This is just one among the dozens of ugly gun-related stories that have been in the news lately. It is not, so far as we can tell, that mass shootings, murders, accidents and stupid failures of basic gun safety are actually on the increase, so much as that, post-Sandy Hook, we are all a little more interested in talking about them. So many, after all, would have been prevented if guns were harder to obtain, and so few actually involve a guns actually being sued to prevent a crime.
The recent observance of Gun Appreciation Day in the US has made for all sorts of giddy headlines. David Waldman, at The Daily Kos, came up with a list of "104 separate incidents" in the course of the day, "killing 39 people and wounding 69 more." He doesn't pretend the list is all-inclusive.
Ardent gun-lovers are quick to point out that, while gun-related violence is higher in the US than in any other prosperous nation, guns still do not kill nearly as many Americans as heart disease, car accidents or even the flu. They are correct, which is one more reason to take the subway, go vegan, and wash your hands a lot. On the other hand, guns have the distinction of being among the only consumer items made for the express purpose of killing. (They are easily the most efficient of such items; even a highly skilled crossbowman can't do as much damage as a kid with his mother's Bushmaster.) Sure, you can kill somebody with a can-opener; but a gun is designed to do it fast and more efficiently, and not to do anything else. This alone is a reason to separate them out for particular legal scrutiny.
What is more striking to us, though, is how many of these incidents reflect sheer stupidity and incompetence on the part of the gun owners. Three people were wounded at a gun show, when security asked an attendee to remove his shotgun from its case, and it discharged accidentally -- because, in other words, its owner was carrying around a loaded shotgun. At another show, a man bought himself a new automatic pistol, and "accidentally pulled the trigger," putting a bullet into the guy next to him. How did this happen? Because the moron didn't check the chamber.
We are still not over the boy in Pennsylvania who was killed last month, climbing into the booster seat in his family's truck, because Dad was closing the door with one hand, while with the other he placed a handgun on the console. The handgun "accidentally went off," a dubious proposition with modern handguns, but which wouldn't have been a problem except that, again, the moron hadn't checked the chamber. And now his son is dead.
These are not the skilled, responsible sportsmen of NRA propaganda. These are idiots, playing with with dangerous toys.
Now, these displays of ineptitude are not, on their own, arguments against the sale, much less the existence, of these firearms. But they do argue, very strongly, for some regulation. There is no reason that gun owners should not be required to pass a safety course, as drivers are, and to periodically renew their licenses. There is no good reason that guns -- all guns, not just those styled after military weapons -- should not be registered, just as cars are registered, with careful records kept when they are sold or traded. There are many good reasons that manufacturers should be required to place RFID tags in all new weapons, as the state of Connecticut once proposed (and as Italian manufacturers now do), and these should not just be used for inventory control, but for identification by the police.
Of course, many gun owners object to these ideas. Their objections need to be considered carefully, not because they are sensible (they are not), but because of what they reveal about the minds of the owners. A person whose only interest in in hunting has no reason to object to these things, except perhaps for the extra red tape; a collector has every reason to support them, since they will simplify theft recovery and insurance claims. Who has the greatest reason to object to the idea of licensing owners and tracking guns? Two classes of person: first, the career criminal, whose work is made easier by the ready availability of untraceable guns. And second, the person who nourishes, whether actively or in the secret recesses of his heart, secret dreams of taking up arms against the government. Neither person's life should be made easier.