Since my sixteenth birthday (boy was that a long time ago) I have had an on again off again relationship with the National Rifle Association. I can’t bring myself to totally 100% agree with their positions on firearm ownership but I find myself wanting to support an organization that is out to prevent the outlawing of private firearm ownership for a whole host of reasons.
First off our founding fathers felt the private ownership of firearms was such an important right that it was second after the much more important right to free speech. I find that placement rather significant.
Apparently the Supreme Court agrees with the importance of this amendment having recently validated the right of US citizens to keep and bear arms. In my opinion there is another side to this coin that gets lost in the discussion of private firearm ownership.
A right comes with it responsibility. In my opinion a right is not the same thing as an entitlement.
I was very disturbed this morning as I was opening an envelope from the NRA looking for me to renew my membership. It lapsed a while ago and it hasn’t been the highest priority in my mind in terms of spending money. I may or may not renew my membership on my own terms.
The thing that disturbed me was the quote “they want to firearm ownership a privilege instead of a right.” Not sure who “they” specifically are but I can guess.
Stepping back from that quote for a minute the thought that occurs to me there is something just as lethal as a firearm that can be found outside o good percentage of US homes, the automobile. There is no constitutional amendment that gives you the right to own an automobile, but nobody will stop you from buying one. You might have trouble registering that automobile (depending on state laws) if you don’t have a valid driver’s license. As soon as you get behind the wheel of the automobile a whole host of laws kick in regulating your behavior with that automobile. If you get caught driving without a valid driver’s license (or insurance) you may find yourself wearing a shiny pair of bracelets that hold your arms behind your back and an all expenses paid trip to the local jail.
As it should be.
Another less common example is nothing stops you from buying an airplane. If you have the pocketbook to support that then you can buy one and leave it parked at the airport. Get behind the controls without proper qualifications and you may find yourself having an uncomfortable conversation with (federal?) law enforcement. The level of consequence for something going wrong with you at the controls of an airplane are much higher than an automobile and therefore the qualification process is much more stringent.
Back to the driving license analogy, if you have a driver’s license that is valid in your state that normally allows you to drive that ’57 Chevy or other passenger vehicle. Likewise you can operate a pickup truck, some cargo vehicles in other words vehicles of a certain class. If you want to operate any of those vehicles and get paid for it by ferrying passengers around the stakes get higher and you need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). If you want to drive an eighteen wheeler there are endorsements that get added to that license depending on the types of cargo involved. Same thing applies to bus drivers.
The point I’m making here is you are not being restricted from doing any of that but you have to demonstrate your qualification to have the permits for the level of driving (or piloting) you want to achieve. Consequences for demonstrating your lack of qualification later on after you get the permit may result in your permit being rescinded or cancelled altogether.
As it should be.
How does this apply to firearm ownership? Very simple, I totally believe that firearm ownership should be contingent on being able to demonstrate you have the head knowledge (written test) and the practical knowledge (demonstrate fire arm safety understanding, marksmanship skills) to hold a firearms permit.
I’m not talking a one size fits all solution here though.
If you want to be considered for firearm ownership there should be a process analogous to the way driver’s licensing is done.
Level 1 Permit (learner’s permit)
This permit would include an application, fingerprinting, and background check and would be the equivalent to the “learner’s permit” issued in most states to wannabe drivers. After being issued the Level 1 Permit as I call it you’d have the opportunity to gain the knowledge necessary for the Level 2 Permit. Just as a person learning to drive is allowed to drive with supervision you’d be allowed to practice marksmanship under supervision. Once you’re ready for the test then comes the next step.
Level 2 Permit (Basic)
At this stage you take a test showing you have the knowledge of firearm safety, laws pertaining to firearm use and other topics related to safe and responsible firearm ownership and once the test is passed you can apply for one or both of two endorsements. A shotgun endorsement would allow you to purchase and own shotguns. The rifle endorsement would allow you to purchase and own rifles with low capacity magazines.
Level 3a (Handgun)
Handguns in my opinion as well as personal experience and observation requires the owner to be a bit more on the ball. The short barrel of a handgun means paying close attention to where the muzzle is pointed is even more important. I’ve personally witnessed someone shooting themselves with their own handgun due to what I call a violation of common sense. This permit would require more stringent demonstration testing.
Level 3b (High Power Rifles)
High power rifles such as 30-06 and other calibers have much more potential for raising havoc if improperly used. With extra kinetic energy such as that needed to stop a charging wild pig or bear comes more responsibility.
Level 4a (Assault Weapons — semiautomatic)
I use the term assault weapon here because I couldn’t think of another way to get my point across in a way most people would understand. I’m talking about what common sense would tell you is a military style weapon. An example that comes to mind is the AR-15. I wouldn’t mind owning one myself but I think the obvious extra levels of havoc these have the potential for requires more responsibility.
Level 4b (Automatic Weapons)
Do I really have to go into detail here?
I may have overlooked something so forgive me. I want to unequivocally state that I am all for personal firearm ownership, but I hope the reader catches one of the threads in this post responsibility. I am not saying we should do away with firearms. I’m not even proposing stopping certain firearms from being owned I’m saying if you want one you need to be ready to demonstrate that you are responsible enough to own one. That responsibility includes using a firearm responsibly, storing it responsibly (so Junior doesn’t take it with them to school) and maintaining the weapon so you don’t end up hurting yourself with a misfire.
To counterbalance all of this legislation needs to reaffirm the right of honest law abiding citizens to own firearms. States and municipalities should not have the ability or right to take away responsible firearm ownership from those law abiding citizens. Laws regarding illegal use of firearms (a topic altogether different) need to be beefed up making the consequences of such actions more draconian. A good place to start there is mandatory sentencing for anyone using a firearm in the commission of a crime. The penalties need to be even stiffer if the person in question would have not qualified for a firearms permit in the first place.
Who does the testing and administration of permits?
Just as here in New Jersey the motor vehicles commission has been privatized education, testing and permit issuance I would envision being privatized. Yes someone can make money on this, but if it reduces some of the negative issues surrounding firearm ownership then it might not be a bad thing. It also removes politics from the equation making the permit process more neutral.
I have in the past enjoyed my time down at the firearms range punching holes in paper or at a skeet range blowing away clay disks thrown up into the air. I’ve also in the past been an avid hunter. I spent six years in the US Navy and for watch standing purposes carried a M1911 .45 ACP on my hip. (Love to own one for nostalgia reasons) The combination of those experiences make me understand both sides of this very thorny issue. To use a bad pun here there are no silver bullets to eliminate the carnage caused by the unbalanced or sociopaths. There is no way to one hundred percent eliminate illegal firearms from our streets given how many AK-47s (for example) get into this country every year. (Gee. hasn’t it been illegal to own an automatic weapon without a federal permit since the roaring twenties?)
Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear what people think of all this…