a certain caliber, and breach action shotguns:
Psychological: Every 5 years — 1 doctor
Technical: Every 5 years
Practical: Every 5 years.
- Class B) Low caliber semi-automatic rifles below 9-round magazine, bolt action high caliber rifles, revolver pistols, pump-action shotguns below 10 round magazine.
Psychological: Every 5 years — 2 doctors
Technical: Every 5 years
Practical: Every 5 years
- Class C) Handguns, combat shotguns, semi-automatic rifles with +9-round magazine.
Psychological: Every year — 3 doctors
Technical: Every 3 years
Practical: Every 3 years
- Class D) Automatic weapons.
Psychological: Every year — 3 doctors
Technical: Every year. Practical: Every year.
- Class E) Rocket launchers, missiles, anti-aircraft cannons, RPGs, vehicle-mounted guns, armor-piercing rounds, explosive rounds, etc. Psychological: Every 6 months — 3 doctors
Technical: Every year
Practical: Every year
- Class X1) i.e. Class Z1, A1, B1, C1, D1, or E1: This is basically a hunting and sports shooting license.
Psychological: Dependent on the weapon
Technical: Dependent on the weapon
Practical: Dependent on the weapon
- Class X2) i.e. Class Z2, A2, B2, C2, D2, or E2: This is testing to be able and qualified to carry a concealed weapon. This will include police-style training in marksmanship, and tactical training involving when to shoot and not shoot in a live situation. (This is regardless of weapon class.) Psychological: Every year — 3 doctors
Technical: Every year
Practical: Every year
Re-licensing requires that the individual either pay to have a licensing official come to their home and account for all of the guns registered to that person, or to bring their weapons in to be held until the person has passed testing. If a person does not pass, they must wait 30 days before testing again, during which time their weapons will be held by the state.
(See the counter-arguments section for a response to objections that registration allows the government to take people’s guns.)
Registration of guns is a necessary part of a comprehensive licensing system. Without it, a licensing system is toothless. A single person with the proper license can purchase huge numbers of weapons legally and sell them on the black market and/or simply deny that the guns are theirs if they’re used in a crime unless they’re caught in the act of selling the firearm — which isn’t much different from what we have now.
Logistical issues aside, ideally, each gun would be registered to its owner and ballistic tested to keep a record of guns in case they’re ever used in a crime.
This would also allow authorities to perform a search of gun owners who own a particular kind of weapon should a rare one be used in a crime or a ballistic testing match be found.
Purchasing Guns and Ammunition
- Upon purchasing any new gun (including muzzleloading weapons), a valid license must be presented and the gun registered to that individual.
- To purchase any ammunition, a person must have a valid license for the class of weapon the ammunition is for.
- To purchase any ammunition-making materials, a person must have a valid license and the materials will be registered to that person.
- Trading/Purchasing weapons is allowed as long as the weapons are being re-registered to the new owner who has a valid license for the weapon being traded.
Selling Guns and Ammunition
- Trading firearms requires a registered firearms dealer to make the transfer of firearms official and register the firearm(s) to the new owner(s).
- Selling, and/or making ammunition or firearms requires a person to be registered as a firearms dealer.
- Accountability: If a gun owner’s gun is used in a suicide or a crime, and it cannot be shown that the person who committed suicide or the crime forced their way into their secured storage to obtain the weapon, the person whose weapon was used will be charged as an accessory to the act or crime committed.
e.g. If someone commits suicide with another person’s gun, the gun owner can be charged with negligent homicide.
e.g. If a robbery or murder was committed using a registered firearm, the gun owner can be charged as an accessory.
- Exception: If a crime is committed with a person’s gun and forced entry into properly secured weapons storage can be proven, then there will be no penalty placed on the person as they are a victim.
Counter Arguments (AKA Reality Checks)
I’ve seen too many variations of counter-arguments and objections to a viable gun control solution to count, so I’m going to list and then address a number of the most popular ones here.
Guns are banned in other countries so we need to do the same here.
Most of the people I’ve encountered who make this argument either have no personal experience with guns, little to no friendly contact with gun owners, or a naive view of gun culture and cultural change in general.
Regardless of what you think about guns, they are as much a part of American culture as apple pie and baseball at this point. Cultural change takes years, decades, and even centuries in many cases. Efforts to radically change culture through an act of government are almost always met with extreme reactions against those efforts.
The call to ban all guns is an extreme move that elicits extreme reactions in opposition and creates the political climate that makes ANY gun reform a political impossibility.
If you’re trying to change the situation with gun violence in America, you need to face reality: It’s not only childish and naive to cry for an outright ban, but it demonstrably harms efforts to curb access to firearms by increasing support for organizations advocating for radical forms of gun ownership.
i.e. If you’re holding/expressing this position, you’re part of the reason that any kind of gun control is hard to pass.
The 2nd Amendment
This firearm licensing and registration system does not restrict the exercise of the 2nd amendment any more than having to obtain a permit to peaceably assemble restricts the exercise of the 1st amendment.
Additionally, under this licensing system if a US citizen wants to purchase a firearm without having to get a more complicated license they can with a “class Z” license, which is incredibly easy to obtain. This legally satisfies the provisions in the 2nd amendment which means that a constitutional amendment would not be needed to pass a national licensing system.
Needing more than one shot?
Might need a little more practice rather than a more powerful gun, don’t you think?
Not being smart enough to pass the test?
If someone isn’t intelligent enough to pass an exam to receive a license, it’s no different than someone not be intelligent enough to obtain a permit to shut down a street to have a block party. Their rights aren’t being infringed and would you really want someone with that lack of intelligence to have a gun?
