How gun control was solved elsewhere
As an immigrant in America, I sometimes feel uncomfortable raising my voice about some of the mine-field political issues that sweep the country; abortion, religion, health care and so on.
I particularly feel uncomfortable when my opinions are so clearly colored by where I grew up. I don’t want to be the person that seems to think things were better where he came from. I’m here for a reason, I love this country very much and am very thankful I’ve been allowed to move here.
But in the case of gun control, I feel I have a legitimate claim to a voice and a less common perspective. I do live here, a resident of the American Heartland, I am a gun owner and, crucial to the point I want to make, I’ve lived in a country with much stricter gun control.
When I bought my gun, a shotgun for hunting waterfowl, there was a background check performed. The store clerk faxed a form to the FBI, it took all but five minutes and whether I knew which side of the weapon was the sharp end or not had no bearing on their decision.
Which, no matter. If I wanted to, I could have skipped that check, since it only applies to gun stores. I bought my shotgun used, so if I’d bought it off of Craigslist, no checks would have been performed.
I feel utterly uncomfortable about this fact. Not because I feel uncomfortable with my own ownership of this gun - my family has hunted as long as I remember, and what my parents didn’t teach me about responsible handling and storage of weapons I learned from more formal, albeit brief, training with the Swedish National Guard.
I feel uncomfortable because this is pure happenstance. My ability to purchase a weapon has no relation to my ability to handle it in a manner that is safe to the people around me or to myself.
There is this odd implicit assumption that these issues are unique to America - that other countries came with comprehensive gun legislation at their inception.
A long time ago, before Sweden introduced the gun legislation it has today, hunting was not a sport for the majority of the population, it was an important source of food. As industrialization and urbanization progressed, this shifted - and at some point, the new urban class started pushing for gun control.
Just like in America, you can imagine that the people who wanted legislation around guns were not generally the same people who used them. Just like here in America, you can imagine how people that’d had guns in the family for many generations felt emasculated by people who did not share their views, who were outsiders of their “tribe”.
But legislation was passed - and it was not passed by steamrolling people on the countryside who used guns in their everyday lives, it was passed by the two groups collaborating and compromising.
Specifically, the compromise is, roughly, this: The federal police is ultimately responsible for issuing licenses for weapons. Licenses are specific to a weapon and to an individual, and are independent of how you acquire the weapon. If you want to own a gun, you must have a license issued to you for that specific gun.
That was the side of the compromise granted to the urban tribe. The other side of the compromise is this: The police outsources the training and certification to a third party - an NGO ran by gun owners, the National Hunters Association (NHA). The training required to get a license is designed by hunters in collaboration with the police, and is then carried out and certified by instructors from the NHA.
The specifics of the requirements are not super important to my point here - the point is that the compromise shows mutual trust and understanding. Licensing is put in place; but beyond ensuring it is fair and thorough, it is handled by people who are directly affected by it.
If you’ve read this far, you might guess at what I’m getting towards here.
Americans in general, for good reason, have very little faith in their government. While there are many concerns raised by gun owners against legislation, a common and important one is the depth of distrust in the American Government as the certifying authority and the fear of having guns confiscated by it.
Rather than laugh at this complaint, serious participants in the discussion should listen and recognize that it makes little difference what they think of this concern; instead, respect it as the earnest opinion of the other side of the debate, and find a compromise.
The obvious one, to me, would be to let the NRA design and carry out the training for gun licenses, in collaboration with the FBI. Make the law be such that the FBI must grant a license if a criminal background check is passed and the licensee passes the NRA’s certified training and tests; and make it such that the NRA must collaborate in earnest with the FBI to design fair and thorough tests for applicants to pass.
I realize this misses many, many concerns - like limits on the type of weapons you can purchase, or the number of guns and so on. But this is how we do this - a little bit of change at a time, with mutual respect and mutual reaching across the isles for compromises.