Baby, you can drive my gun

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.

tank_cartoonI believe it’s now time to mitigate the threat of guns.

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.

21 Responses to “Baby, you can drive my gun”

  1. KG: I can assure you if documents & photographs caused 30K US deaths per year, I’d want to find a solution to that problem too.

    Andi: I’m fairly certain aproximately 20K of those deaths were self inflicted. Depending upon how you define ’cause’, documents & photographs could be said to ’cause’ more suicides then guns.

    I have a hard time imagining the distraught individual staring at her 9mm, over come by the memories, shame, longing, or despair, that the 9mm has caused. I think it’s much more likely that that person is staring at a picture, or a letter. Maybe even a news article.

    And, no, i’m not going to stop reading your books. 🙂

  2. Excellent post, KG. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights on this important (though divisive) issue. I posted a short blog on the gun topic just now, citing this blog in it.

  3. I actually agree with much of what you said. I am a disabled American veteran and a gun owner, and all my guns are registered. Of registering weapons and limiting ownership by age I agree.

    As it is you must be 18 to own rifle and 21 to own a hand gun. I do agree that certain mental illnesses should preclude the use or possession of firearms because of the danger those people pose not only to others but also themselves.

    To legally own a fully automatic or selective Simi/full automatic weapon you must undergo extreme background checks and registration in and with the federal firearms laws.

    Where I do not agree is in the punishment of the innocent. I have given flesh, blood, bone, and a good chunk of my soul to the defense of the freedoms of this country and what it stands for. If as you proposed above a person was required to carry insurance to own a gun, who would do it? The honest and law abiding would, those that would never commit a crime, those that would never allow their firearms to be given to, or taken by someone who would commit a crime. In other words the innocent would be guilty with out cause. The criminals, those who commit the offence won’t step forward and pay insurance. But they will feel safer knowing many honest people could not afford to pay yet another insurance premium and so they can’t have a weapon to defend themselves or their family. Those honest and law abiding, innocent people, are now easy targets.

    What is needed is a level of punishment for those that are the criminals that would be severe enough to act as a deterrent to those who commit the crimes. If you look at the school shootings, at those responsible who are they? What is the one thing they all have in common? They are the outcast, the ones who’ve been bullied, beaten, tormented, and tortured by other students until they break. If you want to stop most if not all shootings in school, STOP THE BULLIES, make the schools and teachers responsible for the safety of students. Punish the guilty to protect the innocent, not punish the innocent to make it easy for the guilty to act.

    Or to follow your idea make every parent have a liability insurance for if or when their child dose something wrong, say a million dollar bond due before a child is born. “let the commercial insurers do that and set the rates for … say, a minimum of $1 million per gun. I think it would cut down greatly on proliferation.” Of course the child would have to be licensed then, and reissued id with photo, finger prints, dna, and all pertinent info regularly so they can be identified if they do something wrong. (we’ll just throw out innocent until proven guilty while we throw out our right to protect ourselves)

    Here’s another one just as far out there. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Kind of near and dear, right? The paparazzi are considered legitimate press and writers even though they use that as an excuse to stalk and terrorize innocent people. Now by what you said all gun owners are guilty and should carry insurance so that if anyone dose something wrong, right? The act of having the insurance will keep them all honest, right?
    So all writers (and recall you cant separate the innocent from the guilty everyone in the group is guilty simply by being part of it) should carry insurance so that if any of them commit a crime like using the cover of their job to stalk, and photograph someone without their consent, or take personal and private information “from a confidential source wink wink of course I didn’t do anything illegal to get it wink wink” and publish it there by hurting the subject of the photo or information released, there is now a big insurance policy to cover it. So how do you bill that “let the commercial insurers do that and set the rates for … say, a minimum of $1 million per gun. I think it would cut down greatly on proliferation.” Say what a million per document, per page, per, paragraph, per line, per sentence, or per word?

    Once you start down the road of taking the freedom from one group to make another happy where dose it stop? Think about the two admittedly way out there arguments above, to many there no different than yours about guns. Kind of like the fight that’s been going on for years now over allowing two legal, of age, and competent adults to chose to marry each other. Many will argue its not the same but it is, think about this, I can kill a person with a spoon, its quite fast, easy, and silent, much more so than a gun. Should spoons be insured?


    • Hi Kennie,

      First of all, thank you for your military service. My father was a USMC combat engineer for 20 years, and I have great respect for veterans & soldiers.

      II doubt I can counter your arguments in any way you would find acceptable, but I can assure you if documents & photographs caused 30K US deaths per year, I’d want to find a solution to that problem too.

