Why do we only talk about gun control after the most unbearable national tragedies? Why don’t we adopt the common sense gun control regulations that have broad public support and might actually prevent the next tragedy?
Before half the country decides that I am a crazy liberal and stops reading here, let me note that I am a security professional, and a 12-year veteran of the Navy, where I served as a weapons system technician, base police officer, and firearms instructor. I am a proud gun owner. I’m also a single father. I do not want to ban guns but I do want to protect my son from the dangers they pose.
Our nation has settled into a very predictable routine of public discourse regarding firearms. A deranged individual—a neo-Nazi, a disillusioned ex-employee, or even a disturbed child—commits an act of public violence. The 24-hour news cycle obsesses on every morbid detail, speculating on motives and puzzling over “who’s to blame?” The righteous left preaches “never again” by way of tighter restrictions and more regulation, and the fringe right accuses them of politicizing a tragedy and warns that the government is coming for our firearms.
And then, nothing changes.
Depressing as this picture is, however, the gun control conversation should be happening even more frequently. Deaths due to poor knowledge of firearms happen on the small scale every day; just this past weekend, 11-year-old Hunter Pederson was accidentally killed by his uncle, who was showing off a laser sight by pointing it at the boy’s forehead.
The fact is that thousands of deaths all across our country can be prevented with solid intelligence sharing and common sense regulation. Between 83% and 91% of the country supports background checks for all gun purchases and yet, somehow, this simple provision is consistently written out of proposed legislation. It is time that we make this a permanent policy priority rather than a set of talking points to be rolled out alongside the names of our next shooting victims.
I love my guns, and I’m no hypocrite. But I love my son more. I love taking him to school, a movie, or simply around the block without fearing for his life. It is dangerous and shortsighted to require so little of our fellow gun owners, because—as 11-year-old Hunter’s case tragically shows—they hold the very lives of those around them in their hands.
So what can we do? The best proposals are all about common sense and moderation—too often four-letter words in politics. Background checks and mental health evaluations for all gun owners, on a five-year verification cycle, would be a great first step.
Requiring licenses and negligent discharge insurance would be part of common sense reform. Much like vehicles—which are also key pieces of personal property that can take lives when they are operated irresponsibly, firearms should require a license to own and operate. A tiered licensing system could apply to different types of weapons. Insurance could cover any damages caused by negligent discharge, and skyrocketing rates might prove discouraging for repeat offenders.
Prudent limits need to be imposed. We should consider putting a cap on the number of firearms purchased for personal use. Allowances could be made for licensed gun dealers, but home protection and hunting require don’t require individuals to keep an arsenal. At the very least, misdemeanors such as DUIs, drug charges, and white-collar crimes should be added to the list of crimes that preclude offenders from owning firearms.
Opponents will no doubt ask how we intend to pay for all of these new requirements. A tax on ammunition and weapons manufacturers and end-users seems like a relevant place to start. With $617 billion spent to fund our national defense, we can certainly grab a billion or two to fund these lifesaving reforms.
For some gun-rights advocates, no amount of smart budgeting will change their mind because for them any attempt to restrict firearm ownership amounts to an assault on liberty. But most sensible people, even those who own guns and value the 2nd Amendment, understand that the exercise of rights requires some trade-offs. After all, a majority of NRA members support background checks too.
Tragic assaults on public safety by dangerous people are only part of the problem in the United States. A good guy with a gun can turn into a bad guy due to one slip up or a simple misunderstanding and an itchy trigger finger. It’s time we prioritize the debate on gun control and see some real change.
Shawn VanDiver is a 12-year Navy veteran and adjunct faculty at three universities teaching military studies, national security policy, homeland security, and international security and trade. He manages corporate security and enterprise risk at a major tech company. He is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. Views expressed are his own.