In the 24 hours it takes for this column to be written, edited, copy edited and uploaded to The Root and to end up on your phone, about 318 people across the United States will have been shot (in fact, the shooting at YouTube headquarters happened between writing my first and second drafts of this column). That’s just how incredibly violent and dangerous America is in 2018.
Of those 318 people who get shot—whether by suicide, accident or the Baton Rouge, La., Police Department—about 96 will actually die. The rest will be saddled with years of medical expenses while their bodies and minds try to recover from having a metal object the size of a USB port travel through them at 3,200 feet per second. It’s not fun. So, what will America actually do about this problem?
Roughly 40,000 Americans die each year in car-related deaths, compared with 38,000 from gun violence. Most police and public health advocates believe that forcing people to get licenses for everything from boats to ATVs to open-pit grills to cars actually diminishes the number of deaths or injuries related to those objects. Why not implement the same kind of licensing policy for gun ownership? Of course the NRA would try to stop it, but perhaps there are reasonable people on the gun-loving right who would be willing to kick the tires on this idea. So I spoke with Colion Noir, host of NRA TV, Killer Mike apologist and all-around gun-loving guy.
I know Noir through a mutual friend, and while I disagree with him on about 90 percent of the issues dealing with guns, the Constitution and black history, one thing that he has never failed at is being accessible. He will always pick up when I call. When I called him for this story, Noir picked up and was willing to talk despite the fact that he was literally walking around Crate & Barrel looking for matching pillows for his house.
I got the important questions out of the way first: Why was he at Crate & Barrel when we all know Bed Bath & Beyond is the business when it comes to shams and comforters? Our ideological gulf on home furnishings was so deep, I didn’t have much hope for our gun discussion, but I laid out my proposal anyway.
Here’s how a federal law to keep guns out of the hands of mass shooters would work: Everyone can still buy whatever guns they want, but you can’t buy a gun in any state, online or at a gun show without a gun license. And not some $50-fee license, as with most states now; getting a gun license would require that you take six weeks of class, like driver’s ed. You would have to prove that you can shoot, clean and safely store your gun and have insurance so that you’re covered if anyone steals your gun and commits a crime.
You have to renew your car tags each year—the same would apply to your gun license. You want to step up from a hand gun to something heavier? You’re trying to show that gopher in your backyard who’s boss? You take another class for a higher-grade license, just as a license to drive a four-door Hyundai doesn’t allow you to drive a forklift. What did Noir think?
“Guns are a constitutional right,” he argued “Cars aren’t.” This sounds like a strong retort, but it’s not actually true. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. That’s any type of arms—throwing stars, a light saber, a baseball bat with barbed wire. The Constitution does not give you the right to own a gun, any more than the right to free assembly guarantees you a Dodge Ram or freedom of speech gives you the right to a Fox News cable talk show.
To Noir, the gun control movement is an attack on our rights, not just as Americans but as African Americans, because it makes us dependent on the government for protection instead of on our own weapons. He returned to his oft-quoted talking point about giving teachers access to guns if they were qualified and placing more trained guards in schools.
As a college professor who has also taught high school, I laughed at this suggestion. Not only would arming teachers disproportionately harm black kids, who are already over-policed and over-punished in school, but as I pointed out, he clearly has never sat in on a faculty meeting. You don’t want to see what happens when Ms. Gayle in the math department accuses Mr. Singh for the umpteenth time of stealing her lunch, which was clearly marked in the faculty lounge. And if she’s packing heat? No bueno. So I kept pushing.
I pointed out that requiring people to take classes to buy guns would weed out a lot of undisciplined sociopaths. Nikolas Cruz was a lousy student; I doubt he could finish a whole class, which means that his only way of getting a gun would have been illegally—and police are much more adept at stopping that than they are protecting schools. Further, I’m confident that plenty of mass shooters would never pass a final, written gun test, when all of their essay answers are “to get back at those kids in school.” At some point during class, they’d slip up.
Demonstrating a grace and tolerance seldom shown by Laura Ingraham, Dana Loesch and most of the pro-gun fetishizers on television, Noir thought seriously about my proposal.
“I’m not inherently against the idea that you’re proposing!” he eventually said. “If there were some way to subsidize those who are of lesser means to still get guns or take classes. Don’t weaponize the cost [of licensure] to stop people from getting guns.”
Now, I’m not in favor of subsidizing a nonessential purchase, but that was a minor quibble.
“People who license themselves have something to lose, and they’re going to act more responsibly,” he acknowledged. With that, over the course of an hour, vacillating between discussions of interior decorating and grotesque gun-violence statistics, Noir and I covered more than seemingly weeks of screaming debates on television.
So why couldn’t something like this happen? Why couldn’t Congress or a state legislature propose gun licensing that doesn’t prevent ownership but just ensures responsible ownership, no different from many other items we use every day in America? The NRA, of course.
Colion Noir is an NRA TV host, but he doesn’t control the organization and he sees it as defending Americans’ rights. I see the NRA for what it is: a trade organization. The National Rifle Association is all about making sure manufacturers can sell guns, and it cares only about the Second Amendment as a means to sell more guns. It’s no different regarding guns than the Motion Picture Association of America is about selling movies, and if defending the First Amendment means that you can give an Oscar to a movie about a deaf woman having sex with a fish man, then so be it.
However, our discussion did open up some worthwhile doors in the national gun debate. There have always been reasonable gun owners; the issue is the organization that represents them. Perhaps, if the consumers of guns and gun enthusiasts like Noir could assert more control over who supposedly represents them, then we could all go to school, go to work and even sleep a little more soundly at night.