The shootings in Las Vegas have once again ignited the emotional and passionate debate centered around gun control. Currently, gun ownership per capita in the United States is 112.6 per 100 citizens. The next closest? Serbia with 58.6. Rather than stomp our feet and shout “something must be done!”, it is time to actually look at what policies can be enacted to curb gun violence in the United States. Before I continue, I think that it is important for me to say that I am fully supportive the entire second amendment. Now, what do I mean when I say entire second amendment? Well, interestingly enough, fellow supporters of the second amendment often times forget that the amendment itself has more than one clause. The amendment does not simply read: “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. For clarification, I’ve included the entire text of the amendment here (emphasis mine):
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
You cannot look into the mirror and with a straight face say that our militia is currently well regulated. You cannot in good conscious say that there is nothing we can do to curb gun violence. Now, am I advocating that the federal government round up all the guns in the country and take them from people who bought them legally? Absolutely not. 99% of gun owners are responsible, well meaning citizens who own arms for the uses of protection and recreation. There is nothing wrong with owning a firearm to protect your family, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying a day at the shooting range. If you haven’t tried skeet shooting before, I’d highly recommend you do.
But before we go on, I think it is important to point out the biggest issue around our gun control debate, and it actually has to do with the statistic I presented at the beginning of this piece concerning guns per capita in the USA. Too often, the gun control debate turns into everybody with a keyboard lamenting at the fact that we have so many firearms in circulation. People complain that Europe doesn’t have this issue because guns aren’t readily available for purchase, and that may be a valid point! But how does this observation get us any closer to a solution? The reality in Europe is far different from the one here. Millions of guns are in circulation in the USA, and they aren’t going anywhere. You can stomp your feet and hold your breath as long as you’d like, but you will not walk into the homes of gun owners and ever be able to take their guns away. In other words, stop wasting your time talking about how you wish things were and focus on reality.
So what can we do?
I think that while enacting certain gun control measures is important, I actually believe that ammunition control is where most of our efforts should be focused. Why? Because at this point, with so many guns in circulation, there is no realistic way to regulate what is already on the market. While guns can be used for decades after purchased, changing hands numerous times without anybody knowing, ammunition is constantly used by gun owners, creating an everlasting demand. Guns don’t kill people.
People kill people. The ammunition in guns kills people. And it’s time to focus on regulating that. But how? The rest of this piece will make a number of suggestions that are designed to be effective measures that also refrain from unfairly punishing responsible gun owners. I do not doubt that many of you will say it goes too far, or that it does not go far enough. However, instead of telling me why these ideas may not work, I would challenge you to give me alternatives that you believe do.
- Firearm Identification Numbers
Currently, any firearm dealer is required to store the name and basic information of any customer indefinitely in case the government should ever need that information. However, federal law currently prevents the government from holding this information in a centralized ledger that they could access. What does this mean? Simply, this means that in order for authorities to gather information on any gun crime, they must go through an antiquated, inefficient process that often requires them to scour throw HANDWRITTEN PAPERWORK provided to them by whatever firearm dealer they think may have sold somebody a weapon. I haven’t dealt with handwritten paperwork since 9th grade Algebra, why should federal authorities?
Now, this may make too much sense, but I believe that every gun owner should have a “Firearm ID Account Number”, that is registered with the Bureau of Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This ID would index all purchases made under a certain ID number, so when firearms or ammunition is bought, the transaction would then be put under the corresponding account. This would give the government a centralized database of who was buying what, where and when. This information would also be available to firearm dealers. You’ll see the use of this idea as the other ones are introduced.
2) Serialization of bullet casings
Almost everything we buy has a serial number on it, and ammunition should be no different. In order for item one to work, we would need a way to trace each individual round, and serialization is the best way to do that. Yes, there are countless amounts of rounds currently in circulation without a serial number on them, so what do we do about that?
