Friday, October 23, 2015

Toward Bipartisan Gun Control Reform – II

Last week I introduced the public health problem of too many American gunshot victims, and said I would dedicate the next two weeks’ posts to evaluate suggestions for dealing with it made by both conservatives and liberals.  This post considers the latter.

The main idea espoused by those advocating more gun control is that if we reduce the number of firearms, less damage will be done by them.  That is not completely true.  As per the second point I made last week, showing that if the American rate of fatal shootings, per privately owned firearm, was the same as in the four countries arguably most comparable to the United States, about a third fewer people would die without a single gun being removed.  However, the left does have some logically sound proposals.

The best ways of improving the public health concern are those that minimize the fatal shootings while limiting damage done to those owning and using guns responsibly.  That, unfortunately for them, does not mean avoiding any inconvenience completely.  Although cars are safer and drivers are more conscientious than half a century ago, both must now meet higher standards, which costs money for the vehicles to conform and impedes drivers from doing what they once did legally, such as going out after having a few drinks.  We cannot avoid moving in the same direction with our gun laws.  However, as with stricter driving-under-the-influence statutes not disturbing teetotalers, such statutes should be designed to have the smallest effect on those least likely to abuse their firearms. 

Accordingly, some liberal suggestions stand out as worthy of full national implementation.  Most valuable would be a requirement of an electronic background check for any personal gun purchase.  That would apply to all settings, from private sales (with the buyer obtaining approval online or over the phone), to people buying firearms at gun shows (with sellers using point-of-sale machines) to permanently located dealers.  The background check would, after the technology is in place, take no longer than credit card approval does today.  Convicted felons, anyone found guilty of threatening or committing violence with guns, those with certain mental health histories and medical judgments of being currently dangerous to others, and perhaps others convicted on domestic violence charges would be prohibited from buying firearms.  
Consistent with the requirement for background checks, other laws should be passed as well.  The transactions as approved above should include tracking information, at least manufacturer and serial number, and would constitute an electronic title for the gun in the buyer’s name.  Any theft of a firearm would need to be reported promptly, the exact interval required to be negotiated, to police, whereupon the gun’s title would be marked.  Gun sellers would be legally liable for using proper procedure, and subject to prosecution for violations.  Transferring firearms without reporting, including buying one in your name for another person, would also be a crime.  Legally, guns would be considered extensions of their owners, as dogs, rather than “the darlings of the law” such as cats and small children.

Along with the above ideas, which are constructive and entail as little of a burden on law-abiding gun owners as they can reasonably expect, many bad ones have been put forth.  Written and practical tests before anyone can buy or own a firearm, or other licensing requirements, sound reasonable to many, but would be, as well as expensive and cumbersome to administer, made superfluous by the current and above proposed laws, which hold gun owners accountable anyway.  The same goes for requiring regular inspections, which has questionable merit even for cars.  Buy-back programs have failed, as they bring in almost exclusively weapons which don’t work or are unwanted anyway, and should not be restarted.  Mandatory waiting periods endanger people with urgent needs, so are too detrimental to require.  The legal liability of gun manufacturers should be restricted to their products working improperly, and not invoked when people use them as they are designed but for the wrong reasons.  And accusations or arrests without convictions should never stop anyone from being able to buy firearms, as we are innocent without being proved guilty. 

One other large area of gun control suggestions should also be eliminated.  There is no point in banning guns over a certain capability, ammunition in quantities over specific amounts, clips larger than a predetermined capacity, or the like.  As too many mass shootings have shown, shooters need not have extraordinary firepower to kill.  When people with guns are held to the recommended standards above, they will be liable, whether they are using one-bullet muskets or 75-round-capable military rifles. 

Three further gun control measures I see as flawed but worthy of consideration.  One is requiring liability insurance, which would help shooting victims get financial help but would end up being a real burden on the masses whose guns only come out for cleaning or target practice.  Another is encouraging that guns be “smart,” in other words fireable only by their registered owners – that would be a good option for buyers where theft is a real problem, or maybe a requirement in cities whose citizens want it, but would be bad for, for example, farms and ranches where weapons are available but shared, and would inhibit one of the best settings for learning gun safety, parents teaching their children how to shoot.  Requiring bullet microstamping, or other technology to conclusively show which firearm it came out of, would help such identification, but might be too expensive to implement and be covered predominantly by ballistics analysis anyway. 

Next we move to the other side.  In what ways should the ownership and use of guns be freer than it is now?  I will post that, along with the series conclusion, a week from today.               

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