Of course, the answer is that we already restrict the use of Automobiles. In fact, Automobiles may be one of the most heavily regulated items in the nation. Each model offered for sale has to pass numerous tests for safety and environmental impact just to get on the road, and is subject to recall if any issue is discovered in the future. Cars are required to have seat belts and air bags, and to perform well in simulated accidents. Operators have to pass written and practical tests, have to register both themselves and their vehicles, have to pay personal property taxes on their car, are required to have insurance against the damage they might do while operating their car, and have to update all of this information annually. In addition, operators of automobiles face the prospect of fine or imprisonment if they operate their vehicles in an unsafe way, and the privilege of being able to operate a vehicle on public roads can be rescinded at any time. Because of these regulations, highway deaths per mile dropped to an all time low in 2012. Yes, over thirty-two thousand people still died in automobile related accidents, but the rate of deaths was just 1 for every one hundred million miles driven. The total number of deaths was lower than it has been in sixty years.
BY almost any measure, our cars have become remarkably safe, and they've done so through the application of tough regulation, required training, and individual responsibility of securing and holding both insurance and a valid license.
So really, there's no comparison between cars and guns. Or guns and fatty foods, or guns and alcohol. There's no comparison at all.
Because gun ownership is a right.
You may not like it, but hey; there are probably a lot of people out there who don't think freedom of religion should be a right (and a lot more than don't think you should be free to make your totally incorrect and sure to get you a never-ending flame bath choice). The second amendment is in there, stroked out in the same neat penmanship as the rest, and as long as it is in there, people in America are going to be allowed to own guns. And, though previous courts have ruled quite differently several times, the current Supreme Court has determined that this amendment enshrines an individual, personal right to carry weapons, independent of such organized bodies as the National Guard. You may not find that interpretation in the text, but until you can convince five guys in black robes that it's not there... It's there.
So, when it comes to regulating gun ownership, if anyone suggests that we should require the kind of safety, training, and personal responsibility that we demand of anyone getting behind the wheel of a car, we can say... Absolutely. Why not?
No right is unlimited. Back up one amendment, and here's what you'll read:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.No law abridging the freedom of speech... but yet, there are limits on what you can say. No restriction on the press... but there are restrictions on what the press may print or broadcast. No restriction on religion... but there are restrictions on religious practices. No restriction on assembly... unless the mayor decides you've overstayed your welcome in the park.
Every right, every right, is subject to limitations. That goes beyond restrictions in the Libertarian sense in which your individual rights don't get to trample the rights of another individual. Every nation, every government, finds itself patrolling the boundary between individual freedom, and societal well-being. Choices are made that limit rights, because no right lives in a vacuum and no person is an island. The persistence of any civil society is itself an act of daily compromise.
For the United States, that boundary–drawn with a broad, but not always clear brush through the foundations of our government–must always be approached cautiously. Finding and adjusting the limits of an individual right should never be done carelessly. But it has to be done.
The right to own a gun is, just like every other right, not without limits. Despite the often-cited thousands of existing regulations, the truth is that currently gun ownership is very lightly regulated when compared to other activities. Very, very lightly. For my personal guns, I don't have a license to operate any of them. I'm not registered as a gun owner. The guns are not registered to me. Though it's certainly a good idea, I wasn't required to do one moment's training. I'm not required to prove that I keep them safe, or to have any insurance against their misuse. There is no examination to see if these guns, many of which are ancient and more than a bit iffy, can be operated safely or whether any of them has been modified in a way that makes it unsafe.
Some of those things are likely to change. Gun ownership in America is not going to go away. The second amendment is not going to be repealed. But requirements are going to be drafted to refine the boundary between the individual right to bear arms and the detrimental effects of that right on society.
Any responsible gun owner who wants to be sure that that line is drawn in a way that makes sense, should be a part of the conversation.