Yes, there is an effective policy for eliminating nearly all senseless mass shooting events while preserving Second Amendment rights. It’s a matter of political will. It’s the only policy I know that can be proven to work when back-tested against mass shooting events.
The problem is keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them. It is a microscopic percentage of people who would wreak evil combined with a tiny percentage of firearms abused for that evil intent. Supporting freedoms for most people and achieving responsible use and storage of deadly weapons is not incompatible with keeping the evil fringe from obtaining the means to kill.
The faults of most broad policies to reduce violent mass casualty events begin with after-the-fact reaction to a mentally dangerous person, reacting to a situation already in progress, or preemptively crushing the rights of responsible, law-abiding citizens by lumping them in with the tiny fringe who would abuse firearms. By way of example, so-called “Red Flag Laws” are common sense, i.e., alert law enforcement before a tragedy occurs. But the mentally unstable person already has the weapon(s) and has already demonstrated mental unfitness. Hardening target sites and assigning School Resource Officers makes sense as well, but the incident is already underway. Broad bans on firearms punish conscientious citizens who safely keep and store arms.
Staring us in the face is the policy solution that would fit with American practices. It would severely impair a mentally ill person from obtaining a firearm and doing it all without punishing those who responsibly use and store guns.
Consider these. Which makes sense? Which are legal and current practices in America:
- A 16-year-old high school student completes driver education. Obtains the first license. The same teen is given keys to a 40-ton semi-truck and allowed to drive it.
- A 24-year-old medical student completes their residency. They are introduced as the doctor who will lead your brain surgery this afternoon.
- A 40-year-old person learns to fly airplanes. Upon completing the classroom work and some test flying, they are invited to take control of a 757 Airliner.
A person reaches their 18th birthday. Within days, they legally obtain the most lethal rifles or pistols, body armor, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
We all live in a society with the comfort that reasonable regulations will prevent three of these four scenarios. No one is telling the youthful driver that they cannot someday drive a big rig. No one is telling the new doctor they cannot ultimately lead a complex brain surgery. No one is suggesting to the new pilot that they cannot someday be in command of a larger, faster, more complex airplane. In every circumstance, society asserts, “Demonstrate that you know how to operate safely, that you have proficiency, that you will not cause damage to the public by misuse, and that you are mentally stable. And acknowledge you will be subject to periodic review.”
In three of the four circumstances, there are steps requiring education, testing, demonstration of proficiency, medical and psychological screening, and review by qualified testers. The steps are achieved over time. Thus, the public has the reasonable expectation that the trucks on the highway, the care in the hospital, and the airplanes in the sky are being operated by those who have proven ability to use them safely and current review of capacity to direct otherwise deadly machines without threat.
For the fourth scenario, the 18-year-old enters the store or accesses an online dealer and takes legal possession from a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder. There is no test, no requirement for proficiency, and no medical or psychological screening. The thin regulatory line is the background check. However, suppose, like the killer in Parkland, the lengthy record of psychological distress and anti-social behavior is locked away in juvenile records. The background check comes back clean.
How about the Red Flag Law? Suppose carefully crafted legislation to remove firearms from those who sink to a level of posing a threat was in place. That would be a good thing. However, even if such a law were in force, someone would have had to take time off from their life to report the claim, law enforcement would need to investigate, a court would need to adjudicate, and do it again before the ban expired. The Red Flag would not likely stop the killer.
Thus, in our society today, potentially evil persons can legally be among us with the power to devastate lives, families, communities, and our national sense of safety.
This bears repeating. Today, a person can legally obtain all the tools and supplies they need to kill dozens of innocents; our laws do not protect us. If you’re still uncertain about this, please re-read the four scenarios above.
What would be a better way? Suppose that same 18-year-old looked to purchase a firearm(s), ammunition, and accessories. Instead of the thin, ineffective regulations in place today, the process was like so many other things we regulate in our country. The exact licensing is subject to much more evaluation than this column, but the objective of keeping means of mayhem from the unknown is worth it. One framework of many might be:
- Level One. Requires gun safety and storage class and passes the written test on gun safety and storage. With a trained instructor, learn and demonstrate safe firing at the gun range. License for revolver under seven rounds, maximum .38/.357 caliber, shotgun with maximum five cartridge capacity, hunting rifle with the 3-round capacity to be used under the supervision of a responsible adult.
- Level Two. Requires at least one year of incident-free Level One licensing. Additional classroom/video gun safety, usage, and storage instruction. Pass written test. Demonstrate proficiency with range instructor. Medical evaluation like pilots. License for semiautomatic handguns up to 10 round magazines, any pistol, shotgun without limitations, rifles with 6 round capacity.
- Level Three. Requires at least one year of incident-free Level Two licensing. Additional classroom/video gun safety, usage, and storage instruction. Pass written test. Demonstrate proficiency with range instructor. Medical evaluation or certification from a doctor or health provider. Licensed for all legal firearms. The license is valid for ten years.
Licenses could be revoked for breach of use, storage, or safety protocols. Red Flag laws might be a tool to keep watch on those who already own weapons.
Objections, of course, would be about costs. This would be an excellent time for the NRA to offer scholarships to lower-income individuals who want to learn gun safety. Gun shops could become purveyors of training, testing, and certification versus being primarily merchants – selling protection instead of the next biggest weapon.
Other objections would be the burden on responsible gun owners who possess, use, and store firearms today. These people are not the problem, so there should be a way to elevate them to Level Three with simple affirmation about their experience with guns, knowledge of storage requirements, and how to keep their weapons from being used by someone without the proper licensing. The policy is intended to make new gun owners as responsible as the vast majority of these responsible citizens.
To my dear friends on the far left. Suppose a dream of banning personal ownership of guns becomes law. Reality would not mirror the law. Millions of Americans would instantly become criminals. Weapon ownership would be driven underground, so we’d never get it out. Civil war is the next likely step.
To my dear friends on the far right. Suppose a dream of no restrictions or limitations on the sale, possession, and storage of powerful weapons and abundant ammunition becomes law. Reality would be more mentally unstable persons committing worse and worse carnage until a broad gun ban appears to be the only remedy. See the paragraph above for that outcome.
Alternatively, we can back down from the extremes. And then enjoy our lives with less worry. Do we worry about whether that enormous truck ahead of us has a competent driver, whether or not the doctor performing delicate surgery is up to the task, and whether the airplane will fall out of the sky? Why not? Do we worry about whether or not some crazed person will kill innocents at our school, grocery store, shopping mall, or out on the street?
Richard Helppie is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and political analyst who has over three and a half million listeners, viewers, and readers around the world on his program, ‘The Common Bridge,’ which is available on Substack, Youtube, and wherever you get your podcasts. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @RHCommonBridge