Some thoughts on gun control
|Semi automatic rifles for sale at a gun show in Texas|
So, the USA has a problem with guns. Or, to be more accurate, America loves guns but has a problem with them being used to kill innocent people, often en masse. There are literally millions of guns in the USA and while people, including me, regularly suggest an Australian-style buy-back of weapons and an outright ban the reality is that is unlikely to happen, if for no other reason than it will cost the government an absolute fortune – the Australian buy-back took around 650,000 weapons off the streets but an equivalent in the US would require something like 60,000,000 guns to be bought and if they cost an average of $500, which seems reasonable having checked out the Texas Gun Trader website for the prices of second-hand weapons, that would cost $30,000,000,000… which is a lot.
What then can be done about the problems of mass shootings in the short term? I think the answer is, probably, not very much. But, I do wonder whether things could be done in the mid to long-term. Here are a few ideas, some may already be in force in some or all states, others are not. I don’t pretend they are perfect or even complete.
Bans on certain types of weapon and accessories
If I were elected President (don’t laugh, look at the current one), I’d start with a complete ban on fully automatic weapons – although heavily controlled a civilian can own one in the USA if they can obtain the correct paperwork. Next, I’d impose a ban on the sale of devices designed to turn a semi-automatic weapon into a fully, or near fully, automatic weapon – the so called “bump stock”. Sure, I get that’s it’s fun to go into the desert or the woods and shoot a whole lot of stuff up really quickly. It’d be even more fun to do that with a real military-grade fully automatic weapon but those are still all but banned currently so deal with it. Bump stocks are devices that were developed in 2010 with the intention that they would get around the Federal ban on full automatic weapons.
At this point, for the sake of openness I
will make clear that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) approved
the bump stock for use by those with limited use of their hands, although the
inventor, Jeremiah Cottle, told the press, “A
friend and I were out shooting one day and we weren’t able to fire as fast as
we wanted. We couldn’t afford what we wanted – a fully automatic rifle – so I
started to think about how I could make something that would work and be
affordable… Our product allows people (recreational shooters) to have fun at a
price that they can afford.”
|Mr Cottle with his bump stock devices|
Now for the big stuff. Currently, Federal law requires background checks and bans the sale of firearms to certain classes of people, e.g. convicted felons. Under my system that’s all gone. Instead, I would introduce a system of strict licencing for all firearms. A licence would be required when purchasing a new or second-hand weapon initially but would eventually be rolled out to include existing gun owners wishing to keep their arsenal. Anybody wishing to own a firearm would have to make an application to the police or ATF for a licence and they would then be vetted for any evidence that they are unsuitable people to own a gun. In addition, the prospective gun owner would be required to prove that they have undertaken training in the safe use and storage of firearms as well as proving that they have secure storage facilities to keep weapons and ammunition under lock and key in different places, e.g. two different secure cabinets one for ammo and the other for the weapons that have their own unique keys. Each time a person moves home they would be required to update their licence and prove once again that the new home has the required storage facilities. In addition, each weapon purchased would be linked to the licence holder and a record of sales to new owners would have to be made.
|A British gun licence|
What is the purpose of this licencing measure? Given that toddlers are responsible for killing more Americans each year than terrorists and that mass shootings (which occur on average more than once a day in the USA) are frequently carried out by shooters who have taken legally owned guns without the owners’ consent or knowledge it is clear that legal gun owners are not taking steps to prevent weapons falling into the hands of children or criminals who wish to harm others. So, those irresponsible gun owners should either be forced to buck up their ideas or prevented from owning guns in the first place if they cannot keep them safe. This is no different to car drivers being refused a licence if there are fears that they cannot be trusted on the road, e.g. in the UK if you are considered a high-risk offender following certain driving convictions then you will be refused a driving licence until you can prove that you are no longer a risk even after your driving ban has ended.
I know that somebody is going to raise the objection that “it’s impossible because there are just too many guns”. Let me tell you that is rubbish. The USA had around 310M guns in 2009 and 253M vehicles in 2014 so the US is more than capable of maintaining huge databases of things.
