We Register Cars, Why Not Guns?
Clyde H. Spencer, Copyright 1999

Even though the California voters resoundingly defeated a proposition to register guns in 1982, once again there is a movement to register guns and license gun owners.  The misguided rationale seems to be that since people submit to registering their cars and obtaining licenses to drive them, they should be willing to submit to the same for all their other property, such as guns.  Notwithstanding the fact that owning and driving a car is unarguably a legal privilege, and owning a gun is arguably a  right, it would be instructive to make further comparisons.

Why do we register cars?  We register them to tax them, plain and simple. Those taxes support numerous government activities, typically related to maintaining the extensive infrastructure related to the use and misuse of cars.  Incidental to registration is that cars are provided with license plates that make them uniquelytes that make them uniquely identifiable in public.  Thereby, if police wish to chase a particular vehiclee containing someone who is suspected of committing some crime, the vehicle can be differentiated readily from the numerous other similar cars on the road.  However, hot pursuit of handguns is unheard of.  When it comes to recovering a stolen vehicle, the serial number on the engine is ultimately the most important identification since license plates can be taken off easily, or replaced with stolen plates that don't belong to that car.  All modern firearms similarly come from the factory with serial numbers.

Recently, we have used registration of cars to insure compliance with smog regulations.  This is hardly applicable to firearms.

We license drivers to collect taxes, and to be sure that drivers have mastered the rather complex set of motor skills to actually operate a vehicle and to be able to safely navigate amongst the other cars they share the road with.  There is also a large body of laws that specifically proscribe complex legal behavior while operating a vehicle on a public roadway - dotted yellow lines, solid yellow lines, double yellow lines, etc.  We also license drivers to be sure that they don't have any physical impairments that would make them a hazard on the road to other drivers.  Having a physical impairmentsical impairment rarely prevents anyone from shooting a gun.  In fact, they may have a greater need for a gun than those who don't have physical handicaps and can run away or fight back against an assailant.

Now, recognizing those above mentioned reasons for registration and licensing, it should be noted that there is no requirement for either if a car is not going to be driven on public roads.  That is, if one only drives their vehicle on private land, there is no requirement for registration or licensing.  If you want to buy a classic vehicle and park it in your garage and admire it, there is no requirement for registration or licensing.  And, you can buy as many cars as you like, with as powerful an engine as you like, with the only restriction being what you can personally afford. Again, driving a car is a legal privilege that only requires registration and licensing if used on public roadways.  By analogy, anyone wanting a gun for self-defense in their home or business should not have to register their gun or obtain a license.

Target shooters usually use their guns at privately owned ranges, so there is no compelling public interest in taxing guns used at private ranges.  In the case of hunters, using their guns on public land, they long ago willingly imposed taxes onimposed taxes on themselves through the purchase of guns and ammunition and hunting licenses to support their activities.

The operation of a gun is much simpler than the operation of a car and doesn't require the degree of skill or coordination required for driving a car.  Even children understand the basic operation of firearms, thanks to all the Hollywood movies.  One doesn't have to understand to press the gas pedal down and turn the key until the engine starts, and then release the key from the detent position.  Nor, does one need to disengage a clutch and shift gears while simultaneously giving the engine additional gas and slowly releasing the clutch.  One doesn't have to know what a myriad collection of switches and knobs accomplish.  If one wants to be an Olympic class shooter, then years of training are necessary. 

However, the average driver is no more prepared to be an Indianapolis race car driver than the average gun owner is capable of competition shooting.  Yet, both the average driver and average gun owner can adequately use their property for their desired task.  If a gun owner doesn't take the time to learn how to load the weapon, or take the safety off, there is little danger from it. Beyond that, there is little else neededttle else needed to discharge a firearm beyond pointing and pulling the trigger.  A gun owner really only need be concerned about a few things: The use of deadly force is only justified in situations where someone's life is presumed to be in danger.  Therefore, a gun should never be brandished or pointed at any person unless it is intended to kill that person.  A gun should always be treated with the respect and caution that is justified by something that is capable of killing another person - something that many car drivers forget.  With respect to the issue of safety, accidental firearm deaths have been declining for decades and are at an all-time low.  There would seem to be little need for extraordinary effort to deal with a problem of little magnitude.

Now, what are the reasons commonly stated for registering guns? Presumably, the law enforcement community claims that it will help solve crimes.  Even if ballistic forensics associates a particular gun with a crime, knowing who legally owns the gun will probably be of little help.  Any criminal with intelligence enough to tie his shoelaces isn't going to use a gun registered in his name to commit a crime.  Therefore, one can readily predict that career criminals aren't going to register their register their guns, even if they could.  However, one of the consequences of registration might well be an increase in the theft of firearms as would-be criminals, who do not yet have a criminal record, steal or purchase stolen guns to commit their crimes, because they know that the purchase of a new gun would result in immediate registration.  Even today, when guns are rarely registered, a paper trail usually exists.  When crime guns are traced, one comes up with a list of either past owners or the original purchaser.  It doesn't provide the name of the individual who used the gun in a criminal act - nor will registration.  To do that still requires fingerprints, witnesses, or a confession. Knowing who the legitimate owner is, is superflous.

One potential benefit of registration would be the return of stolen guns to the legitimate owners - but I wouldn't bet on that happening!  On the other hand, when a gun is stolen now, the police ask for a description and the serial number.  If a nationwide database were created of stolen guns, they could potentially be returned.  I for one would be more than happy to pay the shipping costs and a small handling fee to get my personal property back.  Why are our legislators not proposing laws to see to laws to see to it that citizens have their personal property returned to them after being discovered to be stolen?  It wouldn't require registration of all guns, just a record of all guns reported stolen.  They could then be removed from the list of stolen guns once they were returned to their rightful owner.

The real social problem is illegal use of guns by what are by definition criminals.  It is neither appropriate or effective to impose restrictions or financial burdens on law-abiding citizens.  Another probable consequence of requiring a fee for owning a gun, is that retired people, living on fixed incomes, may find that given a choice between eating and keeping their gun, they would choose to buy food.  Yet, when one is old and frail, the need for self-protection, in the form of a gun, may be greater than when they were hale and hearty.  Our insensitive Democratic legislators, who feel that they know what is best for everyone, would take that right away if they had their way.  Also, violent crime is an activity of youth, not old people.  Yet, the proposed registration would apply to everyone.

No one is seriously suggesting that we should ban cars or somehow restrict ownership of cars by adults. However, the same cannot be said for guns.  Registration is aegistration is a strawman.  It only has two real uses: to collect taxes and to serve as a database for later confiscation of the guns.

In summary, as for the regulation of guns in a manner similar to motor vehicles, people would be allowed to have any number of guns, of any kind, and purchase them as often as they wish, as long as they did not use them on public property.  They would not be required to register them or pay any taxes as long as they didn't use any of their guns on public property.  They could pay a small tax in the form of a hunting license and then take their gun where they wished on public property, or obtain a permit for concealed carrying of their gun.  Hey, that's how it is now except for the kind of gun and frequency of purchase!  However, treating gun registration the same as autos is really not acceptable to the gun prohibitionists, nor is it what they want!  They are careful what they say in public about what they really want and hide their goals under cover of disingenuous words like "Assault Weapon, Saturday Night Special, Junk Gun, safety," and catchy phrases like "We register cars, why not guns?"


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