A Proposal For Enacting Firearms Accountability

In the U.S. there are 235 million adults (http://goo.gl/BqL7o)
… who collectively own 270M guns (http://goo.gl/NPUhX)
… 57 million of whom suffer from a diagnosable mental illness (http://goo.gl/RTpU)

I posted the above on my Facebook page shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting. With so much heated and distorted rhetoric around guns, I wanted to capture a few core statistics that were both inarguable and representative of the magnitude of the issue.  Simply put, guns permeate every aspect of our society.  1.2 guns per adult. 4.7 guns per mentally-ill adult. 38 guns per [census] block.  They are everywhere.

Firearms are the most powerful and lethal commodity you can buy in the U.S.  But the right to wield power – any power – must always be tempered with a corresponding obligation to insure that power is used wisely.  Failure to recognize this has tragic consequences, as we’ve all seen.  In the context of gun rights, this obligation manifests as the background checks, licensing, and waiting periods that go along with purchasing a gun.  But these vary from state-to-state and, more importantly, only apply to new gun purchases.  Once a weapon enters the private sector, these checks disappear.  Not only are there no checks, there is no record keeping.  This lack of accountability is staggeringly irresponsible.  Not only does it make assigning blame for crimes difficult after the fact, it fails to establish how important we, as a society, believe proper handling and storage of firearms to be. Thus, I humbly propose the following …

To establish firearm accountability

The Federal government will establish a national firearms registry (“Registry”), with the goal of creating a comprehensive database of all current and future firearms ownership.

All sales and transfers of firearms will be recorded in this database. In effect, this assign an individual name to every gun in circulation.

This database will contain basic contact information for gun owners and identification information for firearms.  Furthermore, for firearms manufactured after enactment of this system, manufacturers will provide ballistic information (e.g. for use in forensic analysis) for each weapon they produce.

Any and all firearms transfers or changes of ownership must be submitted to this registry w/in 15 days of the transaction.

For any crime involving a firearm, the owner of record will be treated as an accessory to the crime.

A network of firearms Disposal Agencies to be established and available to the public. (Nominally comprised of gun manufacturers, wholesale and retail agencies firearms outlets, and law-enforcement agencies).  These Disposal Agencies will be trained and certified in the proper disposal of firearms.

Any unclaimed or unregistered firearms that come to the attention of authorities will be held for 90 days. After this 90 days unclaimed firearms will be disposed of at a Disposal Agency.

To protect firearm owner privacy

Access to the Registry is restricted to:

  • Law-enforcement agents, who may only use the Registry for determining legality of firearms possession. Personal information may _not_ to be released to these agents. I.e. their interaction with this system is restricted to yes-or-no questions of the form, “Does person X own gun Y?”
  • Criminal investigators, who may use the Registry to determine ownership information for firearms and individuals.

Comments and Notes

  • The Registry described above is currently prohibited by the Firearm Owners Protection Act (1986), see historic/legal perspective.
  • Awesome interactive map of per-state gun-control laws.
  • Currently there are 140,000 gun dealers in the U.S.
  • When the 2nd Amendment was penned (1791) 4M people lived in the U.S., which was 10% it’s current size.  I.e. Population density was ~1/10th what it is currently, we had no national militia to speak of, subsistance living was commonplace, and transportation was generally limited to ~30 mi/day travel.
  • Private sales of firearms in Oregon are governed by ORS 166.426, which states sellers “may” use a service (FICS) provided by the State Police to request a background check.  This service does has a per-transaction fee of $10 and requires the recipient of the firearm to be present at the time of the request (which would seem somewhat problematic).  Using this service grants the seller civil immunity for any use of the firearm after the transfer.


5 responses to “A Proposal For Enacting Firearms Accountability”

  1. Robert, while I don’t disagree that much with your proposal, I do take issue with the fast and loose insinuation based on the inarguable statistics. You don’t specifically say that each mentally-ill adult in the US has 4.7 guns, however the implication is there. This is a sloppy emotional argument that is used by modern journalists. Why not use a different group, say racing cyclists. There are 70,829 of them, (http://www.usacycling.org/forms/media/2012-Fact-Sheet.pdf). By your logic that works out to 3318 guns per racing cyclist. While I know plenty of racing cyclists who own handguns and semiautomatic guns, I don’t know any of them who own 3318 guns of any kind. Let’s leave the hyperbole for the professionals.

  2. I can’t imagine anyone reading that simple ratio as an implication that the mentally ill are armed to the teeth.

    • Ray, the point of the first paragraph was to point out that we as a country are armed to the teeth. Why bring up the group of mentally ill unless to make an emotional argument?

    • @gordon – I’m comfortable with what I’ve said. Yes, it might be (mis)interpreted as the mentally ill being gun-crazy, but that was not my intent. Please feel free to suggest a more appropriate way of comparing these two hot-topic issues (guns and mentally ill) and I’ll be happy to update here.

  3. @gordon – I brought up the mentally ill because they are at the center of the current gun debate. Guns in the hands of irrational people is, fundamentally, why we have the kinds of headlines that have been in the news lately.

    I’m genuinely struggling for a way to express the relative numbers of guns and mentally ill that isn’t alarming. I used the numbers and phrasing more for brevity than anything else. Admittedly, I’m not particularly interested in down-playing the severity of this problem, but neither do I think it needs someone to fan the flames either.