DAVID ROSMAN: Mandatory gun training the answer to gun control debate

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 | 11:45 a.m. CST; updated 7:37 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 20, 2011

Virtues. We are hearing this word a lot lately. It is a word tempered by its counterpart, vices. This theme of good versus bad (or evil, depending on one’s dispassion) has been the basis of many of the discussions in the past 10 days.

Aristotle listed a dozen spheres of virtue. More recently, André Comte-Sponville talks to 18 virtues in his 1996 “A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues.” Both men — and all those between and since — provide a spectrum of virtuous emotions and actions, from excessive to deficient.

Comte-Sponville speaks to justice as one of the cardinal virtues, a virtue that encompasses all other virtues. He wrote, “To speak injudiciously of any virtue is to betray it.” He and Aristotle also speak to the virtues of compassion and of courage. Today’s conversations concerning gun control must also speak to justice, compassion and courage.

With all of the discussions we are now having concerning Tucson, it seems that we are only talking about the dichotomies of these virtues and not the high point of the bridges that connect the extremes.

It also appears that the line of fire extends beyond firearm ownership. Should “extended clips” be outlawed? Should a change in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) be considered to allow limited access as it concerns possible mental illness? How will Americans balance their Second Amendment collective rights with individual needs and wants? Are other laws needed?

For gun control advocates to blame the Glock semi-automatic handgun or the 33-round extended clip is wrong and injudicious. As a liberal and supporter of controls, like closing gun show loopholes, I owned handguns and know that the weapon is benign until there is a hand on the trigger. It is the person.

For ownership advocates to declare that gun ownership is an absolute right is equally injudicious. Nothing is absolute, except death. With gun ownership falls the responsibility of safe, proper and astute handling of that firearm.

For many years, I believed that I had a partial answer to the seemingly endless discussions on gun control. Not to restrict the ownership of guns nor make the states and federal agencies any more aware of who owns what and how many.

No, a privately developed but mandatory gun-safety training plan for new owners of firearms and a mandatory shorter biannual “renewal” training program for those who already own firearms.

The programs should be developed by an organization knowledgeable of such courses — the National Rifle Association — which would also be responsible for records. No law enforcement agency could have access to those records without warrant, and even then the records would be limited to a specific person or persons, not groups or the entire listing. The NRA would not be allowed to mandate joining the organization to receive the certificate of completion, but it would certify trainers and have the ability to charge for the training and certification process.

The law could be similar to Missouri’s current concealed-weapons-training statute with small modifications and one small addition. Instructors can refuse to issue a completion of training certificate for specific reasons: inability to show knowledge of firearm safety, inability to use the firearm in a safe manner and suspicion of possible mental defects or that the firearm may be used illegally.

Mandatory firearms training is already required in Missouri for hunters and those who seek a concealed gun permit. There is no reason not to expand this training to include all gun owners. There is no reason to prevent certified trainers from denying a certificate of completion for the reasons stated above. There is no reason for the NRA to dismiss such training. It is time the NRA admits that reasonable restrictions are part of virtuous citizenship.

This is not a discussion of limiting Second Amendment rights. It is about the courage of our state legislators to say that with the ownership of a firearm there is a responsibility to properly and safely use that weapon.

I call on Columbia’s legislators Kurt Schaefer, Mary Still, Stephen Webber, Chris Kelly, John Cauthorn and Paul Quinn to introduce this training mandate and to understand that such a law is for the better good of Missouri citizens.

In short, virtuous.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at and New York Journal of Books.

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J Karl Miller January 19, 2011 | 5:10 p.m.

Dave...For an extremely reasonable and logical suggestion, I applaud you. Such a program would not be easy to organize or to manage nor could it be accomplished on the cheap. But, it is far from impossible. The cliche "if we can land a man on the moon..." applies.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 19, 2011 | 5:22 p.m.

There's a lot to discuss in this article; I'll start with 2:

(1) DR: "Nothing is absolute, except death."

I'm unsure what you are trying to say here. It's true that in all of life, only death is certain. But, you're not talking about all of life, you are talking about life in the US. And, given our Constitution and SCOTUS decisions, gun ownership is as much of an absolute as you can get.

Also, relating to "life in the USA", there are these magical words that read, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (from memory, so I may have a few commas or words wrong).

So, yes indeed...there are "absolutes" other than death in the USA.

(2) Your proposal for the penalty for owning a gun but not taking or passing the course?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 19, 2011 | 5:24 p.m.

I also maintain that, once again, only law-abiding citizens would participate.

J Karl: Such a program seems a good way for the government to know who has what. Is that a good thing?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 19, 2011 | 5:40 p.m.

I do like the idea of instructors being able to make decisions about whether to give a diploma or not...based upon safety concerns, or perceptions of mental defect, etc.

But I suspect we would have to hold those same instructors harmless and immune from civil liabilities. Criminal liabilities, too, since a diploma'ed gun owner may commit a crime and blame the instructor for poor instruction.

How are instructors for current certification programs protecting themselves from accusations of "poor instruction" which may make them liable? Somebody chime in here.

(Do we hold harmless any other current professions?)

PS: I take back my comment about the gov't knowing who has what. A re-reading of the article cleared this up. Mea culpa.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 19, 2011 | 5:50 p.m.

It is kinda funny that people don't feel as strongly about free speech issues, due process and the presumption of innocence as they do about their gun rights...

Personally, I am a strong proponent of all of these rights....

But some people seem to be a strong proponent of only the RIGHTS that fit into their "agenda".... LOL.

Ricky Gurley,

(Report Comment)
Juan Mendez January 19, 2011 | 6:04 p.m.

