Hours ago, there was a shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana. Last week, a military recruiting station and Naval Operational Support Center were attacked. And before that, the sentencing of a shooter who attacked a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado years ago.
There aren't many issues that incite ire and outrage like the gun debate. We keep having these shootings, yet nothing seems to change for the better. That seems to be in part because the battle lines are so sharply drawn.
On one side, you have "gun rights" advocates declaring that no one can regulate or legislate their right to own as many firearms as possible. They insist that the 2nd amendment gives them carte blanche to do whatever they please with guns. The behavior of this side ranges from crazy to also crazy. Some choose to mount 'open carry' demonstrations where they can brandish assault rifles in retail establishments and restaurants; others -- often those most afraid of government overreach -- post up outside military recruitment centers to protect the troops they both fear and love from terrorists.
On the other side of the debate, you have a tiny minority advocating for a complete ban on guns. While their position doesn't put anyone at risk from accidental discharges or deadly public signaling failures, it is absolutely an impractical (and unconstitutional) solution for a country that owns as many firearms as America.
But the truth is that most of us are somewhere in the middle. We want to protect our communities. We want to keep our children safe when they go to school and ensure that our neighbors can go to work without fear of being killed because of the uniform they wear.
As a 12-year Navy veteran who taught hundreds of Sailors how to effectively employ firearms and non-lethal weapons in the use of force, I think the middle is where our lawmakers need to get, and fast. I would assert that we need common sense reform for what we need to do, at the state level, to maintain our constitutional right to bear arms while arming ourselves with the tools to be safer in public.
In order to carry a weapon while in the military, a service member must complete a series of requirements to qualify on each individual weapon. Aboard my first ship, I spent a lot more time on the shooting range than most other Sailors because I was in charge of the work center responsible for maintaining and repairing the weapons, as well as for training all of the Sailors at our unit in their employment. Despite the range time I logged, I was still required to shoot a firearms qualification course and attend weapons familiarization training at least once a year. Special forces -- the baddest of the badasses -- too are required to train on these weapons exponentially more than other units.
So what does this process I'm proposing look like? It looks like an online application, perhaps even completed on your smartphone or a tablet at the store from which a consumer is purchasing their firearm. Within that online application, you can submit your background check and mental health evaluation questionnaires. This mental health evaluation would need to be conducted by a third-party doctor, in person, who will have already reviewed your questionnaire that was filled out between 1 and 30 days in advance. They would be paid in a manner similar to Medicare (i.e. they apply after your visit and the state reimburses).
The ten-day waiting period that we have here in California should still apply, but if you've gone online, applied for your gun license, and completed your background check, mental health evaluation, and 40 hours of training, then you can have a temporary license sent to the licensed firearms dealer of your choice. Consumers showing up without an independent confirmation from the agency to the dealer would not be able to get their weapons. If you are a regular gun purchaser, this process would only happen once per year. If you purchase another firearm between 365 days and 4 years after your initial purchase, you'll have to go through that same background and mental health screening again.
If you do not purchase another weapon, then your firearms license would be renewed on a five-year cycle. After the five years elapsed, and synced with your driver's license, you would go through the background check and mental health evaluations again. Eventually, when you receive your replacement driver's license, you will now have an icon that shows you are a registered gun owner. There could also be a concealed carry icon so that a police officer, bar security, or anyone else you're in close quarters with will know that you are a gun owner -- for your safety and theirs.
The best part about all of this? The costs don't fall on you as you're purchasing the gun. They are covered by ammunition purchases: five cents per round for the first five years that the law is in place, dropping to two cents per round after that. The money that the state sees from this revenue would go toward processing, enforcement, mental health checks, training, and other costs associated with this law.
Before you tell me how I am violating your rights by proposing a record of gun owners, note that the constitution does not say that you have the right to bear arms and not tell anyone. We regulate chemicals, elevators, airplanes, and financial transactions -- and none of those are specifically designed to kill other human beings.
What I'm proposing isn't revolutionary -- it's common sense. It falls in the middle of some really crazy arguments on all sides, exactly where so many of us in this country are, too. But nonetheless, some will say that I'm using this crisis as a political opportunity to push my leftist agenda. This is a cheap and craven line to get out of a tough and necessary conversation. The fact is that, without fresh blood on the ground, no one is listening. We have to have these discussions while families are mourning. We have to care about this beyond prayer, empathy, and hand-wringing. We have to actually make change.
It's time to be reasonable. It's time to respect each others' lives as much as we respect each others' rights. It's time to require training and screening for all firearms.