GUN CONTROL – A PLAN

This last post in the three-part series on gun control covers my proposed gun control plan. I will present a few background issues which affected my reasoning in the details of its implementation. This idea is not original to me. Others have proposed similar plans.

Ask yourself this – which right is more important, the right to life, or the right to own guns? In cases where it comes down to a compromise between the two, which would you favor? If there were ways to increase the safety and security of the public, and still allow “responsible” (as I defined in my first post) citizens to own guns, don’t both sides win? Balance in all things is one of the factors in how I think, and in my decision-making processes.

Causes of gun deaths include a) accidents (which are completely preventable so long as people follow ALL safety rules at all times, which we know is not going to happen because there are always stupid people who think they know better – “Darwin Awards”) b) gun deaths (including suicides) due to anger, stress, domestic disputes, economic problems, etc. (impulsive) and c) gun deaths due to premeditated murders. Mass killings with guns can be due to either environmental conditions or premeditation (as in actual terrorist incidents, which are rare). I must say that in my opinion, many of the mass shootings which the media and right-wingnuts have publicized as “terrorist” are actually due to mental health problems such as anger, resentment, and stress rather than to actual, verifiable terrorist ties. We have too many “fear mongers” in America, on BOTH sides of the gun control issue who are pushing their own political agendas, rather than addressing the actual root causes of gun violence in a sane and reasoned way. Have I covered all the causes of gun deaths and injuries here?

One aspect of a safety plan must be comprehensive education on gun laws and gun safety including periodic reminders of these things to gun owners, and mandatory initial training, with periodic refresher courses (as simple as review of a video every few years, and public safety ads).

Another aspect is making sure prospective gun owners are proficient in owning, operating, and accurately shooting firearms before letting them purchase guns.

Comprehensive mental health reform in America is desperately needed to address the anger, rage, resentment, and stresses which incite a normally stable and non-violent individual to become a killer. People are not born killers, environmental conditions create violent people. This is not actually a part of this gun control plan, but should be pursued separately by researchers and legislators.

We need comprehensive justice system reform. It is a travesty of justice that too many murders, especially regarding minorities, are committed by law enforcement officials, even committed against unarmed and helpless individuals in police custody. These officers must be held to account for their crimes. This in no way impugns all of the honest and noble members of our police forces who do their public service with all integrity. There are a few bad apples (maybe more than a few), including some outright racists who think they are above the law, who need to “brought to heel” and held to pay for their crimes, and no longer be protected by their fellow officers and the courts. This situation of affairs is unacceptable.

We need to solve the economic injustice which often leads to domestic disputes over lack of money, further leading to domestic violence, and sometimes maybe even mass murders. I will point out here, that the number ONE domestic issue spouses fight about is the lack of money, or money management. This is an actual fact even though I don’t have the references at my fingertips.

Any gun control plan must focus mainly on keeping guns out of the hands of those who are mentally unstable or have shown violent tendencies, and all who have been convicted of violent crimes (TBD by legislators, not by me).

A plan must include some method of data collection and communication, paper or computerized, to adequately track violent offenders and those who are not mentally stable enough to be gun owners. This method MUST also allow for reinstatement of rights to own and purchase guns in cases where a) offenders awaiting trial are absolved of guilt, b) least violent offenders have served their sentences and are deemed to be capable of gun ownership again by some authority such as a judge or ranking police official, and c) those with temporary mental health issues which have been sufficiently addressed as determined by mental health professionals. More details will be forthcoming.

The purpose of the plan is twofold – to be implemented in such a way as to not cause undue burden on “responsible” gun owners or unnecessarily restrict their right to purchase firearms, AND to provide a method of significant harm reduction relative to firearms-related accidents, injuries, and deaths.

I have considered a number of proposed methods of gun control. Most of the methods pushed by politicians are woefully inadequate, and only address SYMPTOMS rather than the underlying problems which lead to gun accidents, or cause people to become killers. However, ACCESS to firearms, even though it is only one of the SYMPTOMS of gun violence, must still be addressed by any effective method of control. Banning people on federal watch lists is a very problematic proposal. Also consider the fact (I have seen the pie charts which show the varieties of killings) that the number of people killed in mass shootings is miniscule compared to the total number of gun deaths (I have seen the figure of 33,000 per year in the US) even though these mass shootings are generally the only deaths which get hyped in the press, and which get the attention of the public, and thus our lawmakers. Proposals which ban certain weapons, or magazine sizes, or requiring background checks before buying AMMO (not gun background checks), are anywhere from woefully inadequate to overly restrictive to “responsible” owners (“responsible” being as I described in part 1 of this series of blog posts). There are pros and cons to each of these proposed laws, but I believe there is a better proposal. I will attempt to describe it to you in this post. Keep in mind that it is not comprehensive. Any truly comprehensive plan must address the corruption of our political system by corporate interests (i.e. the NRA and weapons manufacturers), injustice within our justice system, economic injustice, and our inadequately-funded mental health system. My plan does not address these broader issues, but provides some measures to reduce the effects of ignoring them.

