Monday, July 14, 2008

Sensible Gun Control

The recent Heller decision has prompted a lot of discussion among "gun bloggers".

I do not consider my self among that demographic even if I do have a category named Handguns. But when I read this article it raised the question of what laws would constitute sensible gun control. That seems a question worth trying to answer.

First, the article's author proposes that any crime committed with a gun should be punished more heavily than that sime crime committed without a gun. If such a law were to replace "gun" with "deadly weapon" it would make sense to me even at the Federal level. A criminal could mug me while I was on a walk with Smiley, or burglarize my house when I was not home, without using a deadly weapon. To me this seems a lesser crime against society than if that criminal was intending to threaten life as well as property.

(Yes, some crimes such as assault already have this distinction. Mr. Williams wants to generalize this. Also, I should not as a relevant contrast that hate crime laws make no sense to me: if someone attacks or robs me I might be curious why they did so but do not understand why the punishment depends on their motive.)

Second, Newsweek recently had an article explaining that local background checks often have information about criminal record and mental health that the Federal background checks miss. The article thus recommended all states require local as well as the Federal background checks when purchasing a handgun. Assuming this is true and that the local check is quick like the Federal check then requiring both checks seems reasonable to me.

Third, at the state level a requirement for the gun seller to administer a simple safety check as well as background checks makes sense to me. Anyone owning a gun should be able to recite the Four Rules, nod their head when told the key laws about gun ownership, and show they can clean the gun safely. These things could be done while the background checks were processed. Yes, this would get very repetitive for the salesperson, but we ask the same monotony of nurses who work with blood donors for the same reason of making sure the client is aware his or her act is not purely personal but could affect other people.

Fourth, at the county level, I would also not mind a law requiring gun owners to own a gun safe. I put this at the county level because in some locations it would not be initially affordable. (Although there are currently nationwide charities that freely distribute padlocks to gun owners at any gun shop, so I expect eventually gun safes would become similarly donated.) Owning a gun safe seems to me equivalent to drivers of cars needing car insurance, or motorcyclists needing helmets: it is a cost to the individual which has a greater savings to society. Since nearly all guns used by criminals are traded from other criminals or stolen from homes it makes sense to me to require gun owners to at least own a gun safe and thus have that encouragement to help keep guns from criminals. A gun owner who did not want to use it (perhaps someone who owned only one gun and carried it for self-defense) could always get a safe that would make a nice safe for jewelry or for a external hard drive used for backups.

Finally, again at the county level, I would love to see a law requiring mortgage lenders to offer with each new mortgage a non-transferable scrip for a certain discount off the purchase of a shotgun at one or more firearm stores in the county. I doubt many of those scrips would be used, but the P.R. generated might help protect that county from transient criminals.

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