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Licensing Guns Like Driverís Licenses

Al Gore, trying hard to find an issue on which he can beat Governor Bush, has latched on to gun control. On July 12, Gore proposed national gun licenses with a photo, a fingerprint, and passing a safety test. Gore compared a national gun license to a driverís license. This sounds perfectly reasonable, since both cars and guns are potentially dangerous machinery that shouldnít be readily accessible to kids, drunks, or criminals. Surprisingly enough, many gun owners would jump at the chance to have guns licensed like cars. Especially for gun owners who live in California, New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC, this would be a dramatic improvement over the current system.

You donít need a license to drive a car on your own land or at a race track. You only need a license if you want to drive on public roads. If Gore wants a "national gun license" modeled on driverís licenses, it should only be required to carry a gun in public places. Like a driverís license, it shouldnít be required on your own property.

The tests for a driverís license are fairly undemanding; relatively few adults fail them. A national gun license Ė on Al Goreís model Ė should be similarly relaxed. But we can be pretty sure that this isnít what Al Gore has in mind.

When you apply for a driverís license, you donít need to persuade anyone at the DMV that you have a good reason to drive, and you donít have to wonder whether a bribe or a "campaign contribution" would improve your chances. Residents of New York City, and for that matter, many counties in California, would be overjoyed to see an end to the cronyism, racism, and "campaign contributions" associated with concealed weapon license issuance.

Once you have a driverís license, you can buy as many cars as you want. You can buy or sell from another private party without asking permission from the government. You can buy a racy looking Porsche or a boring Ford Ė and the government doesnít pass laws that prohibit Porsches because they can go 140 mph and appeal to teenagers of all ages. Many California, New York, and Massachusetts gun owners would be overjoyed to have that same level of freedom!

Your driverís license is accepted in every state. If you drive from California to Maine with a gun, and stop to visit your relatives, you commit felonies in several states Ė even if the gun is unloaded and locked in the trunk. If Gore is serious about this "national gun license" being like a driverís license, then every state will have to recognize a gun license issued by any other state.

At this point, Gore would doubtless respond, "but guns are different from cars. You have to treat them differently." (But Vice President Gore, this was your analogy!) Quite certainly guns are different from cars Ė the private ownership of arms (including firearms) is explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution and 46 of the state constitutions. The same canít be said for driving a car.

If Gore is serious about a "national gun license," perhaps he should be looking at the non-discretionary concealed weapon licensing laws that a majority of American states have now passed as a model. These laws allow most law-abiding adults to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun, and without the race, class, and sex discrimination and (sometimes flat-out corrupt) practices that dominate licensing in California. As University of Chicago Professor John Lottís book More Guns, Less Crime shows, non-discretionary concealed weapon laws appear to reduce violent crime rates. But you wonít see Al Gore backing such laws; the gun control advocates who control the Democratic Party leadership continue to bleat "Guns are bad!" rather than admit that guns in the hands of most law-abiding adults are not a problem. Instead, Gore seems intent on continuing President Clintonís gun control policy that demonizes law-abiding gun owners, and polarizes our society.


Clayton E. Cramerís fifth book, Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform will be published by Praeger Press this year.