Let me point out one idea here. If ALL of the ROOT causes which turn people into killers in the first place were solved, then the need to control access to guns themselves would become a non-issue. If nobody becomes a killer in the first place, then no amount of weapons in the hands of “responsible” people, who are not killers, would ever be a problem. I fully realize this is not realistically reachable goal as it stands today, therefore some restrictions on the ACCESS to guns is necessary. But imagine a world full of peaceful, loving people, where any need for guns for self-defense no longer exists. No more war, no more nukes, no more armies, no more weapons at all. It would truly be glorious to live in such a world…but we don’t.

SO…

One thing an effective gun control plan needs to include is mandatory EDUCATION. Let me give you a direct analogy using something we all are familiar with…driver safety.

There is a reason we see constant ads and reminders on TV and in the press that remind drivers to “don’t drink and drive”, “buckle-up for safety”, “don’t text and drive”, if you are sleepy get the hell off the road (my paraphrase),…etc. It is true that people sometimes ignore these things, and accidents happen, but the constant education and reminders reinforces these thoughts in the minds of drivers, and reduces the number of accidents that would occur otherwise. I have not researched the statistics (and I mistrust many statistics as misleading anyway), but there is a reason why someone pays good money to put these ads on TV and elsewhere…they reduce traffic fatalities. Children are very observant. Imagine a young child, securely strapped into a child safety seat, reminding their parents to “buckle-up”. It happens quite often, as most parents must surely know.

Any comprehensive gun control plan needs to include mandatory gun safety EDUCATION. If gun owners were constantly reminded of basic safety rules, and were forced to learn basic gun safety before being allowed to be a gun owner, I believe it would reduce the number of accidental gun deaths. When was the last time you saw a public service ad urging gun owners to “always point a gun in a SAFE direction”, or urging children to never touch a gun without an adult present (this does exist, at least in schools), or to “make sure every gun is unloaded”, or “always store firearms in a secure, locked gun safe”? I believe it would at least reduce the number of gun accidents. And maybe if children were exposed to such ads, it might instill in them at a young age a healthy respect for guns and gun safety. Many of them will grow up to be gun owners themselves. More on how this might look in practice later.

THE PLAN

Finally, here it is, my actual proposal. It is a basic outline, and many details would need to be worked out, but I think it could be effective in reducing gun injuries and deaths.

It is really simple, and has been proposed by others. It is not an original idea of mine. Treat gun ownership similarly to how we treat licensed drivers. If you need a license to be able to operate a potentially deadly vehicle, then license people who are of age (whatever that may be, like 18 or 21) to be able to legally PURCHASE weapons and ammo. It is not so much an issue of “ownership” as an issue of “access” and ability to “purchase” guns and ammo, although there are aspects of ownership rights involved as well.

Most individuals who would become licensed would probably do so at a younger age, just like those who get their driver’s license for the first time. Initially, present gun owners would also be required to get a license in order to purchase any further firearms or ammo. There would be a more lengthy and stringent process to get the license for the first time, but a process which is not unduly burdensome or lengthy. Once the license is obtained, the gun owner would be free to purchase any of the weapons and ammo which are currently allowed today. So long as an individual does not commit violent crimes, violate gun regulations, or develop serious mental health issues, they continue to have the right to buy guns and ammo freely. This license would need to be periodically renewed (such as every few years). Anytime a person has a violation or serious mental health issue, a method of suspending the gun license must be in place. I will talk more on details shortly.

For this to work, there must be some kind of government bureau (similar to the BMV, but more organized – insert cynical smiley here -) who has the authority to initiate background checks of first-time applicants, issue licenses, and manage the suspension or revocation of licenses, in cooperation with law enforcement, the judicial system, mental health professionals, and qualified gun dealers. Yes, there are a number of issues and details which lawmakers would need to deal with to get this system set up and working.  Hereafter I will refer to this entity as simply the “bureau”.

First-time applicants would first need to apply with the “bureau” which would initiate a THOROUGH background check with the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies, and POSSIBLY other federal agencies (CIA, NSA, INTERPOL, for naturalized citizens and legal immigrants?). This must be a more stringent background check than the idiotic 3-day waiting period check used today. The data obtained through background checks will remain PRIVATE to the “bureau”, and only available to “bureau” employees. A license can only be obtained after a successful background check. Some kind of appeals process must be in place for applicants who fail the check for some reason, and possibly due to some error, or for the case where a check is taking too much time. NOTE that no license may be issued without a successful check taking place, or a judge issuing a successful process appeal judgement. Yes, there are details here to work out, but automatically giving a license just because the background check is taking longer than 3 days is unacceptable. Keep in mind that we currently have a system of background checks in place, even though it has glaring flaws. We just need to fix some of the flaws for it to work effectively. Also, the background check is only done the first time a person gets their license.

