OK, anyone following the latest knows that there is much ado about firearms laws and regulations in the United States. I believe that there are two major obstacles to having a rational discussion about firearms in the United States.
One obstacle is the resistance-at-all-costs mentality generated by the NRA, which speaks for all gun owners as much as Mitt Romney speaks for all Americans (which is to say, not so much as they like to believe).
Another major obstacle, I believe, are the relentless rhetorical attacks carried out against all gun owners as a package deal each time there is a shooting. These attacks are frequently carried out by well-meaning people who are outraged at the senseless tragedies that have unfolded. Many times these people admit their ignorance, hatred, or fear of firearms and cannot see that their blanket attacks alienate many gun owners who would actually be open to rational discussion.
I'm willing to try to change that. Right here, right now, where people watch and discuss openly; where rationality is a virtue. When Progressives can argue a fracking proponent to a dead stop by debating how many parts-per-million of fracking fluid it takes to fill a pristine aquifer with arsenic and selenium, I am proud. To later hear that same Progressive argue about firearms laws based on what they remembered watching the "Terminator" it makes me wonder what happened.
Notice that I use the term "firearms laws" or "firearms regulations". I tend to eschew the term "gun control" for a couple of reasons. One, as a conceptual brand name, the term "gun control" is irreversibly tainted, and guaranteed to shut down most dialogue before it starts. Two, the term "gun control" to me also reveals part of the problem we have on focus-- the term implies the control of guns, to the exclusion of all other factors. When you blame an inanimate object for evil, you are engaging in a form of talisman fetishism every bit as baseless as anything that a gun owner might infer about his firearm as a magic talisman that will keep evil away.
So that said, where can we go? What we probably need to do is start looking at what we can start building with as a foundation.
That means... more below the Great Orange Curlicue.
There are estimates between 50 to 80 million gun owners in America (no exact numbers are tracked), owning an estimated 270 million firearms (again, no exact numbers are tracked).
To put that in perspective, bear in mind that during World War Two, there were approximately 16 million Americans serving in the United States military. So, even if you doubled the number of American soldiers serving in World War Two, you still would not be close to the low-end guesstimates for the number of gun owners in the country. If you tripled the number of military personnel serving in World War 2, you'd still fall short of the lowest estimate of gun owners in the country.
I point these numbers out to show you that firearms ownership is a very, very large demographic. There are millions upon tens of millions of civilian firearm owners who obey the law and are able to function normally in society. The mere presence or ownership of a gun does not turn a person into a drooling psychopath, or imply a tendency towards sociopathy. Issuing blanket insults about this massive demographic, most of which are not in the NRA, is a sure way to lose the argument before it even has a chance to start. And it makes everything the NRA says sound almost reasonable by comparison. Don't prove the NRA's rhetoric for them.
Since the 1980's there have been perhaps fifty or so mass-murder spree killings (a murderer killing 3 or more unrelated people in rapid succession using a high-power/high-capacity firearm). Someone else has to work the real math, but as nasty as these spree killings are, compared to the overall population of gun owners, the ratio of nutty maniac spree killers is something like 0.001% of the total population of "regular" gun owners. Statistically speaking, medical malpractice kills more people on a yearly basis. Bear in mind, I'm talking about mass-casualty spree killings, not day-to-day crimes. Calls for gun control (especially of "assault weapons" and "large-capacity magazines" tend to crop up only in the wake of spree killings-- and that makes sense, since generally these items don't tend to get used in a lot of crimes.
I give these numbers not to denigrate the lives of the victims, but to put the hue and cry into a perspective.
That said, obviously we need to do something to keep firearms from the hands of those who are drooling psychopaths.
So, here is Proposal #1:
The National Instant Check System (NICS) must be required by law at all firearm sales, including private sales between individuals.
To be honest, I myself thought the NICS check was required at all times at least between dealers and individuals. Apparently, there are some states that are not NICS compliant. And there is no excuse for it, either: if you have a cell phone, you can do a NICS check. And private sales are not required, the so-called "gun show loophole". So, make every sale a NICS sale.
Mental health records must be taken into account for all NICS sales. After the Virginia Tech massacre it was theorized that Seung-Hui Cho might have been held up by a mental health block on his attempted purchase. The world will never know if, but for a want of paperwork, this could have been avoided.
Privacy pundits worry that a random gun store owner will suddenly find out that you talk to the My Little Ponies and they tell you things about Christian Bale's shoes. No, your mental health records do not have to be a detailed account, they can in fact just be a "flag" that tells the gun store owner to deny the sale, reasons unknown, and hand the prospective buyer a form to question or challenge the denial. The gun store owner will not know if it is for legal trouble or lunacy.
A note on the TSA's No-Fly/Terrorist Watch List: the infamous TSA terrorist watch list is rife with error. Ted Kennedy (yes, that Ted Kennedy) was denied a flight because an Irish Republican Army terrorist was using his name as a nom-de-guerre. The Terrorist Watch List needs a lot of work. Besides, it is run by the TSA. The TSA has not caught a single terrorist; they have however managed to catch a number of colostomy bags, terrorize some toddlers, and "catch" three of my packed Leatherman tools. They're about as sharp as a big round ball, and until the Terrorist Watch List gets some attention, don't use it.
