The reality is that licensing and registration is a 1960s solution to a 21st century problem that ignores the lessons of nearly four decades of public health and consumer product safety experience by focusing downstream on the user, and not upstream on the industry and the product itself. A careful analysis of the potential for licensing and registration to significantly reduce gun death and injury—recognizing the true nature of firearms violence in the United States—reveals that its effect would be limited. For such limited gains, implementation of a new licensing and registration system would exact extremely high financial and political costs.
An approach that extends and expands on the existing Brady Law background check (NICS) and the existing National Firearms Act registration system would accomplish far more and cost much less.
However, none of these proposals can take the place of comprehensive health and safety regulation of the firearms industry. Every product in the United States is regulated for health and safety except for two: guns and tobacco. As a result of its rare status in the consumer pantheon, the gun industry is able to increase the spiral of lethality available to an eager gun-buying public: from high-powered, easily concealed “pocket rocket” handguns to 50-caliber sniper rifles that can penetrate armor plating and down civilian jetliners. Licensing and registration will have no effect on the ability of the gun industry to use increased killing power to enhance its bottom line. Health and safety regulation of the gun industry—with the primary goal of limiting production of the most deadly categories of firearms that pose an unreasonable risk of injury—would.
A long history of public health research and consumer product regulation prove that the most effective way to reduce product-related death and injury is through comprehensive health and safety regulation. The simple fact is that America’s gun problem is not gun owners, but the gun industry.