Reasonable gun policies that would make a difference

Great piece from David Frum (oh how much better the country would be if more Republicans were so reasonable– Frum and I still disagree on plenty, but the man believes in empirical reality).  Anyway, he mentions a number of policies that would surely make a meaningful dent and fall wall within the Contitutional guidelines of DC v. Heller:

There is of course no “one law” that would prevent all gun massacres, any more than there is “one law” that would eliminate all house fires, all fatal car crashes, or all smoking deaths. Yet American society has made amazing progress at enhancing citizen safety against fires, car crashes, and smoking.

So with guns.

Enforce Laws Against Prohibited Gun Buyers

Under current federal law, it is illegal for many categories of people to own firearms. Among those prohibited owners are:

But while it’s illegal for people in those categories to own firearms, the complementary duty imposed on others not to sell firearms to prohibited persons is weak and easily evaded. Federally registered firearms vendors are required to enter the prospective purchasers’ names into a federal database. If the names are not found, the vendor is clear, without any independent obligation to verify further. Guns sold at gun shows or in other private sales are not subject even to the background check rule in most states.

A convicted felon clutching a syringe and ranting about his dishonorable discharge can enter a gun dealer’s premises and—so long as his name does not appear in a database—the seller remains legally immune no matter how much objective warning he had that his customer was a prohibited possessor…

Contrast this to the laws that apply to people selling liquor. Liquor sellers have an independent legal duty not to serve intoxicated people. Liquor sellers can be sued by injured third parties if they fail in that duty.

Most gun dealers wish to sell to lawful owners. Most—but not all. In 1995, a researcher analyzed government tracing data and discovered that 1 percent of gun dealers sold 57 percent of the weapons found at crime scenes.

By holding these rogue gun dealers to account, it might be possible to significantly diminish the flow of guns into criminal hands. Instead, Congress chose to protect rogue gun dealers from scrutiny and sanction…

Require Gun Owners to Carry Liability Insurance

Guns are dangerous products. There are some 15,000 accidental shootings per year in the United States, leading to 600 accidental deaths. Buy a car, and state law requires that it be insured. Dig a swimming pool, and expect to pay hundreds of dollars a year more in homeowners’ insurance, which anybody who carries a mortgage will likewise be required to carry. Guns need not be insured, however, neither in law nor in practice.

The uninsured status of guns means that people injured by them face great difficulty recovering the costs of their medical treatment and other economic losses. Injured persons can sue a negligent gun owner and try to recover from his home insurance, if he owns a home. Most of the time, however, gunshot victims will be left to bear their economic losses on their own.

A requirement that gun owners carry insurance would not only protect potential accident victims—including gun owners, since many gun accidents are self-inflicted—against economic loss. An insurance requirement would create incentives for more responsible gun behavior…

Require Meaningful Training for Carry-Permit Holders

Certified florists in the State of Florida are required to take six weeks of courses at a cost of at least $600. They must pass a series of exams, and purchase a business  license from the state.

You might think that the power to deal death to strangers in public would be more closely supervised than the right to sell floral arrangements. You would be wrong.

Yes, yes, and yes.  No, of course there’s no single magic bullet.  But we could do so much better without taking any law-abiding citizen’s gun away.  I’d also add in some measures to limit lethality and really emphasize tracing the ownership of guns.  Of course, the gun nuts hate this as any sort of database is just the first-step to the government taking their guns away.  What it is, in reality, though, is a hugely important step in preventing legal guns from quickly and easily becoming illegal guns of the sort used in crimes.

As this great NYT Op-Ed points out, the NRA has gone to great and lengths to prevent the collection of the data that could actually help us limit gun violence:

Consider, for example, the federal law requiring licensed gun dealers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a single purchaser buys two or more handguns within five days. The A.T.F. knows that multiple purchases are an indicator of trafficking, and that traffickers can evade the law by making a single purchase from five, 10 or 20 different gun stores. So why doesn’t the A.T.F. crosscheck those purchases? Because Congress, under pressure from the N.R.A., prevents the federal government from keeping a centralized database that could instantly identify multiple sales. Gun sale records are instead inconveniently “archived” by the nation’s gun dealers at 60,000 separate locations — the stores or residences of the nation’s federally licensed gun dealers, with no requirement for digital records.

Rather than preventing crimes by identifying a trafficker before he sells guns to potentially lethal criminals, the A.T.F. has to wait until the police recover those guns from multiple crime scenes. Then law enforcement officials can begin the laborious process of tracing each gun from the manufacturer or importer to various middlemen, the retail seller, the original retail purchaser and one or more subsequent buyers.

Meanwhile, dealers who work with traffickers are protected by another N.R.A.-backed measure that ensures that firearms dealers do not have to maintain inventories…

Think about that: A car dealer keeps an inventory to know when cars go missing so the police can track them down as quickly as possible. Why the lack of curiosity among gun dealers? Well, gun dealers must report lost and stolen guns to the A.T.F. because large numbers of missing weapons are a red flag for trafficking. Without an inventory requirement, it’s easier to sell guns off the books.

Do most gun owners want the N.R.A. to protect criminal dealers? I doubt it…

Since the N.R.A. seems to loathe the A.T.F., one might think it would work to disband it or have its mission performed by an agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with its more polished and professional public image. But the N.R.A. prefers the hobbled A.T.F. just as it is, and every year it helps ensure that Congress approves legislation banning the transfer of A.T.F. operations to any other agency.

You don’t get much more cynical than that.

Finally, Dylan Matthews has a piece in Vox basically despairing of the effectiveness of anything except an Australian style near-elimination of guns (which is obviously never going to happen).  He looks at the half-measures some states have been able to pass and concludes:

There are a few promising items there, especially when it comes to gun licensing. But taken together, this doesn’t look like an agenda that can get the US to European rates of gun deaths.

Whoa?!  What’s with European rates of gun deaths as the only meaningful standard?  Who wouldn’t love to see our rates cut literally in half.  That would be awesome!  Yet, of course, still far above rates in most advanced democracies.  With our gun culture and our gun prevalence it’s not realistic to expect us to get down to Europe’s rates.  What is realistic is to no longer have mass shootings be a common occurrence and to substantially lower gun deaths (both homicide and suicide). And we can do that with a set of policies that most Americans would likely agree are quite reasonable (you’ll never convince the gun nuts, but the “the government is coming for my guns!!” crowd is a vocal minority, but a minority nonetheless).  Time to start making this happen.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to Reasonable gun policies that would make a difference

  1. Jon K says:

    I am in Virginia visiting with my grandparents and parents over the fall break. My grandad was telling me about one of his friends who is “burying his gun in the backyard” so when Obama comes to take them away he won’t be able to find them. He is absolutely serious. Gun nuts just live in a different universe than the rest of us.

    My grandpa (who voted for Barry goldwater) is in agreement with me that if Kasich doesn’t win republican nomination we are voting for democrats. I was pleased to hear that he agrees with me that Republicans have taken a vacation from reality (gun control being a key example) and we can’t vote for crazy. Jeb doubling down on supply side tax cuts that are magically supposed to increase growth and revenue is another reason.
    Whatever happened to trying for balanced budgets?

    • Jon K says:

      And Frum has been a favorite of mine for years. I especially enjoyed his novel about conservatism in crisis called Patriots.
      It pissed off a lot of the people who most need to read it, but it helped me begin to understand what is destroying the GOP. We need more Frum and less Meadows if there is any hope that we will have 2 parties grounded in reality.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Yes! I would not want a government dominated by Democrats. I would want a government with a Democratic majority (of course) but where Republicans like Frum where a vigorous minority.

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