Editorials, Opinion

Reforming gun laws

Yesterday, when we mentioned the process of getting a license to drive a car, we said we’d come back to that. Well, we’re coming back to it now.

At the moment, it is harder to get a driver’s license in some states than it is to get a gun.

In the vein of commonsense gun reform, the process for purchasing, owning and/or possessing a firearm should be similar to getting a driver’s license.

You should have to prove you are a resident of that state. You should have to pass a written exam on the basic mechanics and safety procedures for guns. You should have to pass a skills test, possibly with a minimum number of hours spent training with a professional. The firearm should have to be registered with the state, just like we register our cars. And since cars have to be inspected every year, it should be acceptable that gun owners also undergo inspection every so often (e.g., prove the number of firearms they own, show that each one is operating as it should be and hasn’t been illegally modified).

Because guns are a potentially deadly weapon that the average person does not require for day-to-day activities, unlike a car, there are a few more reasonable restrictions. Potential gun owners should have to undergo background checks at every purchase, whether those be in a certified shop or at a gun show or trunk show. The ability to request a federal background check may need to be expanded so private sellers can also check potential buyers. Like cars, guns should have a title that transfers between owners, particularly in the case of private sales.

Perhaps a little more controversially, guns should be kept in a locked safe or storage cabinet. Between the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, a 7-year-old took his mother’s handgun — which had not been secured — to school in his backpack. The firearm accidentally discharged and a classmate was hurt. There are hundreds of stories just like that one. It should be no problem to lock away hunting rifles when they are not actively in use. For weapons kept for self-defense, biometric safes come in a variety of sizes and can be opened with a touch of your finger, instead of opened by just anyone in the home.

We might be getting increasingly controversial, but red flag laws need to be implemented where there are none, possibly expanded where they exist and enforced in order to be effective. Red flag laws allow authorities to temporarily remove firearms and weapons from the possession of someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others. There are reasonable arguments that red flag laws violate the right to due process. However, as we showed yesterday, just having access to firearms makes gun violence, against self or others, far more likely.

The Buffalo shooter could have been stopped by a properly implemented red flag law. When he was 17, he indicated in class that he wanted to commit a murder-suicide. (He owned a hunting rifle at this time, given to him by his father.) He was taken for a psychological evaluation. However, he wasn’t deemed an immediate threat and was released to his family.

New York has red flag laws. However, New York State Police said in May that no official involved in investigating the shooter started the court process for an extreme risk protection order. It could have temporarily removed his access to guns and prevented him from purchasing any for a year or more.   

Now, for our possibly most controversial point of the day: Regulations regarding gun use and purchases must be national.

Gun control laws are only as effective as the laws in the bordering states. Illinois famously has tons of gun laws, but Chicago has an equally famous reputation for gun violence. However, Illinois’ surrounding states have much more lax laws. As one columnist pointed out, the Buffalo shooter modified his gun to use high-capacity magazines even though they are banned in New York. But high-capacity magazines aren’t banned in Pennsylvania, and there’s a gun shop less than 15 minutes from the shooter’s hometown of Conklin, just over the border in Pennsylvania.

While we understand hesitation to accept a one-size-fits-all approach, the gun violence epidemic has proven to be a national issue with recurring themes. To curb the rising tide, we can’t rely on a patchwork of state laws that let dangerous individuals slip through the cracks. Instead, we need a cohesive federal standard that all responsible gun owners can reach and that can weed the irresponsible ones out.