      I don’t believe guns should be accumulated & freely traded like baseball cards. They’re special enough to have their own amendment to the Constitution, which, as you know, includes the words “well-regulated militia.” Yes, we already have regulations regarding age & criminal status. Plainly, that is insufficient to consider them well-regulated because of these 30K gun deaths. States with high concentrations of guns have more per capita gun deaths.

      You know the old refrain, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” We need to be sure guns are in responsible hands. Willingness to accept liability is a sign of maturity & trustworthiness. I can’t understand why a reasonable gun owner would take issue with that. Nor can I understand why gun proponents aren’t at the front of the battle to take guns away from those who aren’t responsible. Those guys are spoiling it for everyone.

      While mass shootings are traumatic, especially when children are the victims, they accounted for only *three-tenths of a percent* of gun deaths in 2012. And while bullying can have deadly consequences, it’s not a factor in most gun deaths either. Women are 5 times more likely to die at the hands of their intimate partner if he (or rarely, she) has access to a gun. A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member or friend (by suicide or homicide) than an intruder.

      As for punishment, it’s too bad that society can’t punish Adam Lanza because he isn’t here. Nor can it punish his mother for not securing her guns because she isn’t here either. Punishment for these sorts of crimes can’t be a deterrent unless the perpetrators thoughtfully consider the consequences, and we both know they don’t. Furthermore, no amount of punishment brings dead people back.

      Thanks for following my post through to the end. If you’ve got any other ideas, please feel free to share them here.

  4. Well said. While I personally am against civilian ownership of all types of firearms except for competing marksmen and hunters (still don’t like it but I see their legit uses there), I do understand that you live in a culture completely foreign to my own on this issue. There’s all sorts of hoops you have to jump through here (Sweden) to legally possess a weapon of this kind and I am proud of that legislation. What you’re suggesting is still a lot freer than what we have here but definitely a step in the right direction for the US. I do wish to underline that it feels good knowing you fully support amping up the gun control in your country.

    • I think one of the reasons we struggle so much with practically all matters of governance is because we’re too big. The sheer geography dictates that we barely have a common culture, let alone a vision of how we want to live. (EDIT TO ADD) I’m amazed a country the size of Australia could pass reasonable firearms legislation.

  5. I like your approach to this topic. It is my understanding that the second amendment was written in a time of single shot guns used for very real protection. Semi automatic weapons were a pipe dream. In my opinion, the idea of guns for protection in America today is a product of the successful lobby of the NRA. Everyone needs a gun because everyone else has one. I am a Canadian, living in Canada and our national news carried some startling statistics about gun deaths, on a recent broadcast. Last year in Canada 173 deaths were gun related while the number in your country was 9731. I recognize that our population is much smaller than yours but this is a mind boggling number. I would be curious to know how many were caused by assault rifles.
    Living where I do in Canada, I have a healthy appreciation of hunters . If any group is aware of the proper use of guns it is this group. Unfortunately, this group usually comes under greater scrutiny at times like this, which is a bit unfair also. You don’t hunt moose with an assault rifle unless you want to serve up some leaded or unleaded moose steaks.
    My Christmas wish for my American friends is that some meaningful dialogue can lead to some real change so that my heart does not have to break a little bit more every time we bear witness to incidents such as Sandy Hook.

    • I did some work back in the 90s with a newspaper that was interested in looking at the subject of kids (mostly high school) who carried guns. What was most surprising to me was that the ones who said they sometimes brought guns to school did so because they thought their enemies did. Their enemies, of course, were merely the students they fought with over boyfriends/girlfriends, name-calling, neighborhood squabbles, etc. I worry that without a significant buyback program, we’ll never get over the paranoia that everyone else out there has a gun so we should too.

  6. Very well said. I also agree with what Jan Burkholder said. My partner and I have been discussing this at length for a few days- she’s a CHL holder with 2 pistols and I am not. While I’m not against owning guns- legal and reasonable ones, of course, I do not care to have one. The NRA is the main reason we cannot get stricter gun regulations. If we could get enough people to stand up against their lobbying- I prefer to call it bullying, then we might have an actual chance.

    • Tell it! That’s why my favorite regulation would be making the gun seller responsible until that responsibility is properly transferred. They’ll scream about the red tape, but this is something car sellers have done responsibly for years.

  7. Your approach is simple and clear. I have wondered why we wait on the government to make the rules and who is paying , if you know what I mean. I’m sure that the killer, child or adult has expressed abnormal behavior prior to killing and it was ignored. Personally I think the issue is with the non treatment of kids or adults… but who will pay and where can you place them..again who will pay. Attacking the gun seems easier…Yes?

