PARIS -- Anyone who can't withstand a rational debate on the subject of gun control -- particularly in light of last week's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut -- should be automatically prohibited from ever owning a firearm. In fact, this should be the number-one requirement of gun ownership: Can someone applying for ownership of a deadly weapon withstand an hour-long debate against someone in favor of gun control without resorting to physical or verbal assault?
Is it too much to ask that every person wanting to possess a firearm be subject to a battery of tests -- everything from intelligence and emotional quotient exams to a psychological evaluation and background check? When America's Founding Fathers drew up the Second Amendment, they didn't do so with the mentally stunted, emotionally disturbed and deeply insecure in mind. Back in their time, life was relatively challenging unto itself, and they must have figured that anyone who could survive day-to-day existence could surely handle a firearm if need be.
A question that has repeatedly come up since the Sandy Hook shootings is why America has so much more gun violence than other Western nations. The best explanation is that the Constitution defines and underpins culture. In fact, nearly every element in any Western democracy can be traced back to its constitutional roots.
The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms, but in other countries -- Canada, for example -- the right to own a gun is not a given. The onus is on an individual to prove he's mature, competent and sane enough to own one. As a result, no one in Canada grows up thinking of guns as a natural appendage. Gun ownership is seen as a privilege one must earn. Is there really anything so backward about that? Or is it preferable to arm everyone and pray for the best?
Canadian law requires a license and a safety course in order to own, borrow or store any sort of firearm. Police conduct a criminal background check and a safety screening to ascertain whether an applicant has "threatened or attempted suicide, suffered from or been diagnosed or treated by a medical practitioner for: depression; alcohol, drug or substance abuse; behavioral problems; or emotional problems," or "been reported to the police or social services for violence, threatened or attempted violence, or other conflict in your home or elsewhere," or recently suffered a relationship breakdown, job loss or bankruptcy. If an ex-wife tells the cops that perhaps you are not sane, then too bad for you.
Such a regulatory process also means fewer guns floating around. But what if a criminal did happen to be packing heat? Would you wish that you had a weapon so you could have a movie-style shootout? No, you would swallow your pride and let him take what he wanted, then call the insurance company.
Believe me, I understand the acute frustration one feels when being robbed or otherwise victimized. I was mugged on the subway in Paris last year. We both could have had guns, but thankfully neither of us did in a country with tight gun control. (The perpetrator would have had the advantage of foresight anyway, while I would have fumbled around trying to find mine.)
So how can America go about fixing its gun laws? Well, it's complicated, because all the crazies are mixed in with the sane gun owners. Since there was no sanity litmus test at the outset, how about implementing mandatory license renewal complete with psychological evaluations and background checks? Anyone failing to comply with a basic psychological competency test should have his weapons revoked.
It would likely take at least a generation to better balance individual gun rights with everyone else's right to their own day-to-day freedom and safety, but the shift in cultural mind-set needs to start somewhere.
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