For privacy reasons, the only data the “bureau” is ever allowed to share with law enforcement and registered gun dealers is the status of a license, whether it is active, under temporary suspension, or permanently revoked, along with the identity of the licensed person. This data will not be available to the general public unless they are registered with the “bureau” to SELL firearms. No more private sales of firearms are allowed, except when transferred through the agency of a registered gun dealer. This would apply to gun shows. If two people want to sell guns between them, it must be done THROUGH a licensed dealer (of which there would be many available at a gun show to do the transfer or sale).

There is nothing in this system to prevent two people from illegally exchanging firearms.  We have that situation today.  The only deterrent is the fact that the gun “registration” does not get altered.  This leaves the original owner still having the gun registered to them.  If the gun should happen to be used in a crime, guess who the police are going to come after? Note that in this plan, the “bureau” would not keep records of individual firearms purchased or owned. This answers some of the privacy concerns. However, current systems of gun registration may be kept in place for law enforcement purposes.

A first-time applicant must complete a course of training which includes gun safety, gun laws, training in operating various types of pistols and rifles, and physical demonstration of accurate operation and shooting of firearms. Such a course must be certified by the “bureau” to include a basic minimum of training which meets their requirements. The shooting portion, at least, would need to be done at a gun range (attached to a gun dealer, or through a hunting club, or similar organization) under supervision of individuals approved to certify the applicant’s proficiency and accuracy. Once applicants complete the course of training, they would then receive an official, signed certificate which they would take to the “bureau” as proof of completion.

Once an applicant has been notified of a successful background check, they can then take their certificate of course completion to the “bureau” who will make a copy for storage (the applicant keeps the original). The applicant must then complete a written (or computerized) test, similar to a driver’s written test, to prove they have a minimum knowledge of gun safety rules and laws. Once they pass the test, then the license will be issued. This license may possibly be  a photo license. A person would still need their driver’s license or state ID to verify age and identity as well. It is possible that a gun license could also serve as a valid photo ID.

Once a person is licensed, only a periodic renewal is necessary, as long as no restrictions on the license have taken place. As part of the renewal process, the license holder must watch a video on gun safety and laws, just to reinforce this information in the license holder’s mind. This renewal could be done similarly to driver’s license renewals, every few years.

The holder of an active or unrestricted license can go to any registered gun dealer and purchase whatever guns and ammo they desire, without any waiting periods. The dealer would use the driver’s license and/or gun license of the individual to verify the buyer’s status to purchase guns and ammo. The dealer would use the gun license number via computer, phone, or whatever mechanism is devised to communicate with the “bureau”, and the “bureau” will respond with only the license status and identity of the license holder. Once the “active” status and identity are verified, the dealer can proceed with the sale.

What happens to arrested persons under this system? Any time a person is arrested for any violent crime (to be determined by legislators, as servants of “We the People”), all such arrests will be immediately transmitted to the “bureau”. They will use the arrest information to temporarily “suspend” the license. Any time a court clears the person of the crime, they must be REQUIRED to transmit this information immediately to the “bureau” who will then lift the restriction. If a person is convicted of a serious violent crime, or series of lesser violent crimes (such as a pattern of bar fights or domestic abuse, etc) which requires the permanent suspension of a gun license, then it will be permanently revoked by the “bureau” and be entered into their system so that the individual cannot reapply for a license, unless, or until a judge orders otherwise. This applies to all violent offenders, even if they have NEVER applied for a license. No individual citizen can purchase any weapon or ammo anywhere in America without a valid, active (unrestricted) gun license. This prevents anyone not licensed, from obtaining LEGAL firearms or ammo.

How does this get illegal guns off the street? Keep in mind that there currently exist laws and regulations that allow law enforcement to confiscate illegal weapons. These laws need to be enforced, which is one of the main causes of why illegally-owned weapons remain on the street. Legal confiscations by police are not adequately enforced. Most of these laws will not need to change. This plan will not prevent the black market illegal weapons, which exist today from being available to criminals. That needs to dealt with by other means. Again, what this plan DOES do, is prevent anyone who is not the valid holder of an active and unrestricted license, from purchasing LEGAL guns or ammo from any registered dealer. All dealers must be registered in order to sell guns and ammo.

People arrested of violent crimes which require license restriction will be (under legislated conditions) subject to “temporary” gun confiscation. These guns MUST be held by law enforcement until a trial is complete. If the arrested person is cleared, their guns MUST be returned to them and the court must immediately remove their license restrictions through the “bureau”. In the case where they are found guilty of crimes which require permanent revocation of their gun license, their license is revoked, and they forfeit their guns, to then be destroyed (too bad, so sad).

