In the early days of the automobile, there were not any laws regulating their usage and as more and cars were manufactured, injuries and deaths were the result.
Which presented the lawmakers of most states with a serious question: What to do to protect the public, including the car owners, from the dangers of death and disfigurement that cars presented?
The answer that most states came up with, and has now largely been standardized across the U.S. and most of the world, was a very simple and straightforward three-part criterion for car ownership and operation.
Establish ownership. In order to be able to manage all the cars coming onto the roads, both as valuable pieces of theft-worthy hardware and to track liability issues, all cars were required to have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which was stamped onto the car during manufacture and followed it until the day it was destroyed or decommissioned. Similarly, the owner of that car and its VIN had to present himself to state authorities and sign a title of ownership, which had to be recorded with the state whenever title was transferred to a new owner.
Prove competence. By the years around 1915 there had been so many fatalities and serious injuries attributable to cars that the states decided they only wanted people driving on public roads who actually knew how to handle a car properly. This meant defining rules for the road, having people learn those rules, and testing them – both in writing and practically in person – to show they truly could drive safely. When people passed the tests, they were given a license to drive.
Require liability insurance. Because virtually all car accidents were just that – accidents – most people who “caused” accidents were at both financial and legal risk. Many were fine, upstanding citizens (in fact, because cars were expensive, most car owners fell into this broad category). And they wanted some defense against the chance of making a mistake and ending up in jail or broke because of lawsuits or the liability costs of caring for people they’d injured. What came out of this was the development of automobile liability insurance, and the establishment of a requirement for it to be carried by all owners/drivers. While most states adopted this requirement substantially later than 1915, it’s now established as a fundamental part of the three steps necessary to drive a car.
Which brings us to today.
These three things that we do for owners of cars are perfect to deal with our American gun problem.
· Registration and title – as a requirement rather than an option – would establish a clear chain of custody and responsibility, so when people behave irresponsibly with their guns they can be held to account.
· Having a shooter’s license be conditional on passing both a written and a shooting-range test would demonstrate competence and also insert a trained person into the process who could spot “off-kilter” people like the Parkland shooter. Taking a cue from most other countries, we could also require people to prove a need or sporting/safety use for a weapon.
· Today, if a car had run down mass-shooting victims, their families would be getting millions from Geico, et al. Because a gun killed them, they get nothing. This is bizarre in the extreme; we all end up paying the costs of gun violence.
These three steps are nothing but common sense, and don’t infringe on the “rights” of gun owners any more than they infringe on the “rights” of car owners. They could even provide a stream of revenue for gun-owners’ organizations that chose to train people to prepare for their licensure test, and/or offer low-cost liability insurance.
None of these solutions is difficult. We’ve done them all before in other venues (like car ownership) and they’ve worked fine, and every other developed country in the world has successfully applied them to guns.
We can, too. All it takes is for the NRA to get out of the way, or for American politicians to gather together the courage to stop taking the NRA’s money.
Tom Smith, Georgetown, OH.