A Sensible Gun Policy

Lars Poulsen - 2020-04-06

(First draft, 2019-08-06)

I have been thinking a lot about how we in the USA back away from the policies that create a mass shooting every day. Here is what I believe at this point. I welcome suggestions for improvements.

The Short Summary

For those who won't read the long version without knowing where I am headed:

The Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” - Bill of Rights, 1791

These few words have been read differently over time. For a long time, they were not believed to confer on every resident of the country and unrestricted right to own whatever weapons he wanted without regards to his community. Rather, they were understood to mean that the country should have a “citizen army” that kept guns at home, and practiced regularly, subject to a stringent set of rules. In other words, what the British call a “home guard” - or as we now call it, the National Guard.

This changed slowly after conservatives gradually took over the Supreme Court beginning in the 1980s and culminating with the 2008 case “District of Columbia v. Heller”, where the court struck down a gun control regulation in the District of Columbia on a 5-4 vote, and with the majority decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia declaring that the words up to the second comma were just a preface and that the amendment declared a nearly unrestricted individual right for every citizen to bear arms.

We need to reverse “Heller” - or at least ignore it.

"Assault Rifle Ban"?

Many seem to believe that there is a category of weapons that they call "assault rifles" that we should just not allow civilians to own. Unfortunately, we have never been able to define such a class of guns. The laws that have been tried in this area defined the banned guns in such a way that they could be circumvented with trivial modifications. Scary-looking military-style guns have functionally identical counterparts that look like your uncle's hunting rifle, few lawmakers are eager to ban your uncle's favorite hunting rifle.

License Requirement

Once we acknowledge that there are people that should not have guns, the easiest way to control who is and who is not safe to have one, is to establish a license system. A license should be issued to anyone who can demonstrate a reasonable reason why they should have a firearm, and the note which kind of firearm is appropriate for them. Some good reasons would be:


I do not want to see people accumulate large private arsenals, and I want to control ammunition to a degree. This requires a registry, where the history of the weapon can be found. If a gun is found on a crime scene, the person to whom it was last registered, should have some liability if they cannot account for who took possession after that time.

Also, when they buy ammunition, it should be verified that they have a licensed firearm that fits that ammunition.


Common sense to keep some accountability.

Categories of Guns

Guns can be divided into a few major categories:

Short or Long Barrel

There is a pretty clear division between small guns (sometimes called sidearms) such as pistols or revolvers on one hand, and long-barreled guns such as shotguns and rifles on the other hand.

Small guns can be easily concealed, and they are usually not very precise, but when used for self defense, they are typically used at distances where precision does not matter much.

The longer barrel on a rifle allows for more precise aiming, so that they can hit a target from a larger distance. A shotgun (which fires an ounce or so of small pellets) is not very precise, but the "cloud" of pellets make it likely that you can still hit a target - such as a smallish bird - at some distance.

I believe that most pistols are semi-automatic, i.e. when you fire a shot, they eject the spent cartridge and load the next cartridge into the chamber, ready for the next shot.

Shotguns usually have two barrels with a single cartridge loaded in each, and with a separate trigger for each. Auto-reloading is less practical, because the cartridge is physically large, compared to a pistol or rifle cartridge.

Rifles are almost always either bolt-action (the shooter must pull a lever after each shot to eject the spent cartridle and advance the next one into the firing chamber) or semi-automatic (the recoil from the shot essentially pull that lever for you). They could just as easily continue and fire the next shot, i.e. enabling a burst of consecutive shot very close together, but it is illegal for civilians to own such a gun in the USA.

Bolt Action vs Semi-Automatic

For livestock protection and for hunting, we do not need rapid fire. A slow, precision aimed rifle is better sportsmanship and actually more effective.

But for various reasons, some good, some not so good, semiautomatic rifles derived from the Army infantry assault rifle/carbine have become overwhelmingly popular and sometimes it seems like that is what dominates gun store displays everywhere, even at Sears, K-Mart, Walmart etc.

The best “good” reason is, that most people looking to buy a gun for hunting will be familiar with this type of gun. If they have been in the military since 1970, that is what they have trained and practiced (and maybe fought) with, so that is what they feel most safe with. I know that when I served in the Danish Army in 1972-1973, the weapon we were issued was the Garand M1 (which was called the M50 in Denmark, based on the year it was introduced thee). So if I had wanted to go hunting, that is what I would have wanted.

The AR-14/AR-15 style rifle mechanisms are sold with a variety of styles of stock, from Uzi-style metal frames to nice polished walnut stocks that look civilized, but the basic mechanism is the same, and they share the ability for rapid fire and for accepting various styles and capacities of magazines. Politicians have tried to separate them into “assault rifles” and “hunting rifles” based on appearances, but that has never really worked, because there is no meaningful functional distinction.

What About All the Guns that are Already Out There?

When we change the rules of the game dramatically, the transition is difficult. Some “grandfather clauses” will be necessary.

The transition will be difficult, but the rewards will be worth it.


If we don't try, we can't succeed.
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