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.

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.

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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