Second Amendment Gun Control
Government has a legitimate role in human life, but a role which is limited. The simplest description of that limit is to say that governmental authority is restricted to public justice and safety. Thus we see it as legitimate that governments not only enforce civil and criminal codes, but inspect bridges, airplanes, food, and medicines. It’s also why State an local governments patrol highways.
If this view is correct, it seems clear that government also has an obligation to play a role in second amendment gun control and the regulation of firearms for the public’s safety. If it’s proper to have laws requiring a driving test and license because of a car’s potential danger to others, then surely it’s proper to have similar requirements when it comes to the possession and use of lethal weapons. This need was once again brought to national attention by another senseless massacre of innocent citizens in Florida. This responsibility must, of course, be balanced with the constitutional guarantee that government may not forbid gun ownership altogether. Nevertheless, if it’s proper to deny a driving license to a drunk, it’s proper to deny firearms to those who have a criminal record or a history of mental instability. Second amendment gun control is reasonable!
But is that all? Does requiring background check on gun purchasers for those two items really fulfill government’s responsibility? I think not. Taking seriously the analogy with a driving license, I argue that what is needed is instruction and testing in the safe use, handling, and storing of firearms. In other words, the responsibility of public safety requires that government not only pass laws to prevent the misuse of arms owing to crime or insanity, but also to ameliorate accidental misuse owing to ignorance. So I propose that we need additional laws to require such instruction, and new state agencies to test the applicants for gun permits similar to the agencies that test drivers.
However, while states could test firearm knowledge surely it’s not government’s job to supply such instruction – any more than it is to teach people to drive. And the days are long gone when most people live in a rural setting and learn weapon handling from parents as part of growing up the way they now learn to drive. Who, then, should carry out such instruction for gun purchasers?
My own experience is that there is no better organization to do this than the NRA. In my teens I was a member of my high school’s rifle team and frequently went to the local police range to receive instruction from an NRA Rangemaster. I know what a good job they can do, and am convinced that every gun purchaser needs that instruction. Second amendment gun control would have a champion.
So I further propose that the government designate the NRA (and/or other highly qualified organizations) to train applicants for gun permits (for a minimal fee) and to help enforce the background check requirements. The NRA could provide this service with the full confidence that the second amendment is inviolable, as has been upheld by a recent Supreme Court ruling. That ruling should also reassure the NRA that there is no risk of a slippery slope were they to admit that the public’s right to weapon ownership doesn’t extend to machine guns and other powerful military weapons that have nothing to do with hunting, sport, or home protection. We should be willing to be guided in this matter by the advice of our law enforcement professionals who risk their lives every day to keep us safe, and that includes plugging the loopholes which allow for gun sales which do an end run around the background checks and safety laws already in place.
These proposals will not, all by themselves, stop the illegal sale of firearms. Nor will they stop all accidents or crime any more than driving instruction stops all accidents or all drunk driving. They will not provide a panacea. But it seems clear that State and Federal legislation could do far more than is now done both to promote firearm safety and to prevent the criminal and mentally unstable from obtaining firearms.