I promised on my homepage that I would only on rare occasion venture off the topic of books on my blog, because I understand most of you know me as a romance writer, not as an ordinary person who has opinions on things just like everyone else. I usually post political & social commentary on Facebook, but I’m willing for this post to be, as my teachers might have said, part of my “permanent record” here on my blog. I understand there will be some who disagree and perhaps decide they don’t want to read my books anymore. That would be unfortunate, but there’s often a cost to speaking out and I think this is worth it. I invite all viewpoints in the commentary.
As tragic as 9/11 was, I found myself riveted to the media coverage for weeks afterward, and like most others (if cable news ratings are any indication), I’m compelled to follow breaking news of tragedies. There were two occasions, however, where I couldn’t bear to watch — the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, in which 17 of the 168 victims were preschoolers, and the most recent attack at Sandy Hook. Like so many of you, I’m profoundly horrified by the slaughter of children.
Notably, one of those events involved not guns but bombs. Our national response to OKC was to fortify public buildings, tag explosives to make them easier to trace, and toughen penalties. While the threat remains, it’s been mitigated.
The US Constitution clearly says we’re allowed to own guns, but it also permits their regulation (see DC v. Heller, also cited below). We have a framework for regulations that ought to make guns less dangerous: driving & vehicle safety laws. Traffic fatalities have fallen by 60% since 1966, when the Department of Transportation was founded with a main goal of vehicle & traffic safety. Though state driving laws vary, I find the potential parallels to gun control compelling.
1. Drivers must be of legal age; must complete training & demonstrate competence; and must renew their license periodically. Student drivers must be accompanied by licensed adult drivers. I’d propose 21 to keep guns away from school kids. Potential gun owners should be certified before being allowed to purchase guns. (Those who already own guns are given a period of one year to obtain certification.) Given the fact that competence diminishes without practice & use, certificates should be maintained. Certification is required before a gun can be registered, and a seller must authenticate certification before transferring ownership.
2. We have special provisions for how to transport children. We should ensure that children do not have access to guns. Make trigger locks and/or alarmed gun safes mandatory in homes where children reside.
3. Vehicles may not be operated by those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Apply the same prohibitions to carrying a gun.
4. Certain medical conditions (e.g., epilepsy, blindness) disqualify people from driving. Prohibit those with certain diagnosed mental illnesses, or documented history of violent assault from owning guns.
5. Every single vehicle is licensed, and every license is renewed annually. This attaches a name to every gun, and incidentally, provides revenue for enforcement of gun laws. Selling a gun, like selling a car, requires an immediate change in registration. Those who currently own unregistered guns have one year to register them without penalty.
6. Periodic inspections are mandatory to ensure that vehicles are in proper working order and comply with safety standards. This has the added benefit of requiring the gun owner to prove they are in possession of the gun.
7. Specialty vehicles, like antique cars, are given license designations that carry limitations. Accommodations could be made for gun collections that are not intended for use.
8. Speed limits vary according to the type of roadway & conditions. Limit the carrying of automatic & semi-automatic guns (as well as high-capacity ammunition) to home, range and permit hunting only. In effect, it would limit how fast one could shoot in certain venues.
9. Motor vehicles are restricted from entering certain areas, like bike trails & sidewalks. Prohibit the carrying of firearms in “sensitive places,” subject to federal, state & local ordinance.
10. Gas taxes are levied to finance road repairs & construction. Use ammunition taxes to fund optional buy-backs of firearms.
11. Owners of motor vehicles are required by law to carry liability insurance, and most states require insurance before a vehicle can be operated on a public roadway. Auto salespeople are expected to verify insurance coverage before releasing a vehicle. This is my favorite. Require gun owners to carry liability insurance for every single gun they own. Furthermore, a gun buyer must produce proof of insurance before purchase. The last person to lawfully register a gun is legally & financially liable for any damages caused by that gun, which gives gun sellers an incentive to make certain it is properly transferred.
12. Violations of driving laws result in loss of license. If you’re found out-of-compliance with firearm laws (including failure to: renew your license, maintain certification, have your gun inspected & pay your liability premiums), your guns are confiscated and you forfeit the right to own them, at least for a period.
There are surely plenty more parallels to be made, and I welcome your responses in the comments section. My list includes very little that infringes on ownership (e.g., age, medical condition), and doesn’t limit the number or types of weapons people can possess. In fact, some of these rules are already in place, though the gun show loophole (no background check, no waiting period) accounts for about half of guns sold, and keeps us from tracking who owns them. That, to me, is a nonstarter.
All of this would undoubtedly be subjected to the Supreme Court’s strict scrutiny test, but I believe these guidelines advance the state’s compelling interest to mitigate gun violence without being overly restrictive. Justice Scalia, arguably the Court’s most right-wing voice, wrote in his majority opinion in DC v. Heller, which struck down the ban on handguns in the nation’s capital: The Second Amendment right is not unlimited. We do not cast doubt on concealed-weapons prohibitions, laws barring possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, laws barring firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings, and laws imposing conditions on commercial sale of arms. In order to impose meaningful limitations, we need a systematic way of keeping track of gun ownership.
I fully acknowledge that some tragedies cannot be prevented by such restrictions, since the perpetrators will likely be undeterred by rules & regulations. What we’d have though is a national consensus that gun ownership carries with it a dire responsibility, one that should not be considered lightly. It also demands a degree of accountability from those who profit by the proliferation of firearms.