L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 57, October 15, 1999
Taking My .357 Out For a Drive:
On Regulating Guns Like Cars
by David Roberson
You've seen the idea expressed in your newspaper, perhaps in a letter
to the editor from some outraged soccer mom. Or maybe it was on the
local TV news, and the proponent was another out-of-touch police
chief eager to curry favor with his bosses at city hall. "It's too
easy to get guns! If we can register cars, why can't we register
guns? We ought to regulate gun ownership just like we regulate motor
vehicles." That lament, like virtually all the calls for "more
regulation" that invariably follow any tragedy -- real or imagined,
natural or of human origin -- usually does little more than raise my
blood pressure a few points. But I like to keep an open mind about
things, and so recently I've been considering the full implications
of that proposal. And I have to admit that I'm starting to shift my
To understand why, take a look at what would happen if ownership of
guns were regulated just like ownership of motor vehicles.
1. You wouldn't need a license to own a gun, nor would you need to
register that gun. Got a title or bill of sale to prove your
ownership? Then you're all set. Now, if you wanted to operate (i.e.
fire) your gun on a government-maintained street or road, a license
and registration might be required. But if you intended to operate
your gun only on private property - yours or someone else's - then
you wouldn't need a license or registration to do so. And you could
transport (i.e. carry) your gun anywhere you wanted, including while
driving in your car.
2. You wouldn't need liability insurance to own a gun. As long as you
weren't operating your gun on a government-maintained street or road,
liability insurance wouldn't be necessary. If you wanted to insure
your gun against misuse, or against loss or theft, that would be
entirely your decision, unless there was a lien on your gun and the
lienholder wanted it insured until the lien was paid off.
3. If you could own a gun in one state, you could own it in any
state. No worries about what would happen if you moved from a place
like Vermont to a hellhole like Massachusetts. The main difference
would be that guns sold in California would have to meet different
air-pollution requirements, but fortunately, that wouldn't be hard,
since guns don't pollute the air much.
4. You could buy a gun at any age. If you had the money to pay for
it, or could convince someone to loan you the money for the purchase,
that's all you'd need. Now, until you reached the age of 16, you
would not be able to get a permit to operate that gun on
government-maintained streets or roads. But I predict that very few
people of any age will want to do so. Shooting in the road just isn't
that much fun.
5. You could own and use any kind of gun you wanted and could afford.
Full-auto? High-capacity magazines? Short barrels? Silencers? No
problem. Just like it's perfectly legal for you or anyone else to own
and use a Winston Cup racer or Indy car, it would be legal to own and
use any of these guns, as long as you operated them on private
property. And you could transport (i.e. carry) them on
government-maintained streets or roads; you just couldn't operate
them there without meeting additional requirements.
There are, of course, a few problems with the idea of regulating guns
like cars. Perhaps the most obvious is that there could be instances
when it was necessary to operate your gun on a government-maintained
street or road - say, if you were assaulted while traveling and you
had to defend yourself with your gun before getting off the road.
Obviously it would be unfair for the police to write someone a
citation for defending his or her life in such a situation ("Yeah,
he's dead, and it looks like a justifiable homicide, but I've got to
write you a ticket for shooting him"), so some exceptions to the law
would have to be allowed in emergencies.
Of course, the idea of regulating guns like cars isn't a good
permanent policy. But, like the people at HCI say, it's a step in the
right direction. Eventually, restrictions on both guns and cars
should be made less stringent, but I've come to agree that this
guns-as-cars idea is workable in the interim.
No, regulating guns like cars isn't the perfect approach. But, like
they say about the Constitution, it's better than what we have now.
David Roberson is a writer living in Lincoln County, North Carolina.
He invites readers of TLE to e-mail him and suggest what they think
would be the firearm equivalent of the old Chrysler 440 wedge engine.
"NORFOLK, Va. - Defense Secretary William Cohen established a new
military command here Thursday that will direct troops and equipment
in response to terrorist attacks on U.S. soil."
Tim Krahling firstname.lastname@example.org notes:
"Hmm, '... in response to terrorist ...' both foreign and domestic,
no doubt. Isn't there a section in the 'Crime Bill' that defined
'certain activities' as terrorist activities?"
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