The spirit of the 2nd amendment is about keeping the government in check.
First, this licensing system allows for the legal ownership of military-grade firearms and even explosive ordinance by the regular citizenry.
Second, it’s always said that criminals don’t obey gun laws and can obtain guns regardless of the law. If someone resists the government using firearms, they’ll be a criminal by definition, and therefore they should be able to get guns regardless of the law, right?
Finally (and more importantly), this is where gun-rights advocates need a reality check. Even if the higher-ranking officers fall to political corruption enough to order the US military to turn its substantial firepower on the people, the rank and file would never follow those orders in high enough numbers to truly take over the country. Unless of course, you think that our soldiers really are that mindless and stupid…
Registration will allow the government to take peoples’ guns.
Well… yes. But then, we aren’t living in the 1700s, 1940s, or 1990s. This is the 21st century — welcome to the modern age. We have computers, the internet, and threats to your freedom that no amount or type of gun would/could/will protect you against no matter who you point them at.
The threats to individual freedoms in this new interconnected world don’t come from the government taking guns from people. They come from the governments and companies (both foreign and domestic) manipulating the information that people are exposed to and able to consume. Why would any government or business entity devote resources to controlling people with force when they can simply do it by restricting the information that people are exposed to so that people think they’re well informed and in control?
No amount of ammunition launched from any number of AR-15s is going to protect anyone from that threat. And (as stated above) should the government come for your guns, the guns wielded by the people aren’t going to do anything against the might of the US military — or even your local police.
Simply put, guns are an increasingly obsolete tool for defending yourself from something as existential as the government removing your freedoms. But they ARE a liability (see “Home/Self-Defense” below).
Under this licensing system, you can have a gun or even 10. If you feel it necessary to have a more powerful weapon than a muzzle-loading pistol/rifle (or two or three), then there is a clear path to obtaining anything from a 9mm pistol to a M134 GAU-17 “Vulcan".
And with 34 murders and 78 suicides for every ONE justifiable homicide using a firearm in the US in 2013 (making it 112x more likely that you’ll either kill yourself, have someone you love kill themselves with your gun, or become mentally unstable enough to kill someone unjustly), owning a gun for self-defense is like playing a lottery where you’re 112x more likely to go bankrupt than you are to win.
You’re better off getting a dog and/or forming a good relationship with your neighbors than getting a gun.
Banning guns won’t stop criminals from getting guns. It only applies to legal gun owners.
Avoiding the obvious point that this reasoning negates having laws against anything (e.g. If murder is illegal, it will only stop law-abiding citizens from murdering people, so why have laws against murder?) this observation kinda misses the point of gun control.
The aim of gun control isn’t to perfectly control access to guns. It’s to restrict access to guns. And gun laws do this in more ways than directly through the legal purchasing of guns.
For example: In the US, an AR-15 or AK-47 can legally be purchased at many different stores in different states for around $750. The black market price for the same gun in the US is roughly the same. In Australia where those guns are illegal and only sold on the black market, they cost around $35,000. They cost even more in Europe, Japan, and China where those weapons are also illegal. We can expect a similar price-hike in all firearms sold illegally if this gun licensing and registration system is put into place. Free market, FTW!
If someone has to pay $35,000 for an AR-15, or $3,000 for a 9mm handgun, they’re probably not going to use it for a mass shooting or petty criminal endeavor like robbing a convenience store. They’re also probably not going to be able to have 10 of them and accidentally lose one that will be used in a criminal endeavor or mass shooting.
So yes, I agree that the LAW will only apply to legal gun owners, but the effects of the law will be felt by everyone — law-abiding or not. And the additional fact that 80% of guns used in criminal acts (including mass shootings) were purchased legally or are traceable to a legal source should expose this argument/objection against gun control for what it is; nonsense.
Ghost guns are firearms that one can purchase in pieces and assemble on their own that are untraceable. The existence of ghost guns is used as a way of attempting to negate the effectiveness of laws restricting access to guns because anyone can get a ghost gun. Reality is hard to swallow sometimes, and while ghost guns are real, they’re just spooky; not a problem.
Expectation: Bing, boom, BANG!
Purchase a dozen or so parts on the internet, assemble them, and *BAM* insta-gun to go ham in a school or rob a store.
Reality: It’s a bitch sometimes, ain’t it?
Look up what parts you need (see picture on left), make sure that you’re ordering all of the correct parts because guns tend to be complicated (and the more powerful a gun is the more complicated it tends to be), pay 3–6X what it would normally cost to purchase a weapon in a store, wait for anywhere between 2–8 weeks for all of the parts to be delivered, look up information on how to assemble the weapon, find a firing range or quiet spot to test a semi-automatic weapon where no one will ask questions or call the police.
IF you’ve been able to do everything correctly up to this point and you don’t have to find out what you’ve done wrong, you haven’t sought help for your mental condition, or you haven’t been arrested by the police who’ve been monitoring your questionable and illegal purchases over the internet…
*BAM* insta-gun to go ham in a school or rob a store.
In other words, while ghost guns are real, the problem we have in America is not necessarily guns but easy access to guns. Ghost guns may seem easy and a serious problem in enacting meaningful gun control, but when you shine a light on the issue, the spooky nature of ghost guns almost completely disappears.
About this article…
I originally wrote this article in 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting. Since then, I’ve edited it several times but the message has remained the same: We really need to have an adult conversation about gun control that puts conservatives’ fears to rest and gets liberals to embrace the reality that guns aren’t going anywhere.
I hope you at least found it palatable and will share it.