WASHINGTON — The resistance in Congress to gun safety legislation is weakening in the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says he may now consider some bills to address gun violence.
Polls show 97% of the public supports universal background checks, and President Donald Trump has said publicly he likes the idea. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to follow through, not with the NRA in active opposition.
Still, the door has cracked open to getting America’s obsession with guns under control. A reasonable and rational approach would be to treat firearms like we treat cars. Gun owners would have to pass a test to obtain a license to use a gun, and all firearms would be registered with a serial number on an FBI data base. Assault weapons and other automatic weapons would be banned. Assault weapons! Why are we even discussing such a thing? What possible civilian purpose do they have? Deer hunting?
Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is running for president, has proposed a plan that includes gun licensing, universal background checks, closing loopholes that allow people who should never have a gun to get one, impose real regulation and oversight to gun manufacturers, end legal immunity that prevents victims of gun violence from seeking justice, require handgun microstamping, ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks, and limit gun buyers to one handgun per month.
We believe all this should come under an FBI umbrella of local licensing and registration offices nationwide. Applicants would have to go through gun safety training, and they would be fingerprinted and interviewed.
Of course, the NRA will fight a plan of this magnitude by bringing to bear its influence on Congress, but states are taking matters into their own hands. Nine states, including Booker’s home state, have some form of gun licensing and registration, at least for handguns. They are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina, Iowa, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois, except for Chicago.
Sustained by fees
A plan with FBI outposts in every city would allow people to apply and submit their paperwork, undergo a background check and pay a fee. It wouldn’t cost the government anything. Like your local Department of Motor Vehicles, these offices would be sustained by fees. And if people were found to be in violation of licensing and registration, there would be a fine.
The NRA will howl that licensing guns puts a burden on gun owners, but the general public is accustomed to a waiting period for a driver’s license, and the paperwork required to register a car. These regulations are imposed on drivers because they’re operating a piece of machinery that can be lethal in the wrong hands.
Massachusetts has the toughest gun laws in the country, and it has paid off in the safety of its citizens. More than 95% of all applicants for a gun license in Massachusetts get approved and understanding why some are turned down can help inform other states seeking to put in place their own system.
This should not be a partisan issue which politicians may soon discover when their constituents go to the polls. Like other obvious correctives in our history – abolition of slavery, the women’s vote, etc. – the time for rational gun control has come.
— Twitter: @douglas_cohn