Vice President Al Gore has repeatedly stated during his presidential campaign
that all gun owners should be licensed and all guns registered. His reasoning
for this is that these requirements exist for cars, so they should exist for
guns as well. "Treat guns like cars," he says.
Set aside the fact that the Vice President has failed to demonstrate any link
between these requirements and improved safety, or the prevention of car-related
crime. Also set aside the fact that motor vehicles and guns are significantly
different items of technology, as well as that pesky 2nd Amendment. And, just
for the sake of argument, let's ignore that using an existing law as an excuse
to create further restrictions, without demonstrating its merit, is fallacious
logic at best. Two wrongs don't make a right.
Instead of addressing these issues, I would like to demonstrate how much more
restrictive the current laws governing firearms are than the laws governing
motor vehicles. To do so, I would like to propose that, instead of treating guns
like cars, that we treat cars like guns. In other words, what would happen if we
were to impose the restrictions currently imposed on guns on motor vehicles?
First, let's examine what you would lose. You would, of course, lose the
mandatory licensing and registration requirements in some states. It's worth
noting at this point that several states do have licensing requirements for gun
owners, and registration requirements for at least some types of guns (notably
New York, New Jersey and California). That said, what would actually be lost, if
your state no longer required registration of your car or a license to drive it?
Well, the first thing to be lost would be a source of tax revenue for your
county. In order to process your request for a vehicle registration, you must
(in most states) pay a property or ad valorem tax on the vehicle. Okay, so the
government loses a source of revenue. Of course, it would also no longer need to
staff a tag office, or provide tags, registration forms, stickers, etc., so the
loss would likely be minimal.
Next, you might argue that a lack of license plates would impede law
enforcement officers in the investigation of vehicles used in crimes. (87% of
felonies involve motor vehicle use.) However, the presence of license plates
does little to aid officers, since most vehicles seen departing crime scenes
turn out to be stolen vehicles or vehicles with stolen tags. It's a fairly
common criminal strategy to steal a license plate off of a bystander's car, use
that tag during the crime, and then replace the tag with the original on the
offender's car afterward. Or, he can just steal a car and dispose of it in a
convenient location. Ironically, these strategies are actually encouraged by the
registration requirement. Since most people are heavily conditioned to look at
the license plate of an escaping car, most eyewitnesses will be passing bogus
information to the police. They'll concentrate on the license plate to the
exclusion of all else, including a physical description of the car and its
occupants. By using a distraction technique, facilitated by vehicle
registration, the smart criminals will leave the police with no useful
information to track them.
About the only criminal caught through the registration process is the one
stupid enough to use his personal vehicle without covering his tracks. And
stupid crooks get caught fairly quickly anyway.
Okay, so what about licensing? It must be useful for the prospective driver
to prove that he knows the rules of the road and for him to demonstrate some
level of driving proficiency before he's allowed to take to the streets. It
would obviously cut down on the number of accidents, right? That notion is
intuitively true, but doesn't bear out under evaluation of the facts. Automobile
licensing was instituted in the United States in the 1920s. It was billed as a
method for getting auto accident deaths under control. However, it wasn't until
the 1950s - thirty years later - that accident death rates actually started to
drop, after the adoption of safety measures like seat belts and driver education
Also, please consider that the existing controls on motor vehicles are only
required if you want to operate the vehicle on a public road. There are no
pre-conditions imposed by the government for the purchase of a motor vehicle, or
for its use on your own property. And, like car owners, gun owners are already
required to have a license to carry a weapon (if carry is allowed at all) in
every state except Vermont. Keep this point in mind; I'll return to it later.
All right, so we lose licensing and registration. What would be gained in
their place? The short answer: A confused patchwork of state and local laws,
with little or no consistency. Depending on which state you live in, you may be
subject to any or all of the following restrictions - all of which are currently
required for guns:
You would be required to pass a criminal background check at point of sale.
If the criminal records were in error, or even if you have a name similar to an
individual who did have a record, your purchase could be delayed indefinitely.
Or, if the computer system used to perform the background checks were out of
service, you'd be out of luck.
You may have to wait 2, 3, 7, or 15 days to take delivery of your new
vehicle. That would be the case even if you passed the background check
instantly (as is possible through the National Instant Check System). The stated
purpose of the wait would be to prevent "crimes of passion", where you
got angry, went out and bought a car, and ran over the person you were angry
You may be required to have a license to possess (not operate) a car, prior
to purchasing. Or, if you lived in Washington, DC, or a certain suburb of
Chicago, you would be prohibited from owning a motor vehicle at all. After all,
the government provides public transportation, right?
