Across the United States, people are shaking their heads and searching for answers after what happened in Newtown, Conn.
But let no one be mistaken or deceived. The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14 was not an aberration.
Except for the number and ages of the murder victims in that tragedy, death and injury associated with firearms is sadly commonplace in the United States.
Once again, people are asking if gun control can be seriously undertaken. But this problem is not beyond solving. Here are some suggestions.
1 Regulate all gun ownership. A firearm is a deadly weapon. We should, therefore, impose a blanket requirement that all firearms be registered with state authorities who must share registration data with the federal government (such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms within the U.S. Justice Department). We already have such a registration requirement for motor vehicles. We need to impose a similar requirement on firearms.
2 Require licensing and thorough evaluation before people can own firearms. Every gun owner should be licensed only after undergoing a thorough background search with a physical and mental examination regulated by law enforcement agencies. They should also be required to renew the license in two- or four-year intervals. We require evaluation and governmental testing before a person is licensed to drive. We need that kind of regulatory approach for gun ownership. And the background check to own a firearm should be as stringent as the checks used before people are chosen to use them in law enforcement. Simply put, if a person isn’t socially, physically and emotionally fit to be trusted with a firearm to protect and serve society, he or she shouldn’t be licensed to own a firearm privately.
3 Penalties for violating the law as a gun owner should be strengthened. When lawyers, accountants and airline pilots commit crimes and other anti-social behavior, that information is considered relevant on whether they should remain licensed. We should also treat anti-social behavior as a red flag when it comes to gun ownership. Gun ownership must be considered a trust. Unlawful conduct should be viewed as breach of that trust.
4 Ban private ownership of assault rifles and high capacity magazines. Military-style weapons should be restricted to the military and law enforcement. People who want to use assault rifles should join the military or law enforcement where they can serve and protect society, not potentially endanger it. To get existing assault rifles out of civilian circulation, the state and federal authorities should create a “buy back” system. People who aren’t in the military or law enforcement have no more reason to possess assault rifles and similar weaponry and ammunition than possess fighter aircraft, howitzers and battle tanks and ammunition for them.
5 Impose higher insurance rates on gun owners. Gun owners pose a higher risk for committing violence. Their home, life, auto, health and disability insurance policies should reflect that risk.
6 Require liability insurance for every gun. Guns, like automobiles, cause deaths and injuries. Liability insurance should be a requirement with each gun sale or trade as it is required for motor vehicles. Failure to carry liability insurance should result in penalties ranging from fines, license suspension, to forfeiture of the uninsured firearm.
These measures won’t eliminate gun violence. Similar measures don’t eliminate highway fatalities and injuries caused by reckless, inattentive, negligent or incompetent driving.
However, these measures can go a long way toward reducing gun violence and protecting society from the proliferation of barely regulated firearms.
Finally, religious and other leaders should embrace these suggestions and take the lead in urging their implementation. We’ve been timid far too long.
It’s time to stand up to the forces of intolerance, fear, hate, greed and the idolatry of violence.
We have serious work to do. The gun lobby and its supporters will mount a fierce opposition to anything that hints at a more robust regulatory system.
Let’s prove ourselves ready, willing and able to resist and overcome that opposition and reduce the gun violence epidemic in our society.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.