Last Updated: Friday, 12 May, 2000 18:30
Gun Control - Require Licenses or Not?
Start talking about gun control and someone invariably says, "Well, we license cars, boats and planes, and we require people to get licenses for those. Why not for guns too?"Well, why not?
Simple. Because it's illegal to do so. Unless or until the United States Supreme Court decides that individuals do not have the Constitutional right to own or possess guns, then any law requiring licenses will likely be ruled unconstitutional.
The Bill Of Rights
The Bill Of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, are considered to be a collection of rights guaranteed to the people on which the government cannot intrude. The court has ruled that it sees the words the people in the bill of rights referring to all of the people of the United States and that it is the same "people" referred to in the First (free speech, worship, press) as in the Fourth (searches, warrants) and Fifth (speedy trial, self-incrimination) as in the Second (right to arms).
Additionally, the Supreme Court has held that the government may not require a license to exercise a right. For example, the government may not require people to have a license to practice free speech, or to attend a church. Likewise the government may not require record keeping of those who practice a right or those who participate. Like the post-civil war era poll tax levied on blacks to prevent them from voting, the government may not require the people to pay any fees or taxes to exercise a right. This does not mean that any right is free from regulation or fees however. But the basic right must be unfettered. Claiming the government can't make you pay for a FCC license for a radio or TV station won't work, simply because the Court will remind you that you can retreat to a soap box or print up leaflets (or Web Pages!) and still exercise your right to free speech.
Comparing Cars to Guns
You do not have a right to own a car, or to drive one. There is no constitutional guarantee for you to own or possess an automobile, truck, car, motorcycle, bicycle or even a skateboard. If any of these products were deemed to be illegal you would have no constitutional challenge under the Bill of Rights (except, perhaps, that of due-process before you must give up your vehicle).
With that out of the way, let's do a little comparison. First, let's think about registering guns like cars and licensing gun owners like car drivers. In the first place we'll have to purge a lot of useless laws off the books regarding firearms. Consider:
Are you still enthusiastic about it? You can see how many so called "gun-control" laws would be abolished by such a scheme. But we have not considered the opposite side of this question. Since you don't have a right to an automobile, the government can impose many laws on their ownership, purchase and use that cannot be applied to guns. But let's stick with guns for the moment and see what you'd have to go through.
- There is no waiting period to purchase an automobile.
- Anyone can purchase an automobile as long as they can sign a legal contract to pay for it.
- You are not required to lock up your car and keep it away from children.
- People convicted of felonies or domestic violence can own an automobile.
- Anyone paying cash can purchase an automobile, even if they're under 18.
- You do not have to have a driver's license to buy an automobile.
- The government does not have the power to inspect how you garage your car.
- There is no limit how many cars you can own, or how many you can buy per month.
- The government can't limit the features of your car, such as top speed, fuel capacity, horsepower, etc.
- The government does not limit how many gallons of gas you can buy per month.
- The only penalty for not registering your automobile yearly isn't a felony.
- The government, except for a few states, cannot seize your automobile if you fail to register it.
- You only need to register an automobile if you plan to use it on the street.
- To obtain a driver's license you fill out a written test, provide a birth certificate (and/or INS papers), take an eye exam and a short driver's test to show you can operate the vehicle.
- The fee for a license ranges from about $5 to $20.
- Licenses are good for several years, some states renew automatically; others are lifetime licenses.
- Licenses are only revoked after a court trial for misuse or violating the laws.
Registering and Licensing Cars like Guns
This all sounds pretty silly, doesn't it? Most of these are gun-laws, applied to autos or drivers.
- Convicted felons could not own or drive a car.
- You'd pay for a car, register it and then wait from 5 to 15 days to pick up your car.
- Purchasing a used car from a neighbor requires the same waiting period and you would have to transact the sale through a licensed car dealer.
- You could buy a car, register it but you'd need a special permit to take in on the streets.
- To get the above "street permit" you have to show good cause and be of good moral character.
- Persons convicted of "domestic violence" could not own or drive a car, even if that occurred 30 years ago.