If you lived in a state requiring a license to purchase and/or operate a
motor vehicle, your license(s) would not be recognized by most other states.
What's worse, say you traveled to a state which required a license. You couldn't
get a license in the destination state, because you weren't a resident. However,
possession or operation of a motor vehicle without a license could get you
arrested - even though you couldn't get a license if you tried. This situation
is especially touchy for those people who live in one state but work in another.
Your car owner's license could take anywhere from 90 days to never to
process, even though the law requires a 30 day turnaround. (This routinely
happens in New Jersey and New York.) Until you had the license, you'd be
prohibited from possessing a car. You couldn't buy one, and you couldn't borrow
a friend's to get you to work.
In some states, you would be required not only to have a license to own a
car, but you would have to have a separate license to operate the car off your
property, and another license to operate the car while on your property. You may
also be required to have separate licenses to possess the car at your home and
at your business. These various licenses would come only from the police
department in the local jurisdiction. You'd have to demonstrate a need for
having the car in the various locations before you'd be allowed to do so, and
the police chief or sheriff would have absolute discretion as to whether or not
you would get the permit.
Your license to operate the motor vehicle would be good only in your home
state. What's worse, in some states, you may not be able to get a license to
operate a car, and operation of a car without a license would get you arrested.
(Many states do not allow for a permit to carry a gun; you could consider the
license to carry to be the firearm equivalent of a driver's license.)
When it came time to purchase a new car, you would quickly find that you
could only buy the vehicle from a federally-licensed dealer operating in your
state of residence, or from a private resident of that state. If you wanted to
buy a car from a dealer - or individual - in another state, you would first have
to have the car transferred from a dealer in that state to a dealer in your
Even if you wanted to give a car to a relative who lived in a different
state, you'd still have to make the transfer happen between licensed dealers.
You'd have to find a dealer in your state willing to make the transfer to a
dealer in the destination state, who could then transfer the car to your
relative. Of course, the dealers would probably charge you something for their
time and effort, and your relative would have to fill out all the same paperwork
as he would if he had purchased the vehicle. These requirements would apply even
if you receive a vehicle as part of a will.
All car dealers would be required to keep the records of all vehicle sales
and transfers - including the buyer's name and address, the VIN of the car, and
other data - for a period of 25 years. Those records would be subject to
inspection at any time by federal agents.
If you had ever been convicted of a felony - including nonviolent felonies
like tax evasion and felonies not involving misuse of a motor vehicle - or had
been adjudicated as mentally incompetent, you would be prohibited from owning,
possessing, or operating a motor vehicle. Ever. You'd have to sign a form at
point of sale attesting to the fact that you were not a prohibited person -
i.e., you were legally entitled to purchase a car. Lying on that form would
bring 10 years in the federal pen, per offense.
In addition to requiring all dealers to be licensed, you would need to give
auto mechanic shop owners the exact same license and subject them to the same
conditions (open records, etc.) as those who actually buy and sell cars. Why?
Because in order to purchase the parts needed to repair cars, a mechanic would
have to be able to order them across state lines - meaning the transaction could
only take place between licensed "dealers". However, since the auto
mechanic would not be engaged in buying and selling cars, the Clinton
administration would be investigating him as an illegal car smuggler. You see,
the administration feels that any dealer who doesn't sell a certain number of
cars in a year must obviously be making his money illegally. Never mind that the
"dealer" in question doesn't buy and sell cars to make money; he just
needs the license to buy the parts he needs to fix cars. (The firearms
equivalent of an auto mechanic is a gunsmith.)
Cars with a top speed over, say, 80 miles per hour (pick a number; it would
be arbitrary anyway) would be banned for sale to civilians. (The "machine
guns" of cars.) You would have been able to purchase such cars with a
special license, but only if you did it before 1986. Any possession of parts
which could be used to convert a vehicle to drive faster than 80 mph would be a
felony, prosecuted exactly the same as though you had actually performed the
conversion. Never mind whether or not someone actually travels in excess of the
speed limit; it's the potential for doing so the government is interested in.
You'd be prohibited from purchasing a car with a gas tank larger than 10
gallons. After all, who needs to be able to drive 400 miles on a single tank of
gas? Also, you'd have to remove the muffler from your car, because it makes it
possible for criminals to sneak away from a crime scene. Possession of a muffler
would be a felony, whether or not it was installed on your car. (The firearms
equivalents of gas tanks and mufflers are ammunition magazines and silencers.)
