It’s obvious: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
Language matters. Legislation and policy debate and discussion related to firearms regulation appears to be influenced unduly by the language adopted by the participants. The greatest offender is the National Rifle Association (NRA) and supporters of its point of view. An obvious example is the accusation that proponents of universal firearms registration actually mean “universal gun removal”. Another example is the slogan above.
Let’s experiment with this slogan by substituting some other terms for “guns”.
- Poisons don’t kill people; people kill people.
- Cocaine doesn’t kill people; people kill people.
- Cars don’t kill people; people kill people.
- Drugs don’t kill people; people kill people.
Talking about drug “control“ is acceptable, but, to those same people, talking about firearms “control” is not. As long as we conflate “control” with “registration” or “removal” with “regulation”, no progress will be made in this discussion. Universal registration of drug sellers and users is instituted with nary a peep of protest from all but the beneficiaries and their representatives of unregulated or weakly regulated distribution of dangerous drugs. Automobiles are registered, regulated and, in many ways, “controlled”—you can’t drive an unregistered vehicle. Yet, we accept this situation without reflection, unless circumventing this information system is somehow beneficial to us. Poisons are regulated. Many require government-issued permits to buy and use. All transactions of such regulated poisons are supposed to be recorded and their purchasers identified. Individual food items are tracked from the grower/rancher through the processor to the consumer by bar coded identification codes. Purchases and sales of alcoholic beverages are recorded; inventories are reported at all levels except among private citizens, who have no permit to resell their inventories. Private sales of wine, beer and spirits are illegal in every state. Not only do we accept this regulation, we are grateful for it.
In the case of universal automobile registration, the benefits are many and obvious, including: locating stolen vehicles, identifying vehicles that pollute excessively, are unsafe or are involved in accidents or crimes, finding and capturing criminals or suspected criminals who’ve used cars to commit their crimes and enforcing traffic laws. In the case of food, the benefits are, again, many and obvious: tracking that batch of contaminated peanut butter or that batch of cafeteria food that was contaminated by peanut oil or parts when it was not supposed to be, locating the source of horsemeat sold as beef hamburger, preventing spoilage or botulism or locating the sources of it. The State of Florida (in the U. S.), despite loud and well-funded objections, started a database that tracks all pharmacy, clinic and physician transactions involving controlled substances. Participation is not mandatory and, within one year, the information provided by and inferred from it has led to major arrests and convictions of doctors and other criminals who have sold millions of dollars of dangerous prescription drugs with prescriptions, but, illegally for other reasons.
Registering all firearms and recording all transactions involving firearms is no different from registering and recording all vehicles and transactions involving them. The benefits are many and obvious. Yet, we resist this minimal attempt at managing the deployment and use of dangerous tools. Why? Why do we conflate registration with removal and information with control? Why is such paranoia seated so deeply in so many and why are they so passionate about protecting their paranoia? Don’t we want to find our guns after they’re stolen? Don’t we want to prevent them from being used in a crime, especially a crime that results in a fatality? Don’t we want to find and prosecute firearms dealers who traffic in guns used by murderers, terrorists or private armies and who fund such other illegal activities as drug or slave trafficking?
Universal registration of firearms, their owners and their dealers is the minimum, yet, most important condition of responsible gun usage for this and all nations, each nation taken as a whole. The United States trails all other developed nations in this matter, while it should lead them. A recent Pew Institute poll found that 92% of Americans and 74% of NRA members support universal firearms registration. This means that approximately 138 million voters and 3 million NRA members support it. Passing and implementing legislation by federal and state governments that requires registration of all firearms and all transactions as well as extensive criminal background checks should be a slam dunk. Yet, it isn’t. The loudest voices, which are well funded, have cowed a significant number of congressional representatives (especially) and senators into opposing this legislation. It may not pass. We’re lucky to see a vote. Yet, registering all of our firearms is simply common sense; opposing it is unreasonable.