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gun safety

The biggest problem with gun violence is that so many people think that the best way to settle a dispute or express displeasure is with violence.  People are very tribal, and being proud of being part of a group is fine.  But it becomes destructive when those outside the group are hated and/or seen as the enemy.


Guns make the violence much more deadly.  Unlike any other country, owning a gun in the USA is seen as almost sacred.  The right to bear arms was enshrined in the Bill of Rights since the early USA had no army, and having an army was seen as a deadly threat to liberty.  With no army, the republic was to be defended by a militia of armed citizens called up at a moment's notice who already knew how to shoot and would provide their own gun.  This rationale for gun ownership is totally outdated.


The right to bear arms is already infringed.  Only a lunatic would advocate the right of private citizens to own nuclear weapons.  The thought of a disgruntled airline passenger going home to his arsenal of shoulder fired antiaircraft missiles is chilling.  The only question is where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable weapons for personal use.


One could argue that the only weapons protected by the 2nd Amendment are single shot muzzle-loading weapons since these were the only ones envisioned by the founders.  This isn’t reasonable since the Constitution is a living document.  Originalists say we should interpret the Constitution as it was meant by the founders, but the founders would disagree.  Thomas Jefferson wrote: “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. … institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times.  We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regime of their barbarous ancestors.”  Our Founding Fathers were the wisest revolutionaries the world has ever seen, but they were men of the 18th century and flawed by 21st century standards.  The original Constitution prohibited laws against the slave trade, counted black people as 3/5 of a person, didn’t let the people vote for president or U.S. senators, didn’t let women vote for anything, and had a flawed method for electing a president that resulted in a constitutional crisis in 1800.  Do we really want to retain all that?


There are good reasons to own guns.  Unless we want bears and cougars in our back yards, there needs to be some way to control populations of deer, etc.  As a biologist I think responsible hunting makes for a healthy ecosystem and hunters provide a useful service.  I'm ok with having a weapon at home for self defense, though  I have no interest in having one.  Target shooting is a legitimate sport.


Assault weapons have no legitimate use IMHO.  Some argue that an armed citizenry is necessary for defense against government tyranny.  This is nonsense for two reasons: 1) The Constitution has a word for taking up arms against the government--treason.  The proper ways to settle political disputes are protests, elections and courts, not treason or civil war. 

2) A few guys with AR15s are not going to be able to hold off the police much less the army.  Even in the days of Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion where the citizens and the army had the same weapons the citizenry had no chance against the army/militia.  This is even more true today.

The argument that banning some guns leads down a slippery slope to banning all guns is nonsense.  Having a speed limit of 25 mph in a school zone is not going to lead to 25 mph speed limits on the interstate highways.  Some gun uses are under no threat since they are nearly universally regarded as legitimate or even good for society.


Automobiles are also deadly and kill roughly as many people per year as guns.  Banning cars would be unthinkable, but drivers must be licensed, they must pass tests of vision, driving competence and knowledge of driving rules, their license can be revoked for incompetence or reckless driving, they can’t drive Indy cars on the streets, and they must obey speed limits and other traffic rules.  We should apply the same kind of principles to gun regulation.


So at last, my recommendations:

1) View outgroups as rivals, not enemies.  You don’t go out of your way to help them, but you don’t hate them or want to harm them.

2) Ban sale of weapons not needed for hunting, target shooting, or home defense.  No semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines holding more than about 8 rounds.  Limit the number of rounds of ammunition that can be bought at a time.  Prohibit automatic weapons or weapons that can be converted to fully automatic.  Ban guns that are not detectable by security systems, or those that can be 3D printed at home.  And of course, no tanks, fighter jets, anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons for private citizens.

3) Guns that can’t be sold can be kept, but the government should institute a voluntary buyback program for such weapons, and those weapons must be forfeited by anyone convicted of a felony.

4) Require a license to own a gun and require passing a test of gun laws, a vision test, and competence testing for shooting in general, and proper operation of each model of gun owned (the latter could be only one or two questions like how to operate the safety switch).

5) Revoke/deny gun ownership privileges for people with violent offenses, who threaten violence, or who advocate violence.  People whose rights are denied based on threats can appeal to have their rights restored. 

6) Gun and ammunition purchasers need to pass a background check.  Anyone who sells a gun without conducting a background check becomes liable for the gun's use.  If a background check is clean, the seller is not liable.  Gun manufacturers should not be liable for misuse of a gun if it operated as designed and proper instruction in its safe use was provided.

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