America needs a driver's license for gun ownership
Americans absolutely have a right to own guns. But the government can and must ensure they exercise this right responsibly.
There's an obvious answer to America's gun problem. It should please both aggressive gun control reformers and gun rights loyalists. And it would prevent a lot of deaths.
It's simple. As the Supreme Court has made clear, the Bill of Rights gives Americans a personal, individual right to bear arms. However, exercise of that right can and should be regulated. Want to own a gun? Go right ahead: But it should be contingent on not only preliminary, but continuous training and background checking requirements.
Such requirements would naturally vary by state. But they should include serious background checks, including a psychiatric evaluation. To buy a gun, you would have to go through rigorous training in shooting, firearm security, and perhaps first aid and crisis response — in other words, something like a driver's license for guns. More importantly, you would have to pass a basic proficiency test at least once a year.
America should also consider mandating that gun owners obtain membership in a properly licensed gun club. The idea isn't just that it would ensure better training and proficiency, but also that somebody in danger of going off the rails might be noticed by a fellow shooter, who might report something.
The model here would be Switzerland, where around two million firearms — more than one for every three residents —are privately owned, and yet gun violence is practically nonexistent. Reservists can keep their service weapon— that is, fully-automatic assault rifles of the kind that are absolutely illegal in the U.S.— in their home, provided they keep up with their reserve requirements, which includes yearly training. Most reservists also belong to gun clubs, which are often subsidized by the army.
The total silence about Switzerland in the American public debate is quite telling. Progressives don't like to admit that there might not be such a direct correlation between the number of guns and violence, whereas conservatives don't like to admit that the way to square that circle would be requirements that would make Second Amendment absolutists scream.
If everyone could see past their own ideological blindspots, however, they might be able to recognize that this is a good compromise, and provides something for everyone. Progressives would have real limitations that would prevent violence. Conservatives would have real recognition of the individual right to bear arms that is part of the American social contract (and they should like a reduction in violence too!).
This vision is also very much in line with the Founders' intentions. The Second Amendment doesn't speak of "militias," that is, specific institutions like the National Guard. Instead, it speaks broadly of "a well regulated militia." At the time, it was a term used to refer to the whole of able-bodied men, who were presumed armed and ready to fight.
Remember, the Founders weren't writing a Constitution for a superpower. The Constitution empowers Congress to maintain a navy, a standing body needed to maintain trade links with the rest of the world, and empowers Congress to raise an army as the need arises. How would it be able to do that? Because America would have a militia of men already armed and ready to fight. This concept of the militia is what the Founders believed would prevent one of the things they dreaded most: another invasion by the British. That meant having a rifle in every man's hand.
The militia clause is completely compatible with an individual right to bear arms, and indeed presupposes it. But it also presupposes something else that Second Amendment absolutists might like less: To have this sort of militia, it is not enough that people have guns. They must also be trained to use them.
There is a big difference between a right and an entitlement. Conservatives believe in individual rights — and they believe that rights come with responsibilities. But many conservatives have come to see gun ownership not as a right but as an entitlement: something completely open-ended and unlimited. That's just wrong. Every American has the right to own guns — but the government can and should make sure there are regulations, training, and checks in place to make sure this right is exercised responsibly.