by Lola E. Peters
Our society has a tendency to create solutions for symptoms rather than stepping back and asking how those symptoms came to be. We do this with everything from health care to education to homelessness to the management of legal weapons. This puts us in a never-ending hydra loop where we deal with one aspect of an issue at a time rather than the whole. We need to stop.
Heather Cox Richardson wrote a perfect essay about the false cowboy mythology at the root of our challenge to regulate the use of guns in our society. In an attempt to deny the NRA/GOP narrative about “taking away our guns,” common sense advocates have let themselves be boxed into a whack-a-mole process of ineffective legislative maneuvers. Enough already. Let’s reclaim our space and advocate for a facts-based solution.
We need practical, sensible, comprehensive, systemic change to address how we handle lethal weapons in our society. Here’s what I’ve been proposing, to anyone who will listen, for nearly a decade. Legislation to make it happen should be easy to pass in our state.
- Anyone under age 25 cannot own a gun. Between the age of 16 and 25 they can, however, get a restricted gun permit allowing them to use a gun only in the presence of a parent, guardian, or other responsible individual over the age of 30 who does have the appropriate license.
- At age 25, anyone (except felons, individuals who are diagnosed as a danger to themselves or society because of mental illness or threatening behavior, and the usual restrictions) can get a license (with photo) to own a handgun or single-shot rifle, but not a repeating firearm (semi- or fully-automatic). After five additional years as experienced gun owners, at age 30, they can act as chaperones or sponsors for young adults 16–24.
- At age 40 and after, anyone can get a license to own any legal type of gun.
- Military veterans under age 25 will be issued provisional handgun-only licenses until they’ve reached age 25, at which time they will get the regular license.
- Semi- or fully-automatic firearms cannot be privately owned. They can be owned by gun clubs with over 50 members and must be regulated using the standards below.
- Anyone over the age of 16 can go to a firing range or gun club and use firearms owned by the range or club on premises. All firearms must be returned by the end of each day. Ranges and clubs must keep strict records of use and end-of-shift/day inventories of weapons they own.
- Providing a firearm to someone who is not licensed to own it (e.g., semi-automatic to a 25-year-old) is a felony and carries a mandatory minimum 5-year first offense prison term.
- Selling a firearm to someone who is not licensed to own it is a felony and carries a mandatory minimum 10-year first offense prison term.
- Falsifying a license carries a mandatory minimum 5-year per offense prison term.
- All State-issued gun licenses require proof of age and a State-run, nationwide background check.
- The State will conduct annual random audits of gun seller records.
- The State will develop and maintain a database of licenses that can be accessed by all gun sellers for verification of licenses.
While there are obvious things *not* included here, I believe this sets a reframing of the entire conversation and avails us of language such as “licensing” and “well regulated” that the current dialogue has abdicated.
According to studies by the NIH, the region of the human brain that inhibits risky behavior is not fully formed until age 25. It makes sense, then, that gun ownership be restricted to people 25 and older. Also by age 25, most mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are manifest.
It is also true, however, that many parts of our society embody a tradition of hunting and firearms-as-sport that are part of family history and development. This proposal ensures that these traditions can still be carried out and puts the responsibility on a seasoned adult. This proposal enables young adults to learn gun use and safety in the protected setting of a club or range.
There is also a provision for military personnel. This is a tricky bit, because there’s no guarantee that someone who has been responsible within the confines of military hierarchy will be so in civilian life. This would be a provision to watch and see if it has negative consequences. In fact, I’ve thrown in a few bits that can be negotiated, but I believe this proposal gives everyone enough cover that, properly presented, it would pass muster in all parts of the state and with the majority of voters (even if not legislators) in both parties. I also believe this works within the Second Amendment restrictions.
In this scenario, guns are not “taken away” they are simply managed, just like automobile ownership and fishing(!). Since the State takes responsibility for this process, there’s no need for gun sellers to deal with the function or cost of background checks; they simply ask for and record the license number and check it and the photo against the State database. The State doesn’t ask the gun seller for the license numbers except to audit the process.
We need immediate action, and Washington state could lead the country in creating workable, common-sense legislation using modern technology. Or at least shifting the framework for future legislation. This would be legislators actually doing, rather than the perpetual and useless blah blah blah. I challenge our state leaders to get this done.
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Lola E. Peters is an editor-at-large for the South Seattle Emerald.
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