To drive my car, I require insurance in case I damage property, hurt or kill somebody. My insurance would also pay out if I negligently left the brake off and it rolled away causing injury or damage. Cars are designed to travel between places but their ability to cause harm is obvious for everybody to see. As a solicitor, I carry millions of pounds worth of insurance against me screwing up and ruining somebody’s life. Guns are, for the most part, designed to injury or kill something
Next, I would like to turn my attention to the question of insurance. We’ve recently had the attack in Parkland, Florida and I was pretty disgusted to see that the family of one young lad who was shot multiple times trying to protect his classmates are having to beg for donations to cover his medical bills. The US Constitution gives citizens the right to “keep and bear arms”. I argue that with rights come responsibilities. As a driver I have responsibilities to other road users to ensure my car is safe to be on the road and that I am fit to operate it. I also have the responsibility of ensuring that if anything goes wrong I can pay compensation to try and put them in the position they would have been had I not injured them or damaged their property – at the very least my insurance should cover the costs of medical and other costs they incur, e.g. adaptations to their home, where it is required. Being a gun owner is no different at all, the Constitution gives you a right and that right should come with equal responsibilities to those who may be hurt by you exercising your rights whether they are hurt through your actions or your negligence in not securing your weapons. With that in mind, I can see no reason why gun owners should not be required to take out insurance against their own acts and negligence in owning a weapon.
Lynn McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute argues against insurance for gun owners, saying, "[i]nsurance ends at the point of intention. Firing a weapon is (usually) an intentional act, and no insurance covers an intentional act. You can't decide to drive your car into your neighbor's vehicle and expect your insurance company to cover it." I disagree. You can intentionally drive your car into a neighbour’s vehicle and expect the insurance company to cover the damage to the third party, albeit they may seek to recover their costs from you. Nonetheless, the third party who has been hurt by your actions will receive recompense. Also, many of these acts are committed by people who have obtained legally owned firearms without the owner’s consent. My new system of licencing requires gun owners to store them securely as part of having a licence. Failure to do so would open the gun owner to liability in negligence if they fail to take such reasonable steps to secure their weapons and thus insurance can be sold to cover such negligence. Insurance assessors are more than capable to working out who is a liability and who isn’t then setting the price accordingly. In this way, those whose weapons are more likely to be used in shootings will bear more of the burden of recompensing the injured.
Russell Roberts, an economics fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University has a different take on why insurance should not be required, "[t]o me, insurance is just a fancy way to discourage gun ownership by raising the cost of owning a gun," he says. "I don't think that's a good idea because not everybody obeys the law. You would raise the cost for law-abiding citizens to own a gun without having any impact on those who illegally own a gun." With respect to Mr Roberts that is an argument against any law you care to name at all. Why should law abiding drivers have insurance when criminal drivers won’t bother? Why should we outlaw burglary when burglars will just ignore the law? If you choose to take part in an activity that is dangerous to others, then you should bear part of the responsibility for paying when the inevitable happens and somebody gets hurt. This isn’t creeping Socialism, it’s not the forerunner to the outlawing of all guns it is simple good honest common sense.
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act 2005
I would give very serious thought to repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act 2005, which bars actions in negligence being brought against gun traders and manufacturers except in certain situations. At the very least, I would ensure that it was amended to create liability where a weapon is sold to an unlicensed person or to a licensed person in the knowledge that the weapon was being purchased for an unlicensed person.
Under my system, the US would implement a rigorous gun licensing scheme administered by law enforcement and backed up with appropriate criminal sanctions for those flouting the licensing requirements. I would require gun owners, which includes gun dealers since they are the temporary owners of their stock, to purchase insurance against the weapons being misused either deliberately by the owner or by others through the owner’s negligence. Finally, I would repeal or amend the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act 2005 to ensure that gun dealers and manufacturers act responsibly when deciding who to sell their products to – it is just as important that manufacturers only sell to responsible dealers as it is that dealers only sell to responsible owners.
How would I pay for all this? I would pay for it through fees for licensing and inspections coupled with taxes on the sale of firearms.
These are just a few thoughts. I don’t pretend they are perfect and I have no doubt at all that many people who read them will hate them completely. But, let me ask this. If you are a responsible gun owner who cares about other people then why would you not want to stop the irresponsible obtaining guns and why would you not want to help those who have been hurt just as you, as a law-abiding citizen, accept you must do when you drive a car?