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Of licensing cars and drivers

February 4, 2019

No. Not really. This is the second in what will probably be about five postings dealing with arguments I frequently (as in almost inevitably) encounter when discussing the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) and gun control. The first posting in the series can be found here. Oh, and my apologies to Francis Bacon.

I call today’s pro gun control argument the “we license cars and drivers so we should license guns and gun owners” argument. I don’t know exactly when I first encountered it, but it was a long while ago. Like I noted in the first post of this series, “arguments for the ongoing efforts to further restrict the right to keep and bear arms…are never new.” This is just one of many that occasionally rears its ugly head, brought up by yet another fresh-faced gun control advocate (GCA) who is convinced he or she has discovered The Argument. That is, the one that will justify severe restrictions (euphemistically referred to as “common sense”) on a specifically enumerated and protected right. What’s interesting about this one is that it covers so much ground, including registration and licensing of cars, licensing of drivers and state-mandated training. The argument is normally introduced something like this:

GCA: Well, we license and register cars. We license drivers – after they take a driving course and pass a written and practical test. We do all that to keep people safe. Shouldn’t we do AT LEAST as much with guns? After all, we’re talking about a deadly weapon, here.

There is so much there to be unpacked, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with this: to many people, this seems to be such a strong and reasonable argument. And it is. Until you scratch the surface. So, let’s do that. Let’s scratch the surface.

“We license and register cars.”

We do indeed do that. It is important to understand that the primary purpose of doing so is to generate revenue for the state. Taxes, regardless of the form they take, are always accompanied by one or more benefits we are assured they will provide. After all, it would be political suicide to declare “we’re going to take more of your money” and not suggest people will get something for that.* In the case of  the taxes or fees paid to the state DMV, a common use and justification is public road maintenance. This doesn’t seem too terribly applicable to gun ownership. GCAs, in my experience, are not inclined to mandate that the state spend funds to maintain my private gun range. What I’m usually told is one of two things. Either registration will help recover my property if one of my guns is stolen or it will help identify the owner if the gun is used in a crime and recovered.


There already exists a method by which a stolen gun can be identified if it turns up. We call it the serial number. There is no stamp or tag affixed to a gun. If one is found, the only way to identify it is by its serial number. Registration would not change such a thing. I submit, then, that the whole “it will help you recover your stolen property” argument, at least as regards firearms, is bogus.

I am not a big fan of comparing what was done in country A with what was done in country B. Countries have their own cultures, which make comparisons suspect, at best. It is worth noting, however, that Canada abandoned its flirtation with gun registration due to cost and its failure as a crime solving tool. I’m calling the crime-solving benefits we are assured will arise from gun registration bogus, too.

In most states of which I am aware, do you know when cars have to be registered and licensed? When they will be used on public roads. You know, the roads for which the license and registration fees help pay, as opposed to the private roads that lead up to a hunting club’s deer cabin or someone’s farm or ranch.

Ultimately, of course, the idea of gun registration presumes the state has any legitimate need to know what specific items of personal property one owns. I am unaware of any such need. It is at about this point that someone will usually argue that “guns can be used to harm others” as justification for registration. In the hands of someone inclined to harm others, this is true. It also happens to be true of the commonly available items that make black powder, in the hands of a person inclined to harm and kill dozens or multiple score at a time. Think of a computer in the hands of a pedophile. All of those are bad. Some, so repugnant as to defy description. And none of them justification for the state knowing what items of personal property you own.

We license drivers – after they take a driving course and pass a written and practical test

This, too, is true. Overlooked, of course, are the following:

Drivers ed is, in the vast majority of cases, a course that is taken once in one’s life. In all the states of which I am aware, if a first time driver is past a certain age (which varies from state to state), no course is necessary at all. The written and practical tests are both simple and also of the take once in your life variety. I have had a driver’s license, at various times, in North Carolina, Tennessee, California, Arizona and Texas. I took drivers ed, along with a written and practical test, once. In North Carolina. In 1978. Since then, every time I renewed my license, or moved to a different state and got a license in that state, I have merely paid the fee charged by that state.