- Cars have to be stored where no child could access it and hurt themselves playing with it.
- In some places (e.g. NYC or New Jersey) you would first need a permit to buy from the police department which sometimes takes up to 2 years to obtain.
- If you own more than a certain number of cars, the government could enter your home at any time to ensure you stored your cars properly. This is actually a proposed law by Handgun Control, Inc. that would require anyone owning more than 4 guns to have an "arsenal" license and permit warrantless searches.
- If a minor child stole your car and hurt himself or others with it, you'd be guilty of a felony.
- In some cities (e.g. Washington D.C.) you would have to store your car partially disassembled.
- Failure to register your car would be a federal felony (prevents you from owning another one).
- People under psychiatric care or mentally incompetent could not own or drive a car.
- Some models of automobiles might be banned after you buy them and you'd have to turn them over to the government without compensation.
- "Assault vehicles" look evil and must be specially registered at extra cost. Hummers, 4x4 trucks, Suburbans, Dodge Vipers, Nissan NSX's, and Corvettes are likely targets.
- Cars under a certain size or having certain features could not be imported.
- You could not modify your car to allow more fuel, more performance, or better cornering.
- The government would allow some states or cities to not issue licenses at all, for any reason.
- Cars could not be operated on city streets with gasoline in the tank. (Kinda defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?)
- In some states (e.g. Virginia, California) you could only buy one car per month.
- There would be no traffic "infractions", all violations would be misdemeanors or felonies.
- It would be illegal to directly buy a car from an out of state dealer or seller.
- Car dealers would have to allow government agents to review their records without a warrant and without notice.
- Car dealers who sell a car to someone prohibited would be charged with a federal felony.
- Car dealers would be subject to being shut down by the government for failure to keep proper records and charged with a felony.
- The inventory of car dealers could be seized and destroyed before a conviction was obtained.
To destroy a right, you first have to control it!
The first step in destroying a right is to control that right and make its use subject to government regulation and/or taxation. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan claimed that the government could tax guns and/or ammunition out of existence. Though I have a feeling that the Supreme Court would rule that plan an infringement on the exercise of that right, just as the poll tax infringed on the voting rights of the post civil war blacks. Imagine the outraged cry from the media if Moynihan proposed that people had to pay a $1500 tax each time they hired a lawyer - in essence, making you pay the government a royalty-fee for exercising your right to a lawyer for a criminal trial.
A license is permission from an authority to do something unusual or otherwise restricted by law. A right is something you have, like breathing, that the government does not give you. According to historical reviews, religious texts and our founding fathers, the right to resist a tyrannical government exists in all free men, as well the right to arms for the purposes of survival, defense of self and of the state. Don't be fooled by the way gun-control people twist the meaning of things however. The Constitution does not grant a right to keep and bear arms because that right pre-dates the Constitution and all other laws of men! The Second Amendment limits the power of the government to restrict or infringe on the right of its people to keep and bear arms!!
Once the government can require a license for you to practice a "right", then that right can also be denied to you by regulations, created by non-elected bureaucrats, to restrict your rights until it is impossible to obtain a license. Another way is to make the licensing procedure and paperwork so onerous that no one would want to obtain a license.
Could We License Other Rights?
Imagine for a moment the hue and cry from the media if the government proposed that all journalists be licensed! Or that a journalist could only write one article per month. Or that a journalist who was an ex-felon had to find another line of work? Why not? We prohibit felons from holding office, don't we? Could the government require that anyone publishing any material reaching over 20 people to get a business license as a "publisher"? That would subject them to other bureaucratic laws and regulations.
What if the government required all clergy members to register their parishioners when they attended church? What if the government required you to get a permit to publish a web page? How about the government requiring publishers to turn over all subscription lists? Or having to register your purchase of a newspaper or magazine?
Do I hear you saying you have a right to those things?
"...we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical
Bill of Rights, giving a radical amount of individual
freedom to Americans ...... And so a lot of people say
there's too much personal freedom. When personal freedom's
being abused, you have to move to limit it.
-- U.S. President Bill Clinton, on MTV 3-22-94
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