Moving American Gun Policy Forward

by on March 8th, 2004

The presidential election means it’s time for another round of arguing over the role of guns in America. Rather than the usual “guns are good, guns are bad” piece, I would like to try to find some common ground between the two sides. To start this magic trick off, we need to accept that both sides have legitimate concerns. From there, I have a partial solution to the mess we’re in that I hope can grow stronger through suggestions from all the readers here.

The gun control crowd is upset, rightly, about the tens of thousands of Americans who die each year with a bullet somewhere in their anatomies. It’s too high a figure, and it is irresponsible of us not to try to lower it. On the other side, in addition to the 2nd Amendment, the tradition of hunting for sport, there is a legitimate role for firearms to play in the defense of one’s home and family.

On both sides, the common problems are violent crime and carelessness with guns. There is a way we can, perhaps, do something to address both, but I don’t think this is an airtight solution to all the problems. It’s just a single step (forward, I hope).

First, if you own a gun now, your possession of that gun is not affected by this proposal, and the legislation should say so. Without this assurance, the pro-gun side won’t be on the train when it leaves the station.

Under this proposed plan, there are going to be two ways to purchase a gun in the U.S. – the government program and the private program. The government program is going to be deliberately expensive, clumsy and slow. There will be background checks, heavy fees, waiting periods and just about every other deterrent to its use you can imagine. This ensures that the content of the 2nd amendment is honored, while making an impulse purchase for those with no experience of guns well nigh impossible. Many pro-gun people will say that this is the current system, and I would not argue too much.

The private system, to which we deliberately drive people, borrows an idea from the bond markets. Determining the credit risk in government and corporate bonds is a tricky thing that the government leaves to Moody’s, S&P, Fitch and other rating agencies, who are known under the law as “nationally recognized statistical rating organizations.” These NRSROs essentially vet a given bond’s risk profile and give it a rating which is used as a benchmark by government in dealing with these financial instruments. In other words, the government accepts a private entity’s assessment of the risks.

In a similar way, I propose that the National Rifle Association be accorded recognition by the government as a body competent to determine who is entitled to skip all the governmental non-sense when buying or selling a gun. The NRA already operates gun safety clinics (including a very solid program for kids) and does a pretty good job in teaching people how to use firearms as safely as possible. It is a private and voluntary organization whose members have already parted with their personal data upon becoming members. The legislation that is written must make it clear that these records are not to be turned over without a court order, and then that order has to be very specific. At no point is the NRA going to lose its independent status – Moody’s, S&P and Fitch have proved you can help the government out with technical issues without becoming government fronts.

What the NRA could then do is offer to members a fast-track to gun purchase. The NRA could use its expertise in determining what safety classes are needed, what background checks to do etc., in advance of any gun purchase. Then, at a gun show, a person has two choices. Buy the gun and go through the hell of government administration, or produce the NRA Premium Class membership card (for want of a better name), pay and leave with the gun. The sale is registered with the NRA only to be divulged to the authorities in the event the gun is involved in a crime and ownership needs to be established.

Now, the NRA is not going to get a monopoly, but it is clearly the best qualified group to do this, and competition from others will only help. And I think the revenues and membership increases might be most welcome.

Now, that I have given the fox control of the hen house, how does this make the anti-gun crowd better off? The NRA is going to be transformed by this. Thus far, it has had power without much responsibility. Under this proposal, the NRA is vouching for the people in its program. If they are as good as gold, there is nothing to fear from them nor from their weapons. And if not, the NRA is now on the hook for that rather than crying “2nd amendment” from the peanut gallery.

There will be a lot of things to work out, like the NRA’s financial responsibilities (which will almost certainly have to be capped by law), the potential threat of infiltration of the NRA by criminal elements, and the extent to which the NRA will be required to cooperate in police investigations.

That’s it. It doesn’t solve everything (it probably wouldn’t prevent something like the Columbine High School Massacre), but the pro-gun lobby now has a way to own, purchase and dispose of their property consistent with the 2nd Amendment. The rest get some assurance that the guns will be dealt with safely and used only by people who know what they are doing.

Jeff Myhre