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Mandatory Training for Gun Owners: Constitutional? Useful?

A solution in need of a problem: mandatory training is of questionable legality, and gun misuse is not generally due to a lack of skill or knowledge.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

July 11, 2010 - 12:00 am
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I find it interesting that states such as Washington, which have had a shall-issue concealed weapon permit law since 1961, have never imposed a training requirement — and seem to have done just fine without it.

There is an interesting constitutional question about mandatory training. The right to bear arms is a fundamental human right. If you don’t see a problem with mandatory gun training before you can carry a gun, how would you feel about mandatory training in libel, obscenity, and incitement to riot law before you could exercise your First Amendment right to draft a political pamphlet?

It is true that there was mandatory militia training in 1791, when the states ratified the Second Amendment. But that wasn’t safety training, or even training with respect to self-defense. It was training for the purpose of making members of the militia into effective soldiers — not at all equivalent to the mandatory safety training for concealed weapon permits.

There are a great many rights we enjoy in this country that are easy to abuse: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to travel, freedom of association, freedom of religious worship. But we don’t license those freedoms because someone may and will abuse them. We recognize that adults not only have great power in our society, but also great responsibility. Abuse your freedoms in a way that causes harm to others, and you will pay a price for it after the fact.

I am willing to discuss the potential that some new technology might require a more stringent approach.

For example, if someone started selling a megawatt gamma ray laser pistol that you could carry in your pocket, cost $10, and when fired would blow holes through buildings for several miles — well, that sounds pretty scary. But so far, the technology we have is not so dramatically different in the risks it carries from the arms that the Framers knew. I don’t see any stronger argument for mandatory training today than in 1791.

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Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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