Safe, Legal, and Rare: Why Not Guns, Too?
President Obama has an idea that can bring the contentious gun control debate to an end, in a manner that should be satisfactory to all sides. His idea is "safe, legal, and rare" .
Applied here, it means that guns should be safe, legal, and rare ("SLR-guns"). Those of you expecting access to your Second Amendment rights, don't be too bothered by "rare." It is somewhat contradictory, but other "safe, legal, and rare" applications ("SLR-other") experience a near-doubling of their underlying volumes once legality is affirmed.
Before considering the particulars of SLR-guns, we should note our president's reasonable appreciation for already existing laws and rules:
I actually think - I mean, there are laws both federal, state and constitutional that are in place. And I think that this is an area where I think Bill Clinton had the right formulation a couple of decades ago, which is ... safe, legal, and rare.
There are a whole host of laws on the books that after a certain period, the interests shift such that you can have some restrictions ... and appropriately so. So there is in fact a set of rules in place ... people still argue about it and still deeply disagree about it. And that's part of our - that's part of our democratic way.
As the president has also sagely observed, we know that "each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."
Surely he is right, but we need not fret about the risk of caricature here because SLR-guns is an elegant off-the-shelf answer liberals already support. I expect that, once seriously pondered, it will also gain the favor of staunch Second Amendment-supporting conservatives. Herein, the merits of SLR-guns are outlined for the reader's thoughtful consideration.
Safe. Safety is the first step. Specifically, SLR-guns seeks to establish safe gun sellers, safe gun buyers, and guns that function as intended. The regulation and inspection of gun businesses, established product liability laws, and gun licensing and permitting, and the availability of gun training, all combine to suggest that the gun trade is already quite safe. Consider:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the most prominent regulator of firearms. For example, in order to sell firearms, an individual must be licensed with ATF as a Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealer. An FFL holder is required to keep meticulous records of all firearms acquired and sold. These records include the firearm's serial and model number, the manufacturer, the caliber and type of firearm, the date of the transfer and the person to whom the firearm is sold. These records must be kept in a bound volume and ready for inspection by ATF agents.
Additionally, federal laws govern how and under what conditions a firearm may be sold to an individual. For example, every gun purchaser must complete an ATF form 4473. On this form, they must provide verification of identity and answer questions regarding any criminal history, mental competency and drug use, among other things.
In some respects, current gun safety requirements -- regulation, permitting/licensing, and transaction tracking -- are more stringent than are SLR-other's current safety requirements. The gun safety advantage has resulted in very low accident and mortality statistics, even as compared with SLR-other.
Legal. No one wants to return to the days of dangerous back-alley gun deals. This is a no-brainer for liberals, who have cited back-alley risk for years. Surely conservatives also have an aversion to good people dying "on the floor" in pursuit of their Second Amendment rights. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has been a real friend of the "legal" in "safe, legal, and rare" and her support shows that advocating for SLR-guns is advocating for life. Life demands that guns be legal.
Rare. SLR-guns seeks rarity in terms of the number, type, and use of guns. Fortunately, many things are already in place to make guns rare, but at least one more step should be taken.
Many firearms and firearm-related products are banned under federal law. For example, it is illegal to manufacture and sell to the public sawed-off shotguns, silencers, machine guns, and armor-piercing ammunition.
There is at least one more step that must be taken to achieve gun rarity, and that is to get the U.S. government out of the illicit gun distribution business. You may not have heard, but President Obama's Justice Department distributed thousands of guns to criminals. If we are to fulfill the president's "safe, legal, and rare" dream, this must stop. Finally, any further tightening of criminal laws and penalties will reduce the opportunity for the use of guns, making gun incidents even rarer.
Seen through President Obama's "safe, legal, and rare" lens, the domestic gun trade is fully ensconced in a regulatory housing robustly favored by liberals. Guns' government regulation, inspection, licensing, waiting periods, product liability, training, transaction tracking, quality, legality, background checks, and type restrictions suggest that SLR-guns is already in place. In fact, today's SLR-guns framework may even be overdone and excessive, potentially meriting an easing of its restrictions in a manner more consistent with the lighter regulatory hand that is applied elsewhere in the name of "safe, legal, and rare."
In any event, perhaps we can all embrace SLR-guns and make the divisive debate about banning guns a thing of the past. After all, "each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature." We can refrain from caricature and move on. SLR-guns is the way forward. Now on to foie gras in California, Big Gulps in New York, tax cuts for the rich, coal-fired power plants, and strip-mining -- all of which can be "safe, legal, and rare," too!
 A deep debt of gratitude is owed to President Obama, who has penned and uttered innumerable words in support of "safe, legal, and rare." This article particularly relied upon the 2006 Sojourners/Call to Renewal Address on Faith and Politics, the 2008 New Mexico forum, and the 2009 Notre Dame commencement speech.