The Soapbox: My Opinion on Gun Control and Responsibility

(As opposed to the former Gun Control). Updated November 27, 2001.


Rationale: Why this Page?

In late April 1996, I, along with the rest of the world, was horrified to hear of the slaughter of helpless innocents by yet another armed maniac, this time in Tasmania. Following as it did so closely on the horror of the massacre of children in Dunblaine, Scotland, I was moved to scan the search engines to see what there was about gun control. I found, much to my distress, that anti-gun control pages were a dime a dozen, while reasonable, coherent positions in favour were few and far between. I have made it my policy to make humour the focus of my web site, so a decision to include an item of such a controversial nature as gun control was not easy. Thanks to a good deal of feedback, mostly constructive, but some not, I have changed my opinion on the topic from an initially reactionary statement on my home page to what you are reading now, which represents many hours of what I hope are careful reflection on my feelings and the feedback of others.

My Philosophy of Crime and Criminals

As a generally peaceful person, I detest violence and violent people. Paradoxically, my gut desire is to see all people convicted of violent crimes (beyond the shadow of a doubt of course) be put to death, preferably a nasty one, especially pedophiles, rapists, and wife-abusers. In this same vein, my personal hatred towards these people in particular, and to criminals in general, is such that I would strongly support any move to make killing anyone caught in the act of certain crimes (rape, robbery, assault, murder, drug dealing, drunk driving, and burglary among them) not a crime, provided of course that the person who kills can prove that the person was in fact committing a "killable" crime at the time. (I believe this because IMHO a criminal is forfeiting his/her rights under the state by committing such heinous acts.) Furthermore, I think the criminal (if he/she survives) or his/her family (if not) should have no right to sue for damages caused by the fact that he was caught committing a crime! Systems which do allow this are downright unforgiveable. I've heard of such things, and they make me sick!

My Philosophy on Gun Control

So how does such a bloodthirsty attitude reconcile itself with the idea of gun control? One would think that, to judge by the above paragraph, that I might be in favour of unrestricted and enthusiastic access to firearms. Such a question requires the answer to another -- just what is "gun control" anyways? Most people's conception, including initially my own (how about you?), is that the advocates of gun control believe that since most violent crimes are committed with the aid of a firearm, the severe restriction or outright abolition of citizens' ability to own firearms will reduce the rate of said crimes, since theoretically there would be fewer available.

The knee-jerk reaction I and no doubt others have to the reports of mindless violence, such as the recent (January 1997) murder of Bill Cosby's son, and the increase in violence in schools, is to agree with this. After all, if the particular scumbag(s) had not had the gun(s), would the crime(s) have been committed? The counter-question is, just how many violent crimes are committed with firearms by their legitimate owners? I don't know the answer to this, but I'll be willing to bet it's a pretty small fraction. Unfortunately, the creature who murdered those children in Dunblaine, Marc Lepine (the repellant example of humanity who murdered 14 female engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1986) and perhaps the other creature in Tasmania as well, are among this fraction.

So how do I define "gun control"? For me, gun control does not mean the total abolition of a citizen's right to own firearms. That is obviously patently impossible, just as the illegality of street drugs has not prevented their use, nor did the abolition of alcohol in the 1920s prevent people from using it either. The fact that illegal firearms are so readily available to criminals only reinforces this sad reality -- if they're so easy for the scum to get, they couldn't be that much harder for the so-called otherwise law-abiding average citizen to get either.

Why is gun control necessary? Because we want to deny certain elements of the population the privilege of owning lethal weapons. Would you want someone with a history of paranoid schizophrenia, or a convicted rapist, or Fester the Molester, to be legally allowed to own a gun, knowing full well that the chance of him/her using it against a fellow citizen is high, and that the citizen could be you or someone close to you? If not (and I should hope so!) then voila, you are in favour of gun control. The hard part lies in deciding on a policy that is fair and reasonable, and then implementing it fairly, reasonably, and consistently. (Since it would have to be monitored and enforced by a bureaucracy, and since we all know how bureaucracies can turn even the simplest of ideas into complex messes, this will definitely be the hardest part.

