Monday, November 09, 2015

On Gun Ownership

In a recent conversation on gun ownership, my correspondent made the laudable statement that he would rather not own a gun than be an irresponsible gun owner. He questioned whether increased gun ownership would necessarily lead to increased responsible gun ownership. And it's a good question.

I share his perspective when he says that he'd rather not own a gun than be an irresponsible owner. I think that's the most responsible thing you can say. I think it should be said about more things... pet ownership, for instance, and voting. I'd rather not vote than pick names at random from a list, or pick them because they have the "right" branding. I wish that more voters shared my sense of responsibility.

But responsible ownership is something that must be accomplished constitutionally. I'm afraid my answer here may blunt my Libertarian credentials ever-so-slightly, and it may simultaneously scare the pants off of you.


Chris Conover presents data and commentary in a Forbes opinion piece, and I invite you to read it in full... here's my "Reader's Digest" summary of the main arguments.

Anybody can buy a car. They don't even need a license. You can even drive it, without a license, legally, as much as you want... on your own property. This is despite the fact that Americans are far more likely to die in a vehicle accident than by the accidental discharge of a firearm.

But if I want to get in that car and take it out on the road and mingle with the public, then the law says I need a license. So I get a license. The police don't come to my house and check my license periodically. If my license expires, they don't care, so long as I'm not driving in public. If I'm caught doing so they can fine or jail me, but there's nothing whatsoever that says I must have a license to own a car. And that's a device that's far deadlier far more often than guns. And that's despite the fact that there's no explicit constitutional guarantee of car ownership.

Gun control advocates use this same comparison -- cars vs. guns -- to argue that you should need a license to own a gun, "just like a car". But in truth you do not need the license to own a car. You do not need one to drive it. You need a license only to operate it in public. So in practice, regulating guns like we regulate cars would be very close to what gun advocates are asking for. Naturally, it's not the message that the gun control lobby intends, but it is what they asked for.

But we do have an explicit guarantee of gun ownership. Many people quibble over the "militia" clause of the Second Amendment, but they also often forget that the militia is distinct from the Army or Navy (per section 2) and that its composition is left to the various states (per the 10th Amendment). Here in South Carolina, for instance, the subject is in the main body of our Constitution. In section 20, the reason given is "As, in times of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty..."  It has nothing to do with hunting or fishing (our constitution asserts those rights independently). Our Article XIII explicitly defines the composition of the militia. And even then, while the militia clause provides a reason, the Second Amendment asserts the right of "the people", not "the militia". Our trust in our government has strict limits, so much so that we put it in writing.

Now you may think that this interpretation is a bit paranoid of the government, to which the answer is, "well, DUH"... it's a paranoia that was discussed at length prior to being written into the Constitution of the United States and individual States, so any law we make has to deal with that. And I'm of the opinion that "clever circumvention" is never the proper course. The Constitution should be complied with, both the letter and the intent.

Now to really scare you.

Personally, I'm fond of revolvers.
Limited capacity, but highly reliable.
I'm not in favor of mandatory registration of guns. Truth be told, I want my government to be scared of its citizens. I don't want them to know whether you have a gun, an arsenal, or nothing at all. I want them not to know how many guns there are, and I want them not to know where those guns are, at least not without a warrant. I think the probability of actually using these guns against my government is vanishingly small... and I want to keep that probability low, so I do not want my government ever to be comfortable in believing that it has more power than its citizens. When I was in the military, I felt no different. And many of my compatriots felt the same way. In this country the government cannot rely on the military to subdue its own people.

Of course, this could make things difficult for the police, but nobody said law enforcement was an easy job. And those difficulties are only incremental, in that the vast majority of gun owners are not only law-abiding, but they support the police. Those that don't support the police also don't give a damn about restrictive gun control laws. And because of this, I want the law to be such that criminals don't know whether a law-abiding person is armed or not... in public or private. Criminals should be as wary of their would-be victims as they are of the police.

Furthermore, I don't want an invading army or any other group, should there ever be one, to be able to hack a database or pull records and find every weapon. I want this country to be unassailable by enemies "foreign or domestic". Even in a time when CNN's Jake Tapper opines, "I think the American people, honestly, want security over freedom," I prefer to side with Patrick Henry:
"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
I think it's a very good thing that I and other like-minded individuals are so inclined. It was people who shared our "paranoid" view that created this nation. It was these people like this who have defended it for 240 years. It is largely these people who man our all-volunteer armed forces today, just as I did in my day. We swore an oath to defend Liberty, not security... to defend the Constitution, not back-yard fences and "safe spaces".


Having said all that, I absolutely want gun owners to be both responsible and knowledgeable, as does anyone who has been affiliated with the NRA. To that end, if I were a gun merchant, then I would include a free gun owner's course with the purchase of any weapon. I wouldn't need government regulation to institute such a policy; just come take the course and then take your gun home. If you've already taken such a course, fine... show me your certificate of completion or permit. If not, then store policy says you take the course.

Could such a policy be codified as a law? Well, sure... anything at all can be made a law. I don't know that it should... and whether it would survive the courts is an interesting guess. But we don't need to pass a law in order to do it in practice. There is no Constitutional impediment preventing a vendor from bundling whatever conditions he wants into a sale. Me...? I'd give 'em a course. And if a private vendor did such a thing, I'd get behind him 100%. Might it make it more difficult to get a gun for someone who is illiterate or feeble-minded if I required him to take tests first? Yes, it would. But it would also be completely legal. He may have a right to bear arms, but as a private citizen I don't have the obligation to sell them to just anyone. That is, right up until the PC police violate my right of free association and force me to sell to idiots. But that's another topic.

Resources for online training:

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