In a recent article titled, Lessons From the Virginia Shooting, Nicholas Kristof argues for increased firearm regulation in the U.S because at the current death rate it is a public health issue. Mr. Kristof makes some very good suggestions for future regulation, but some of his suggestions are contradictory and show a lack of insight into why people own firearms.
Kristof mentions that “We do not need a modern prohibition” because it would “Raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically” while at the same time suggesting that the U.S follow Australia’s lead on gun control. According to Australian statute, a good and substantial reason must be presented in order to own a firearm which in effect banned the possession of one. Quite contradictory when he mentions constitutional issues. Similar legislation to Australia’s has been enacted in the U.S and repealed in the courts. The key difference is that in the U.S owning a gun is a right not a privilege. So trying to compare the U.S to other nations in terms of policy is not easy because limitations on a right are far more difficult to enact than limitations on a privilege. A better suggestion would have been to follow Switzerland’s example. Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of gun owners in the world, with just one-seventh the firearm death rate of the U.S. In Switzerland when purchasing a firearm a permit is required that specifies what you are buying. As long as you pass a background check and are of age you can purchase a firearm in Switzerland. Where their legislation is unique is that ammo is regulated. A gun owner may only purchase ammo for firearms they own. The most unique act is that the government actively supports adolescents to train with rifles. They subsidize ammunition sold on Federal Council licensed ranges, but require that it all be used there. This is a perfect example of good gun legislation because instead of punishing gun owners for shooting, they are encouraging education about firearms while at the same time controlling ammunition obtained outside of ranges. In the U.S it is the opposite, ammunition on ranges is heavily taxed, sometimes up to 50%, while at gun shops it is cheap and easily available.
Also, Kristof’s suggestion that “Smart Guns” be supported shows his lack of understanding for the purpose of owning a firearm. Many gun owners purchase a firearm to protect their home, family, or self. What current “Smart gun” technology does is make that harder to do. The only easily available and inexpensive “Smart gun” tech available is the Magna-Trigger system for specific Smith & Wesson revolvers, and the Magloc designed only for the Colt 1911A1. Both of these systems require that the operator of the firearm be wearing a magnetic ring on his or her finger that will release a lock on the trigger and allow the gun to fire. The problem with this solution is that it requires the magnetic ring to fire. What if a criminal breaks into your home and attacks you. When you aim your firearm ready to defend yourself or family the trigger won’t move. Then you realize you forgot to put your magnetic ring on, and your only means of defense is useless. If this does not sound like an issue than ask yourself why law enforcement is exempt from legislation requiring this type of safety. It is because it is unreliable and not cost effective. Anything a “Smart Gun” can prevent can also be prevented by training, proper storage, and responsible use of the firearm. Perhaps instead of inventing a new technology we should invest in firearm training and handling like the Swiss do.
Common ground needs to be found between the anti-gun and pro-gun factions in government to create responsible, reasonable, and effective gun legislation. The type of misunderstanding that occurs between these two groups inhibits any form of legislation from being passed. If they could sit down and address each other’s concerns then perhaps this country would not be stuck with what Kristof calls “Demented” gun policies.