Other people (mostly Americans) have expressed the idea to me that only allowing the police and army to have firearms easily sets things up for a dictatorship. Personally, I cannot fathom why this would be a concern, but then again I live in a country (Canada) which has never had a tendency to enforce its foreign policy by invading or bombing other countries whose ideology does not agree with ours, and whose military is probably incapable of staging a coup anyways. (We have less violent methods -- we would simply jam their radio and TV stations with endless debates about our national unity "problems" until the target country's populace has their brains switch off from self defence. A few rounds of this and they'll surrender.) And besides, I am not advocating abolition! Another argument against gun control is that an armed populace would be no defense against a military takeover anyways. It is one thing to learn how to shoot a gun but it is another thing entirely to coordinate and train a group of people to function as an effective fighting unit. Armed civilians acting on their own or in unstructured groups would be no match at all against a well-trained military intent on neutralizing resistance. Even if the victims of the appalling massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda (or others like the Jews in WWII or the Armenians in WWI or the long list of other atrocities) had been armed to the teeth, they still would have been massacred, the only difference being that the perpetrators would have suffered a few more casualties. But again, I am not advocating the abolition of firearm ownership, so this argument is irrelevant.

To me, gun control is the regulation of the sale and ownership of firearms, which are after all designed to do only one thing -- to kill. The question is, how can this be done in a manner that can be seen to be fair and intelligent?

So why do I think that (my idea of) gun control is (still) necessary?

I am not in favour of free and unrestricted access to firearms simply because they were designed for only one purpose, to kill. What I propose can, and perhaps should, really be referred to as (legislated) gun responsibility rather than "gun control". I have three reasons why I feel there is a need to legislate gun responsibility.
  1. A frightening number of people are, in various ways, irresponsible idiots, it is these idiots who tar the responsible people with their brush, and I have no faith whatsoever in the general public's ability to self-regulate in such an important thing. As cynical as this may sound, all you have to do is look at the News of the Weird site to get a sampling of the idiots out there.
  2. I have yet to hear anyone squawk about having to register and license their vehicles, and vehicles were not designed specifically for killing. Target shooters may take exception to this latter statement, and for all I know some guns were designed specifically for target shooting, but that's not what the majority of firearms over the centuries were designed for! Registration of a firearm should be no more onerous a task than registering a vehicle, and done at the place and time of purchase. A simple form should be all that is needed.
  3. Would you want Fester the Molester to be legally allowed to own a firearm? Would you want a convicted felon or a person with a known history of mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenia, to be allowed to own a firearm? Somehow, U.S. Second Amendment notwithstanding, I don't think so. After all, felons have already shown a blatant disregard for the law, so why should they be allowed to enjoy some of its privileges which could very well result in danger to others? That's a form of gun control right there, isn't it? Since we can't get around the fact that it is needed, we need a fair and consistent system to implement it. Certain elements of society should not be legally permitted to own firearms, and it is necessary that applicants' histories be checked to make sure this is not a problem. Nothing can stop them from getting one illegally, of course, but still we must keep them from legally owning any.
Owning and/or operating something which is potentially fatal (be it driving a vehicle or owning a firearm) is a big responsibility, and one should be able to demonstrate responsibility before being legally allowed to do so. Below are listed my ideas for gun control/responsibility and my rationale for each. Many of these are already in place to varying degrees, but I think that requirements should be made uniform everywhere, rather than varying by jurisdiction.

Some Modest Proposals

Registration Requirements
First and foremost, it should be a requirement that all firearms be registered with a regulating authority (usually some police force). This proposal is already in effect pretty much everywhere, but in some jurisdictions I think there are some exemptions to this. There must be no exemptions. Registration will allow stolen weapons to be identified and returned (provided the serial numbers aren't removed, of course) and to be used as evidence against the person caught with them. No serial number of course means that the firearm has been stolen and would be cause to have the possessor arrested. Also, think about it from the perspective of a police officer answering a call on something like a domestic dispute. In such a dangerous situation, wouldn't you want to know if there were firearms there which could be used against you?