Those are not the sorts of things the GCAs who suggest “treating gun owners like drivers” seem to have in mind. They typically argue for additional and ongoing mandated training, along with the option for the issuing authority to decline to issue the license for…reasons. Meaning, of course, that they don’t really want to treat gun owners like drivers. It was just a handy way of trying to suck you into accepting what they actually wanted. Besides, driving is a privilege, while the RKBA is a specifically enumerated and protected right. No other right do they suggest licensing.

We do all that to keep people safe.

No, we do all that to generate income for the state to spend. The arguments for what GCAs want for guns and gun owners don’t hold up when applied to cars and drivers (a fair application, given that it is cars and drivers that are used as the justification).

Shouldn’t we do AT LEAST as much with guns? After all, we’re talking about a deadly weapon, here.

Which part of right vs privilege is unclear to you? At what point did you begin to conflate the two? Allow me to suggest that the “deadly weapon” argument provides an enormous clue as to what is going on. GCAs simply do not trust their fellow citizens, nor do they respect them, although the great majority of their fellow citizens will never commit a violent crime with or without a gun. Instead, they reserve their respect, at least as regards access to force and its tools, for government. This in spite of the appalling record government in general racked up during the 20th century in its use of force – against citizens.

Still, I’m willing to discuss treating guns and gun owners like we do cars and drivers, if you’re really serious. Here’s what I want on the table as regards guns, along with a corresponding reference to what we do with cars.

  1. License to carry a firearm and registration of guns – “treat guns and gun owners like drivers”
    1. Shall issue rather than may issue, just like with a driver’s license. I am unaware of  any state that makes a provision for the withholding of a license after a person successfully jumps through all the mandated hoops, including paying a modest (and sometimes nominal) fee.
    2. Renewal shall be contingent upon paying the renewal fee.
    3. Acquiring a license upon moving to another state, shall require paying the fee mandated by the new state of residence.
    4. Each license issued by the state of residence and is sufficient for use throughout that state.
    5. Each state shall recognize the licenses of other states, eliminating the legal risk gun owners encounter when transiting certain states with their home state legal firearm in their possession.
    6. Mandatory training shall be of the same sort as that for a driver’s license, as shall the test. Training can be obtained at a wide variety of state approved providers. After a given age, no such training will be mandated.
    7. No limits upon what guns one can own or carry. Just as a driver can own and drive a car of any horsepower and torque, any passenger capacity, fuel type or capacity, number of gears and type of transmission, there shall be no restrictions upon caliber, ballistic performance, number of rounds, length of barrel or type of action.
    8. No limits upon how much ammo a gun owner may possess, just as drivers can keep bulk fuel.
    9. Just as one can buy a car without possessing a driver’s license, no license will be required to purchase a firearm.
    10. A person can own as many firearms as he or she can afford, just as can be done with cars.
    11. Registration is to be limited to firearms actually used on public property and licensing limited to those who carry them on public property. You know, like with cars. If a person changes the firearm(s) used on public property, the original(s) no longer need to be registered.
    12. Licensing fees will be used to improve the shooting sports and access to them, just as the fees related to cars and drivers are used to do things like improve roads
    13. Any and all insurance shall be determined by the state of residence and shall be recognized as sufficient by any state the gun owner shall visit. If a person’s state of residence chooses to have no insurance requirements (think New Hampshire), then that too is sufficient. Bear in mind that since insurers don’t insure against criminal activity on the part of the insured, insurance is probably not the option GCAs insist it is.

If you are an advocate for “treating guns and gun owners like cars and drivers,” the above should be acceptable. If it is not, allow me to suggest you are either

  1. unaware of the laws regarding cars and drivers, or
  2. blatantly dishonest

FWIW, I could probably add more to the above list, but I think that’s enough to make the point.

*This is not to suggest taxes are never necessary. Rather, the point is that the purpose of a tax is to generate money for the state to spend. Whether the thing on which it is spent is desirable is a separate question.


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