Gasoline could only be bought via mail order or through a dealer licensed in
your state. Travel would obviously become something of a problem; you'd have to
pack your gasoline for the entire trip. You'd also have to prove you were at
least 18 years of age to buy it.
Certain models of cars might be banned based on the politician's perception
of what would make a car "attractive to criminals". For example, you
might be prohibited from owning a pickup truck, since the cargo bed of such a
vehicle is attractive to burglars. Or, you might be prohibited from owning
dark-colored cars, since they are harder to spot at night and thus attractive to
drug dealers. The actual use of various types of vehicles by criminals would be
Even if you could own these politically incorrect vehicles, you would
probably be required to register them with the police. Unless, of course, you
were a felon or otherwise prohibited from owning a car. Then, thanks to 5th
Amendment protections against self-incrimination, you'd be exempt from
registration, and any licensing requirements as well (Haynes vs. US, 1968). You
couldn't prosecute a felon for failing to register his illegally-possessed car
or for failing to have a driver's license; only the folks who were entitled to
have the car in the first place could be prosecuted for failing to comply with
In several states, you could be prosecuted for taking your car to a
"public gathering" (whatever that is). You would be prohibited from
bringing your car to a courtroom, school, or other public building. Never mind
the fact that people who wanted to could simply drive the vehicle through the
school playground during recess before committing suicide. Or escaping in their
vehicle, since nobody could pursue them. After all, cars are banned at
If you lived in Georgia, you couldn't take your car to an establishment where
alcohol was sold for consumption on the premises. In Texas, you couldn't take
your car to any establishment where alcohol was sold. (Note: Despite the fact
that drunk driving is a serious social problem, these measures do not currently
apply to motor vehicles, only to guns.)
In Connecticut, your car could be confiscated by the police based on nothing
more than an individual police officer's belief that you might pose a danger to
yourself or others. Don't get in a spat with your girlfriend; she could report
you to the police as a danger, and, whisk! Away with your car.
Car manufacturers would be under steady legal attacks, with civil suits being
filed by big city mayors in a concerted effort to force car manufacturers to
accept self-destructive restrictions on their businesses. Such extortion tactics
would include auto makers being forced to allocate a percentage of their
revenues each year to a fund used to "educate" the public about the
"dangers" of car ownership - in essence, discouraging people from
buying their products, thereby cutting their own financial throats.
Manufacturers would be forced to include blatantly false statistics with each
car sold to the effect that hundreds or even thousands of children die each year
from car-related injury. The agreements would attempt to force the auto makers
to build all their cars with "smart car" technology, even though such
technology is unavailable and impractical. After all, what if you wanted to let
your wife drive your car? Plus, this "smart car" technology, in its
present or foreseeable forms would be wholly unreliable, causing the vehicle to
malfunction in heavy traffic, putting your life and your passengers' at risk.
That wouldn't matter, though; after all, the suits would only be intended to
force the auto makers to "accept some responsibility" for the damage
caused by motor vehicles.
And, last but certainly not least, you would be faced with a relentless
effort from mainstream media, certain public officials, and special interest
groups for more and more restrictions. The eventual aim, of course, would be to
eliminate private ownership of motor vehicles by civilians. The police and
military could keep them, but not you or me. You would know this because
registration information would have been used in New York and California to
confiscate cars from individuals who owned the "attractive to
criminals" vehicles, once those vehicles were outlawed.
It is tremendously ironic that the logic - if you could call it that - used
to justify even more regulations on firearms is that lesser restrictions are
placed on motor vehicles. There are far, far fewer hurdles placed before the
private citizen who wants to own and operate a car than before the one who wants
to own and carry a gun. And this is true despite the fact that gun ownership is
a Constitutionally-protected right.
Gun owners would probably be thrilled to be able to carry their weapons into
any state in the union without fear of arrest and prosecution for simple
possession. (Remember, you don't have to hurt or even threaten anyone with a gun
- just having it in your possession is a crime.) Those of us who live near a
state border would love to be able to shop for guns on both sides of the border
- after all, economic competition is the foundation of capitalism.
The simple fact is that guns are far more restricted than cars will ever be -
right now, without any further legislation. And, there is virtually no
likelihood of these restrictions being relaxed in the foreseeable future. So,
when the politicians say they want to "treat guns like cars," you now
know why it'll never happen.
Copyright 2000 Michael A. Mitchell. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce
this article in its entirety, including this copyright notice, as long as credit
is given to the original author. You can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.