To reduce the possibility for errors, registration should be done at the gun shop on purchase of the weapon. A simple form listing the owner's name, address, etc, gun make, model, and serial number would be filled out and sent to the registering authority. Unregistered weapons could be registered in the same way, at a gun shop or club where it is assumed that the people in charge would be knowledgeable enough to make a positive ID on anything you bring in. The already overworked police should not have to be directly involved in the process at all if it is done this way. Because bureaucracies have a long and miserable track record in screwing up any simple procedure (such as this one), registration should be handled by a non-profit corporation whose only restriction is that its records must be made available to the police upon request. It should not be a process which is used to discourage the acquisition of firearms (there are other ways) since we (OK, I) want people to register! It should be just a matter of process, just like registering your car when you buy it, and no more difficult.

Concerns have been expressed to me about registration leading to confiscation. True, that is always a possibility, and there is no way I can say that it can't. I don't believe in the arbitrary confiscation of firearms just because some bureaucrat makes a model politically incorrect -- that is just theft by another name. But we should be used to that, since we get robbed every April, on every pay cheque, and every time we buy something, by the tax collectors. 8-(

It has been suggested that perhaps the people, rather than the firearms, be what is registered/licensed. This would certainly make the process easier, and potentially reduce paperwork, as only the person and not each firearm would be on record. Registration as a gun owner would be contingent on:
  • Successful completion of a safety/education course as mentioned above for first-timers, including kids who reach some sort of "age of majority" similar to a driver's license, or
  • Proof of "life experience equivalent" for those who have been trained as part of their job (military, police);
  • Proof of adequate storage facilities at home, especially if there are children in the family.
  • Various grades of licensing can be established, including ability to own X number of handguns and Y of long guns (where X and Y can be increased in set increments, with fees increasing accordingly), the ability to transport firearms in a secure manner between places (like home and gun club, or out to go hunting), and the ability to carry a concealed handgun (which should be expensive and require rigorous training or "life experience equivalent").

Most, if not all, jurisdictions probably already have such requirements already, to one degree or another, that have to be met before one can even get permission to legally own a firearm (something like Canada's Firearms Acquisition Certificate). If I read the proposal I received correctly, the registration of the individual firearms would not be required, only that of the users/owners. Given the vast number of firearms floating around the US, registering every one requires large databases and is expensive in terms of the manpower required to maintain them, process applications, etc. On the down side (at least from the state's point of view), by not registering firearms they lose the chance to screw the gun owners out of even more money. Policing concerns notwithstanding, you can probably guess what cash-hungry governments would say about losing a lucrative source of income...

Proof of Competence
Firearm owners should also be required to at least yearly ensure that their firearm(s) is/are in proper working order, and to have a certain number of hours on the firing range to practice. This is just common sense -- after all, what's the point in having a gun if it won't work properly, or if you can't shoot straight?

Screening/Training the Newbies
First time owner wanna-bees are already required to pass an exam, similar in nature to a driver's license exam, to prove that they are ready for this responsibility, and usually must pass through some sort of screening process to ensure s/he is not a criminal or psychopath. This process should not be made into a "punishment", the way it has become in many jurisdictions. Again, the process is just common sense. Obviously, if a non-newbie person wishes to purchase a firearm then a quick check with the registration authorities should be made to see if his/her eligibility has been changed due to a criminal conviction, but other than that no other hassles should have to be endured. With the high-speed computer communications networks that we have now, this should not be a terribly onerous task, nothing worse than a credit card purchase already is.

Training classes should educate the new users not just in firearm safety, but in the laws and regulations concerning firearms in the municipality, the state or province (if different from the municipality), and other states/provinces as well. This would be of great help to all firearm users because the laws (in the U.S. at least) often differ greatly between neighbouring states, and knowledge would help to reduce problems caused by accidental transgressions. Many states offer online classes to teach the specific laws and regulations pertaining of gun ownership and safety in their states.