If you want to own a "militia rifle", then get militia training.
The civilian "assault rifles" actually are not true "assault rifles". It was a really, really stupid marketing move by firearm manufacturers to call their civilian firearms by the exact same name that the military used to classify an actual combat weapon. This has caused no end to headaches by a civilian populace who thinks they are one and the same, and it is one of the reasons why the "1994 Assault Weapons Ban" was a miserable piece of legislation. It was based purely on cosmetics, ie, a gun that "looked scary" regardless of actual function.
I propose that civilian-made look-alikes of military weapons be classified as "militia weapons", as in "a well-regulated militia". These are typically semi-automatic firearms that fire one shot per trigger squeeze. People who seek to regulate firearms typically say that "only police and the military should be allowed to have such weapons", and it is a persuasive argument. Being in the US Army myself, I can say with some authority that police and soldiers are not made in clone vats on the planet Kamino-- the only thing separating us from "regular" folks is that we have been trained to operate our weapons safely and properly. And the nice thing about training, is that anyone can be trained.
Which segues nicely to Proposal #4:
Make training comprehensive and available, and then issue a license.
Licensing the person makes more sense than licensing the item. After all, it is the operator who decides the actions of the item, and who bears responsibility for its use. Once a person has a license for "militia weapons", they are proudly inducted into the militia, ready to defend America from anyone and anything. In order to stay qualified, they have to go to a range and shoot for qualification on a regular schedule. It could be a year, or every other year, or whatever-- it's open for debate.
Proposal #5: Classes of weapons.
There should be three classes of weapons: hunting rifles and shotguns, and the rare hunting pistol (they exist), and firearms specifically for target shooting that are useless for anything else (they exist). Those can be purchased and owned normally without special restrictions. Revolvers, pump-action, lever-action, bolt-action, trapdoor-breech, blackpowder, and break-open arms would be typical of this category.
In order to get a semi-automatic or "militia" pistol, you have to provide proof of training and get a license.
In order to get a "militia weapon", you have to also be trained and have a license (mentioned above). Like a driver's license, you can get a general militia license and have a "pistol endorsement" on it or something.
No, the cost to get training and licensing cannot have enormous fees or taxes on them.
Proposal #6: Training standards.
Training standards must be relevant and enforced. No "rubber-stamp" militia licensing. Training and qualifications must meet certain Federal minimums. The flipside: a gun license issued to such a responsible individual would be good in all 50 states, except in the usual places where forearms are not allowed (airports, courtrooms, schools, etc).
Training must be available to anyone and not made difficult by distance, unrealistic standards, or requiring an onerous amount of qualification shoots. Annual qualification shoots are typical for military and police; militia qualifications can be every other year. Failure to qualify means militia privileges are suspended until the range test can be passed.
Existing "milita weapons" and magazines over 10-round capacity get a "militia stamp" and their sale or transfer is subject to a transfer tax, like fully-automatic weapons, short-barrel weapons, or explosive devices are currently. However, since these weapons are not typically of the same capabilities of these other weapons, then the tax stamp would be more like $10 or $20 instead of the $200.00 required for the above-mentioned special devices. The militia stamp is more of a formality that helps track sale or transfer of the weapon or magazine.
Large-capacity magazines or drums of an unusual (or "novel") type, like 75-round drums, 100-round drums, or 50-round pistol magazines are also subject to a transfer tax, but something more like $40. Although these things are usually more trouble than they're worth and I think the joke is on anyone who buys them. High-capacity magazines of "novel or unusual size" have more tendency to jam, really.
Proposal #8: Mass purchases.
Sales of more than 1,000 rounds of any single type of ammo are simply recorded. If there is a sudden, unusual "spike" in sales to a person, an inquiry can be generated. Same with the sudden purchase of a mass of militia weapons, say, 3 or more in a one-month period.
People who want to see stronger firearms laws need to stop demonizing, stop issuing blanket insults or statements about the mental state of someone who enjoys shooting hobbies. You're going to have to come to terms with the fact that, regardless of how you feel about what someone else "needs" or not, there is a recognized right to firearms in our society and that isn't going to go away. Righteous indignation is felt by all thinking and feeling people in the wake of these tragedies.
The key is rational discussion and pro-active laws that help without hindering rights-- even if those rights are things you yourself don't care for or find unsavory. Tens of millions of people enjoy firearms as a hobby without killing or hurting anyone.
Here are a few simple and basic proposals to discuss or cuss as seen fit. I'd love to get into more in-depth ideas, like make "militias" truly community-service minded organizations that help out with crowd control, search-and-rescue, doing welfare checks on neighborhood shut-ins, getting CPR classes, and so on. But that's more in-depth and has little to do with actual firearms laws.
This is obviously not set in stone; I am not an elected official and have no sweeping executive powers. But if a cohesive platform can be built from the germs of these ideas, then let's quit plugging away at nothing and talk seriously.