James Hayman: This blog is another of my rants about gun control. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir but since 90% of America seems to be part of the choir that’s probably inevitable. It’s the other 10% I’d like to preach to. The 10% who screwed up the background checks bill in the Senate. But they probably won’t read this or anything else that disagrees with their position.
Anyway, in this blog, I’d like to go beyond the issue of background checks and discuss the (oh my God!) radical notion of licensing both guns and shooters.
Remember how in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, the double 00 designation (as in 007) meant that Mr. Bond was licensed to kill?
Well if Bond had lived and worked in the US instead of in the UK, he wouldn’t have needed a license. He could have done his killing without one.
I’ve always found it curious that in Maine, as in most states, while background checks, educational training and licensing are required for all kinds of activities (including driving) they’re not required for guns. I’ve also found it curious that a lot of people who favor background checks get really pissed when I say I think licensing would be a good idea.
Let’s look at other activities that require licenses.
In Maine, where I live, you need a license to shoot at a deer or a bear or, like Mitt Romney, at varmints. Though I’m not a fisherman, I believe you even need a license to catch fresh water fish. Most people, including ardent NRA folks, seem to have no problem with any of this. They think it’s fine.
But try requiring licenses for weapons that are primarily designed to kill people instead of deer or varmints; or licenses for the shooters who buy these weapons and watch out…the gun lobby goes nuts. Apparently the gun lobby thinks it’s more important to keep track of people who kill deer and fish than to keep track of people who kill people.
They also must think its more important to keep track of people who cut hair. They have no problem requiring a license to be a barber or hairdresser. Or to sell real estate, install electricity or fix the plumbing in somebody else’ s house.
And licensing doesn’t just apply to activities that require a certain level of education and skill. In Maine, as I believe in every other state in the union, people still have to get licenses to get married. Doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, earthling or Martian, if you want to get married you need a license. For better or for worse, for richer or poorer getting married requires no education or skill at all except the ability to say “I do” and to drink too much champagne.
The list of licensing requirements in Maine is practically endless. You need a license to become a clinical counselor and advise people on how to stop screwing up their lives. (Trying to stop them without a license it’s called giving free advice and as everybody knows free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it.)
Just today I learned that the state of Maine requires you to get a license “to promote and conduct boxing, wrestling or kick-boxing contests and exhibitions.” In fact, there’s a web site, http://www.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions.htm , where you can find a huge list of things you aren’t allowed to do unless you have a license. You can’t become a doctor or a lawyer, a chiropractor or a massage therapist, an architect, a funeral director, a dietician, or a tramway inspector.
And, as everyone knows, you need a license to drive a car. Not only do you need a license but the car you drive needs one too. It also needs to be registered and have a biannual safety inspection. The owner of the car also needs to purchase liability insurance for any damage the car or deaths the driver may inflict on other people while using public roads.
Some people grumble at all these requirements but nobody seems to think we should allow unlicensed drivers or unlicensed cars on the road.
But license guns or gun owners? No way. According to the NRA, nobody should need any kind of official permission to carry a gun. Not even an effective background check. And nobody who owns or carries a gun should be required to buy liability insurance to compensate the victims they might intentionally or accidentally shoot and kill.
What I don’t understand is why the gun lobby (aside from the few crazies who are planning to use their assault rifles to fight a war with the US military) is so uniformly adamant?
Why shouldn’t people like Jared Loughner or Adam Lanza’s mother be required to get a license to buy, carry or shoot a gun? Or to give a gun to their kid like Mrs. Lanza did? I also don’t understand why law abiding citizens should object to having the guns they own and use be registered or licensed just like other potentially deadly products like automobiles or motorcycles? And why shouldn’t gun owners be required to carry liability insurance to compensate people they might kill or injure just like all car owners do?
The two most lethal things people commonly own in the United States are guns and cars and the number of deaths they cause is remarkably similar. In 2011, there were 19,766 firearm-related suicide deaths, 11,101 firearm-related homicide deaths and 851 deaths due to accidental discharge of firearms in the US. That’s a total of 31,718.
In the same year, almost the same number of people, 32,367 were killed by cars. However, unlike gun deaths, the number of auto related deaths per 1,000 population has been declining steadily since the 1960’s. At least some of this decline is due to the laws we as a society have been intelligent enough to pass. More stringent drunk driving laws, for example. Or laws requiring drivers to wear seat belts. Or laws requiring cars to carry airbags. Some people say these laws infringe on their freedoms. But they unquestionably save lives.
The NRA has recently been touting numbers that suggest the number of gun deaths in the US has been going down. That may be true. But it’s also true that Americans suffer five, ten or and in some cases twenty times the gun related deaths as any other civilized country in the world.
The Supreme Court has declared that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own firearms. Fine. But even the Supreme Court wouldn’t claim that right is unlimited. The Second Amendment doesn’t give individuals the right to own or use machine guns. Or rocket propelled grenade launchers. Or surface to air missiles. Or nuclear bombs. These limits make obvious sense. So do limits that require background checks, licensing, registering and liability insurance for both shooters and the weapons they carry. Do we have to wait for the next Newtown, or the Newtown after that, before we finally do the right thing?