Household Safety
Children in a household which has a firearm must be properly educated in safety. Far too many tragedies have resulted from kids playing with guns. This is another aspect of responsibility, except it falls under that of being a good parent. Any parent with firearms in the house has a duty, to their child and to themselves, to ensure that the firearms are inaccessible to the children, and that the kids are thoroughly grounded in firearm safety. Of course, some way must be found to balance this fundamental need against the reason most firearms are purchased in the first place, the perceived need for protection of self and property from the scumbags. Potential solutions to this problem could be outlined in approved safety courses from gun clubs, and education of kids must be made available to all in the school system (if it isn't already).

Restrictions on Ownership
Certain people should not be allowed to legally own firearms. These include people with convictions for various violent crimes, which may or may not have involved firearms, and people with psychiatric problems which could make them a menace to themselves or others, and people under some age of majority, say 18 or 19. These restrictions should be in place uniformly everywhere and not allowed to vary from region to region.

Certain firearms should not be allowed outside military or police control. These include automatic weapons (which are already restricted, of course), or those which can be easily made automatic, and certain rifles which either are or can be easily made fully automatic. I cannot imagine how anybody can justify "needing" to own an automatic weapon for "protection" or for hunting, since where's the "sport" in emptying a clip in the general direction of an animal knowing that there's a good chance it will get hit at least once? Sure, I'll be just as dead if I'm shot by a .22 as I would be by an Uzi, but the very nature of automatic weapons makes them very difficult to control once they get going, and the chances for accidentally inflicting "collateral damage" (to borrow the ridiculous phrase) on other people or things is that much greater.

In my heart of hearts, I'd like to see a limit on how many firearms per household could be owned, but no matter how I try to wrap my tiny little brain around the idea, I just can't see how a limit could be set that would not be arbitrary. Sport or professional shooters would likely need an exemption, and of course collectors would need exemptions as well, and who is to say that I'm not a collector? Trying to figure this out would go against the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) on which my whole argument is based, so I must (regretfully) state that my position on gun responsibility/control cannot include anything on limitations, except to rely on the common sense of the individual (a rather hazardous thing to do at best).

But these proposals restrict my "freedom"!

Of course they do, but I hope not by all that much, since I've tried to stick to the KISS principle and/or common sense. In spite of what we like to believe, we will never live in a totally "free" society as long as human nature is what it is. Someone can't just say "I'm a truck driver!" and hop into a rig and start driving -- he/she has to be trained, and certified as such before being turned loose on the unsuspecting world. Same goes for health care professionals, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, laywers, nuclear physicists, and so on. Where do you think the game of football, or hockey, or baseball be without rules? In the mythical utopia of Happyland, the only law on the books would be the Golden Rule, i.e. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." None other would be necessary, and there would be no need for government laws at all. (Not that there wouldn't be a need for a government, since somebody has to coordinate things.) However, this is not Happyland and the world is chock-full of inconsiderate and irresponsible idiots who bung things up for the rest of us, so we have to have regulations (and enforcement) to save ourselves from them.

Here is an extract from a message I got regarding the previous edition of this page:
So many people in this country are prideful and sometimes a tad over-enthusiastic about "freedom". But, to properly act upon, respect, and truly know what this word means, it's something you need to educate yourself on and explore thoroughly before riding the freedom criers train. Too many people hide behind this word without really understanding what it means. So many sadly think it means doing whatever you want, whenever you want, or you or not free. This is a shame. So few realize that to have freedom, you in effect need to have rules and organization. And effectively, once these are diminished, so are your freedoms. (Kim Trancynger, personal communication.) My own footnote to this is: Freedom is also a responsibility, and should be treated with respect by those who want it.

Enforcement

There's no point in having regulations or controls if they aren't enforced. As long as a person uses his/her firearm responsibly (or better still, not at all) then it isn't a problem. I think that there must be stronger deterrents to their misuse, however. If a person is unwilling to accept the responsibilities inherent in ownership, such as training, maintenance, and safety and refresher courses, then the license should be suspended and all firearms confiscated until the requirements are met.

Commission of any crime involving a firearm should have an automatic 5-year (or more) sentence minimum, with no parole or chance for early release. Shooting someone in self-defence, such as in a break-in, should not be considered a crime (though it would have to be proved that it was self-defence) since, in my opinion (and others too, no doubt) acting in self-defence is not a crime, and the creeps get what they deserve. The creep should not be allowed to sue for injuries sustained while committing a crime either!