A similar method must be used for those with mental illnesses. However, again looking at how driver’s licenses work, when a medical physician determines you are physically unable to drive, that is entered into your medical record. When the physician determines you are again well enough to drive, the same thing happens. A weakness of this system is that the BMV is never notified (at least I don’t think so) and you are on your honor to not drive, even though there are no restrictions placed on your driver’s license. In the case of a qualified mental health professional determines you are not fit to own guns, that decision must somehow be given to the “bureau” so that a temporary or permanent restriction to your gun license occurs. Today, in cases of severe mental illness, there are already laws on the books which prohibit them from owning firearms. Another failure of our law enforcement officials to enforce these laws is that many times, when a person is diagnosed with a severe mental illness which then prevents them from owning guns, if they already have guns, those guns are never confiscated by police like they should be. This is a failure to enforce laws which already exist, either because the mental health status is unknown to the police, or they simply fail to do a confiscation when it is known. When a qualified mental health professional determines that a person is stable enough to again own guns, they will be obliged to contact the “bureau” to lift the person’s license restrictions.

Yes, there are many, many problems to be worked out with this system. What my plan will do, when working properly, is prevent ANYONE who does not have an active license from purchasing weapons or ammo from any REGISTERED gun dealer. This includes gun purchases made at department stores, sporting goods stores, gun shows, or anywhere else in the US. This will actually go a long way in reducing current gun violence, and make it harder for people to obtain weapons for mass shootings, or on the spur of the moment for crimes of passion or suicide. It will keep people in domestic situations, who don’t already have a current license, from impulsively buying a gun to shoot a spouse or family member or anyone else. What it will not do, is prevent a currently licensed member from impulsively shooting family members or others with the guns they already own. This specific case is where more sweeping reforms are needed to address the general causes of violence in America. No gun control plan by itself will resolve the conditions which turn people into killers.

But here is a thought. So many times you here of domestic shootings where someone knew ahead of time that a person seemed likely to commit violence (e.g. court restraining orders filed, domestic disputes reported to police). With the aid of police and the court systems, when such conditions become known, such people should be evaluated by mental health professionals. If they are deemed unfit to own weapons, then the guns they own should be temporarily confiscated, and their license temporarily suspended, until such time as they are deemed again safe to own guns. In the case of restraining orders issued, the judge should have the option of having their license temporarily restricted and their guns confiscated and temporarily held, until the order is lifted.

Just to reiterate, any TEMPORARY suspension of a license should be accompanied by a TEMPORARY confiscation of guns. Whenever restrictions are lifted, the guns MUST be returned. Some kind of appeals process must also be in place to redress grievances. In the case of a permanent revocation, the guns should be confiscated and destroyed.

Maybe it would have been safer simply saying “Implement a licensing system for guns and ammo purchases, similar in nature to our driver’s licensing system”. Maybe I should have just left it at that, without all the details. I guess what I wanted to do is demonstrate how such a system might prevent a large amount of the gun ownership and access restriction problems we have today. It is definitely not a comprehensive solution, but it allows “responsible” gun owners to freely purchase guns and ammo with a limited amount of pain and effort, which is reasonable to expect of those who want to BE responsible owners. We do not consider the effort to get a driver’s license to be unreasonable for the purpose of keeping our roads as safe as possible. Why should any serious gun owner consider these measures as unreasonable in order to provide some measure of safety from gun violence to our society? I, as a gun owner, would not object to such a system myself. Do you have other proposals which you think might work better? Propose them.

Even though it is CLEAR that the founding fathers never intended the second amendment to apply to private gun ownership, it is clear that today, there are those who think that a private right to own guns IS a constitutional right, rather than a legislated privilege. They have good evidence to insist on it. The system I have outlined does not prohibit the private ownership of guns at all to those who can do so responsibly. Even the courts have upheld the loss of constitutional rights to convicted felons and the severely mentally ill (i.e. the right to vote, own weapons, etc.) under legislated circumstances. Our society already accepts these limitations of constitutional rights as reasonable and just (even though there are efforts to restore some rights, like the right to vote, to felons who have served their incarceration). The plan I have described here does not alter our current view of these rights except to add temporary restrictions between arrest and conviction, and regarding temporary serious mental health episodes. It does add a measure of effort and responsibility to those who choose to own guns responsibly, which I think most gun owners would agree with. Most gun owners, who are not executives of gun manufacturers or the NRA, agree that some reasonable measure of gun control is acceptable and needed. Even NRA members mostly agree with the need for some restrictions on access to guns. In my opinion, I think that what I have outlined here provides for a perfectly reasonable level of effort, in order to provide enhanced public safety. I would personally not object to some similar type of system. I know there are plenty who will take exception to my proposal. So be it. Let the games begin…

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