  8. I am a gun owner. I make my living from the hunting industry. Most of the things you propose are already in place.

    My understanding is that the Sandy Hook shooter killed his mother and stole her guns. He was a murderer before he stepped on school property. The amount of laws he violated is astounding. If I thought it out, I could make a list as long as my arm on that alone.

    I know this starts out like I am a right winged redneck jerk. That is not the case. I am a sportswomen who likes guns and loves to hunt. I am, also, a reasonable person. The first thing that any new proposed legislation needs to point out to those who oppose any gun control is that you can and should be able to own as many black powder musket guns as you want. Any caliber. Hell. I will even throw in black powder cannons. Any weapon that George Washington used is yours. As many as you want! Then, outlaw all semi autos. I understand that some of the adults killed came to the aid of the children. If the shooter couldn’t go boom boom boom so quickly, they may have succeeded in stopping him. Yes, if you banned semi- autos then only one of my shotguns would be legal and only one of my rifles would be illegal.

    I don’t own any handguns because I believe they are made to kill 2 legged animals. Revolvers aren’t exactly semi auto but you could word a law to outlaw them as well. I think only single shot handguns for target shooting would be fine.

    Just let me turn my illegal guns into the police station for a tax credit. The government buys it back from me and sells the scrap metal.

    • Jan, you don’t sound like a rightwing redneck jerk to me. I appreciate hearing from a gun owner. I’m sure there are many gun rights advocates who feel as you do, but reasonable voices are being drowned out by the extremists. We’d do well to recognize that the NRA has become a lobby group for gun manufacturers & sellers, far from its original mission as an organization to champion gun safety & responsible ownership.

      After reading the majority opinion in DC v Heller, it’s pretty clear *this* Court would never allow a ban on handguns, as they are the weapon of choice for the homeowner protecting his/her property. I think an argument could be made to ban semi-automatics, though.

  9. Kathryn Ewers Bundy Reply December 18, 2012 at 5:48 am

    Well said. A well-regulated militia….

  10. Congratulations KG – this has to be discussed and action needs to be taken. I have only one disagreement with what you say: automatic and semi-automatic weapons have no place in civilian life. They are military weapons. I’ve read owners’ comment on gun shop websites saying things like “this is a sweet rifle, it reminds me of the one I had in Iraq, it’s great in the hand.” I believe military-style weapons have no place in a civilised society.
    Semantics: I think the term “semi-automatic” is too sweetly euphemistic; they used to be called “sub-machine guns” – that tells it like it is and it ain’t pretty.
    Here in Australia we had one terrible gun massacre, at Port Arthur in Tasmania in 1996. A lone shooter killed 35 people and wounded 23 others.
    Public reaction was instant and overwhelming: stronger gun control. There was political opposition to Prime Minister John Howard’s initiative, from within his own (conservative coalition) but he pushed it through, helped by the discovery that the NRA (US!) was helping fund and advise the opposition.
    There was a “buy-back” scheme and then stricter laws were passed. Since then gun deaths are almost all criminal (gangs etc) .
    In answer to the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” I’d like to quote a friend: Gun Control Won’t Kill You.

    • Diana, I’ve read a lot in the last few days about Australia’s National Agreement on Firearms. I think it’s meaningful they called it an “agreement,” giving everyone a stake. I saw that in 10 years, gun homicides dropped 59% and suicides dropped 65%, WITHOUT a corresponding increase in other methods. And no mass shootings since. That’s what America could do if it had the collective will. I hope they don’t decide they’d rather have guns.

  11. Exactly what I thought but you stated it more fully than I did. Were gun owners forced to carry insurance with a portion of each premium dollar going to fund a pool that would pay immediate expenses, like funeral expenses, for large scale tragedies I think they would then force the NRA to back better safety measures.

    • Mary Anne, thanks for your note. I see the liability insurance as an acknowledgment by the gun owner that a gun can be dangerous; two guns twice as dangerous; etc. Plus it forces accountability on both the buyer & seller, because it means it can’t be sold without transferring liability, just as we do with cars. In my view, there’s no need for the gov’t to treat that as a fee — let the commercial insurers do that and set the rates for … say, a minimum of $1 million per gun. I think it would cut down greatly on proliferation.


  1. Gun Laws: the Truth is in the Middle | - April 21, 2014

    […] MacGregor makes all salient points on this, in her blog Baby, You Can Drive My Gun when suggests using driving laws as a template for gun laws. I agree with her on all those […]

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