Possession of a stolen or unregistered firearm should also result in a stiff fine, not to mention confiscation and a severe scolding. Also, anyone (such as hunters) caught carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or other mind-altering drugs deserves to have said firearm(s) immediately seized, have any hunting license and game caught immediately forfeited, be denied another hunting permit for at least one year, be forced to pay a heavy fine, and have his/her picture published prominently in a local newspaper. We should be just as harsh, if not even more so, on impaired hunters as we are on impaired drivers, as they are being about as irresponsible as people can be.

Will these proposals reduce crime?

I doubt it. Most of what I have discussed above have already been in place in most jurisdictions for some time, though the degree of regulation varies widely from country to country, and within the U.S. from state to state, and violent crime rates are, for the most part, not improving. I have heard claims that places with "concealed carry" laws have had crime rates drop, but I would like to see a proper study take place on that. Logically I can see the reason for it, but if a creep gets the drop on you it really doesn't matter, does it? For the creeps who are undeterred by these laws, they would be more likely to shoot first and ask questions later, making it even more dangerous. Or so I think; I'm no criminologist. Unfortunately, no amount of regulation will get rid of illegal weapons, just like with drugs, and crimes will still be committed with them. Unlike drugs, they wouldn't have to be imported at great expense either, they'd be gotten by breakins. Regulations on firearms will also not do anything about the root causes of crime, which are far too complex for me to discuss; crime can only be reduced when people's motivations to commit crimes are reduced. I have no problems with "concealed carry" per se but anyone who gets such a permit obviously should be well-trained in both safety, the ability to hit a target should the need arise (so as to not endanger bystanders in case of an "incident"), and in handling situations that might or might not require drawing your gun. The same courses that police officers take in this regard should be taken by those wishing a concealed-carry license. (If they're good enough for the cops, they should be good enough for you.)

Well, if they won't reduce crime, then why bother?

After all, these proposals don't come cheap for firearm owners and taxpayers, the cops and courts are already overloaded, and the criminals don't care anyways. I reiterate my original idea, in that the controls are needed to ensure gun responsibility, to try to protect us from the irresponsible yet non-criminal idiots out there, and to at least give us the tools to lock up the scum for a little longer. Registration, the biggest potential burden on the police, would not even be handled by them, but be done at gun shops and managed under an independent (from government mismanagement) non-profit organization. What I propose is, I hope, not overly burdensome or "punishing", Anything that acts to raise the general awareness of the issues and responsibilities involved in the ownership of very dangerous property is a good thing. Increased safety awareness means a reduction in fatal (and non-fatal) accidents, and what price is a life?

Some links to other sites of potential interest

I will conclude my monologue, with a few links to other sites. The first and most logical one is to the National Rifle Association. As a powerful lobby group with millions of members, it has a de facto responsibility to promote firearm safety. It appears to be living up to it, with its Eddie Eagle program for kids. The main site itself certainly contains a wealth of useful information and is well worth exploring.

Other links on firearm safety and control-related issues will be added as they are brought to my attention, and as I see fit.

The Canadian Firearms Home Page seems to serve much the same purpose as the NRA.

Console Vault manufactures an auto vault to custom fit into your vehicle console.

Conclusion

Unquestionably, the topic of firearms controls is a thorny one which seems to inflame passions remarkably. I am not an advocate of gun ownership abolition, not because I don't want to see a gun-free world, but because human nature is what it is. If we can find some way to abolish the actual or perceived need for firearms for self-protection, then gun control will become a moot point anyways. As it is, I think controls are required not so much to save us from the criminals (which they can't/won't), but to aid us against the legions of irresponsible idiots out there. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity!

And now, at last I conclude my soapbox monologue. Thank you for taking the time to read it! I hope that you found it balanced and at least reasonable. I have spent many hours thinking about this (hours I should have been spending doing my research!). Please feel free to e-mail me, Harold Reynolds, with (constructive only, please) comments. Thank you for reading, and please at least consider what I have written.


This is the most serious part of my site. Now it's time to lighten up and see something funny! Return to my home page

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