What If We Treated Guns Like We Do Cars?

Second Amendment rights advocates often want to tell you that guns aren’t the problem; that you can kill someone with a car or a knife, that there are far more deaths from motor accidents than gun deaths, that the police define a car as a deadly weapon. And no-one is crying out for cars to be restricted.

Okay, I’ll bite. What if we treated firearms in exactly the same way we treat motor vehicles?

In the US, before you can legally sit behind the wheel of a car and drive it solo, you have to pass a driving test and get a drivers’ licence. Typically, as I understand it, one will take a drivers’ education course which will teach you to safely and competently operate a motor vehicle.

If you want to drive a car, that’s one kind of licence. If you also want to ride a motorbike, that’s another licence with a separate test. If you want to drive a large commercial vehicle like a truck, the Commercial Driver’s Licence (CDL) is a separate and additional test and documentation with numerous additional facets and requirements allowing you to do things like transport hazardous cargo or particularly heavy goods or outsize loads.

Analogising to the firearms situation, if you want to be legally able to carry a gun, you should have to do a “firearms education” course and pass a gun safety test that confirms a minimum basic competency in firing it as well as knowledge of basic gun safety protocols. If you want a small-calibre handgun, that’s one kind of licence. If you want a hunting longarm, that’s another kind. If you want a high-calbre pistol like a Magnum or something, that’s another licence. There would be a minimum age requirement to do the firearms education course; we don’t let 7-year-olds learn to drive, do we? The states, or perhaps even individual communities, should probably set this lower age requirement for themselves.  Maybe we should be looking at a firearms licence similar to a drivers’ licence.  Just an idea.

On top of the licencing of drivers, motor vehicles themselves are individually registered with the state, taxed and inspected annually to make sure they meet basic safety standards. While the emissions test has no parallel in firearms, the idea that as a matter of course all guns will be registered with the state and taxed would probably send most gun owners into a flat spin. Nothing causes foaming at the mouth of your average Second Amendment activist than the words “gun registry”. “Then they’ll know exactly where to come when they come for our guns!” is the common refrain.

And yet, why? We register our cars, and only the most deranged of paranoids would suggest that the government is coming to take those away by force.  The right of freedom of movement is part of the First Amendment, and no-one suggests that the regulations we have around car ownership, registration and licencing are an infringement.

The idea that the government is going to take away guns by force is easily the most intractable of American political myths, and yet recent unwillingness to pass even the most basic commonsense gun safety laws and contrarian willingness to further loosen existing gun laws on the part of most of the current crop of politicians suggests that the reverse, if anything, is truer. Politicians seem unwilling to do even basic things like banning the bump stock devices that simulate fully automatic fire in a semiautomatic weapon; and yet you believe these same politicians are just waiting to pounce and forcibly take your guns.

I do not see that the “law-abiding gun owners” that the NRA and other firearms groups tout as the salvation of America have anything to fear from a gun registry.

Motor vehicles require fuel, which is taxed. In other countries like my native UK, it’s taxed quite a lot. Should we tax ammunition, and have the resulting funds channeled into mental health and/or a fund to help the victims of mass shootings? That might be appropriate.

I’m not necessarily saying “this is what we ought to do about gun safety”. But on the other hand, there are some interesting ideas here. In addition to repairing and extending the background check system that the NRA have paid their pet politicians to break and bend the proper functioning of (so that they can say “see, background checks don’t work”?), some of this might at least serve as a point of discussion.

If you want to point out how cars are also deadly weapons, it’s instructive to consider how comparatively regulated our driving is compared to what seems to be the case for firearms.  At the very least, it’s something to think about.


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