Well, if we were to enact an exchange program that allowed old rounds to be swapped out for new rounds, we could effectively replace a large number of “old rounds” with our serialized “new rounds”. In order to cut down on waste, any “old rounds” from could then just be repackaged for military use. Yes, some rounds used by civilians would not be compatible with any military grade weaponry, but this process doesn’t have to be perfect so long that it is effective. Furthermore, no citizen exchanging their ammunition would be forced to pay, because, this would be a military purchase of rounds that they’ll end up purchasing anyway (I’m not making this up, the US military spends upwards of $1 billion each year on new ammunition). And yes, I know: Not everybody is going to turn in their old rounds, but this will significantly cut the number of “old rounds” in circulation, which abbreviates the amount of time before all/most unserialized bullets are expended.
Regardless, even without an exchange program, the serialization of shell casings would in time be a very useful tool for curtailing gun violence. This is because it would allow us to enact a….
3) Quota on Unused Ammunition
With a centralized ledger indexing firearm transactions, and serial numbers on each round, we could now begin enforcing certain regulations. Once again, while one person can buy one gun and use it forever, they must constantly buy ammunition. This means that regulating ammunition will be far more effective than regulating firearms themselves. Most mass shootings would not be possible without a stockpile of previously unused ammunition, so this is something that should be looked at. A quota on unused ammunition would limit the amount of rounds one could purchase for the purpose of stockpiling them. However, I don’t believe in infringing on the rights of the 99% of gun owners who would never even dream of using their weapon to end an innocent life. So, let me explain how this would work:
Say the quota is set at 1,000 unused rounds. Now, let’s assume that you then buy 1,000 rounds for your gun, meeting the quota limit. If you decide to go out for a day on the shooting range and, say, fire 100 rounds, you would be able to turn in the 100 shells (which would have a matching serial number) to prove that you used the ammunition. Then, you would be at 900 unused rounds, allowing you to purchase 100 more rounds in the place of the 100 you had just used. Essentially, this regulation would ensure that people are using ammunition as they buy it, instead of buying it up over time and creating massive stockpiles of it. This would all be tracked using your Firearm ID as well as the serial numbers on the rounds you purchased. I hope this makes as much sense to you as it does to me. Also, don’t give weight to the 1,000 unused rounds figure I just used, that was just an example. I won’t pretend to know what an appropriate number for this kind of quota would be.
To be more clear, this is not a quota on ammo itself, it is just a quota on unused ammunition. Is this a bit of a hassle? Perhaps, but is anybody under the impression that curtailing gun violence is going to be easy? In order to accomplish what the vast majority of us want to accomplish, both sides will have to compromise.
4) Outlaw bump stocks
This piece is getting a bit long, so this point will be very short. In order for the shooter in Las Vegas to achieve a firing rate similar to that of a fully automatic weapon, the shooter had to make an alteration to his semi automatic rifle. By buying a bump stock, which are currently legal to buy but illegal to use (what?), the shooter was able to effectively make all of his weapons fully automatic. Outlawing these might be a good idea. If you want more information on bump stocks, and how they work, you can read an article on them here.
There are a number of reasonable measures that I did not lay out in this piece. Preventing people who are on the no fly list to buy weapons is not a perfect idea, but it is certainly one worth discussing further. Outlawing the sales of extended magazines is also another good idea, and the reasoning behind it is intuitive enough so that I don’t have to explain it in this piece. Lastly, the CDC is currently not allowed to receive funding for studying gun violence. This is the result of a massive effort from the NRA to prevent such research, and it is time to effectively combat that.
At the end of the day, our gun control debate needs to be based in reality, and for as long as I can remember, it hasn’t been. Taking everybody’s guns away from them isn’t feasible. Neither is banning the sale of firearms. I am sure that many of you may take exception to some of the ideas I have proposed, and I welcome your thoughts on them. It is not lost on me that these proposals would take a number of years to permeate society. No gun control legislation will be effective for a number of years, and it is important to understand that and set realistic expectations. These ideas are merely “rough drafts” in need of further refining. But, to reiterate my thinking, and the broader point of this piece, I believe that regulating ammunition is a far more effective approach than only trying to regulate guns themselves. What do you think?