Mr Gurley your last statement paragraph could open up a big can of worms.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 19, 2011 | 6:13 p.m.

Mr. Mendez,

I expect it will. But it is honest and truthful. Notice I used the word "seem" instead of making an outright accusation. I was careful to note that this is how it appears to me by using the word "seem":
"But some people SEEM to be a strong proponent of only the RIGHTS that fit into their "agenda".... LOL."

If that causes someone to reply defensively, wll you know what they say: "Hit dog always hollers"....

Ricky Gurley.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 20, 2011 | 10:11 a.m.

I don't really see how having more gun training will keep murders from killing people. I mean if they had training wouldn't they just be better at their job? Of course those of use who would protect people may benefit from the training. I am also not too keen on a Bi-annual training method. That is two weekends I would have to give up.

(Report Comment)
BARRY HIRSH January 20, 2011 | 7:18 p.m.

John Public has the closest thing to the best solution, however he should have stopped at mandatory public school training in firearms safety and handling.

Once one assumes the age of majority, one enjoys full constitutional rights, and cannot be required to jump through hoops to exercise them. Not so with children, therefore that part of the idea indeed has merit. Just as parents have no control of children's sex education in the public schools - it is mandatory now - they should likewise have nothing to say about the firearms instruction. Make it mandatory, get it over with, and prepare the kids to fully exercise the right responsibly when they become of age.

(Report Comment)
Ocel Black January 20, 2011 | 9:25 p.m.

Training is a great idea, in school as a requirement for graduation, K-12. Whether the "trainee" ever wants to own a gun or not. And the training needs to cover all man portable arms used by our military. But that is as far as I will accept, not as a condition for exercise of a natural right which the Government was never given the authority to control.

"It is time the NRA admits that reasonable restrictions are part of virtuous citizenship." I have yet to see the first "Reasonable Restriction (Infringement)". Which one did you have in mind? There are thousands of Federal, State and Local laws that infringe on the rights of Law Abiding, Sane, Reasonable citizens that have done nothing at all to stop criminals or lunatics from going right ahead with what ever they have in mind. What makes anyone who isn't getting paid to be a Judas Goat think one more is going to perform the miracle?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 21, 2011 | 5:39 a.m.

John Public wrote:

"The average Swiss citizen has easy access to the actual instruments of war"

It's telling that in two world wars that embroiled most of Eurupe, Switzerland was left alone to be neutral. Apparently it was considered too difficult and costly to invade.

One other reason that crime and violence is low in Switzerland is their general affluence. There just aren't many poor people there, and poor people commit most of the violent crimes in most societies. Not that I think their welfare system would work here, nor would I necessarily support that - I'm just saying that it's not ALL firearm related.


(Report Comment)
Laura Johnston January 21, 2011 | 6:51 a.m.

@Mark and others: I've removed comments from John Public since that's not really his name. Sorry to add confusion to the thread here, but we're hoping people contribute to the conversation under their real names not aliases.
Laura Johnston, interactive news editor

(Report Comment)
Jim Wood January 21, 2011 | 3:27 p.m.

Mr. Rosman is clearly not an attorney, as his concept has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. It is unconstitutional, at both state and federal levels, for governments to mandate training by law and then "hire out" the administration and record-keeping of such training to private political groups like the NRA. What's next? Putting the Sierra Club in charge of auto inspections?

As thorough as Mr. Rosman has been, he has not produced any evidence that this training and certification by America's Gun Nuts (the NRA) will prevent a single gun-related crime. It will not.

The problem isn't "firearms safety" or "overburdened government regulators." It's America's absurdly weak gun control laws that allow lunatics like the Tucson shooter and the Columbine kids to have such easy guns and ammunition. An NRA training course wouldn't have prevented the Tucson shooting. It simply would have taught the kid better aim and a deeper love of these murderous devices. That's the last thing a mentally-unbalanced gun owner needs.

(Report Comment)
Jim Wood January 21, 2011 | 3:28 p.m.

*easy access to guns and ammunition.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 21, 2011 | 3:36 p.m.

For the United States to be like Switzerland would require people that are on par with the Swiss. Good luck with that.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman January 23, 2011 | 3:38 p.m.

Karl – Thank you.

Michael – Our rights” in the Constitution are not “absolute.” And the quote you provide from the Declaration of Independence, providing that “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are “self-evident” also come with certain limitations. For example, it would make me very happy to drink and drive, but I cannot. Like all law, codified or not, even the preamble to the Declaration, are written specifically vague as to be interpreted.

It is the beginning of the next sentence, “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,” that decrees that our laws are laws of man and as we learn, as we change, as we experience new, those law must change to keep up with society.

How are current firearms instructors held liable for their actions? My dear Michael, through the laws of the state.

Jim - There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits mandatory training for firearms owners. Such training would place the safety of the citizens inline with the mandate of the Constitution and the Declaration. You are right, safety training will not prevent shootings, but it may prevent a person whose intentions or perceived mental fitness is questioned away from buying a firearm through legal means.

Yes, I can buy almost any type of gun I want on the street today, but I am more scared about the person who has never shot his or her weapon. However, if Jared Loughner attempted to pass a mandatory firearms training course, there is a high likelihood that he would not have be able to purchase the Glock under my scenario.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 23, 2011 | 5:17 p.m.

Dave R says, "I am more scared about the person who has never shot his or her weapon."

Me: Really? I believe your safety would be better served worrying about the criminal who doesn't care when-or-where he/she sprays bullets. Your sentence tells me that you are more worried about CCW folks than the knuckleheads ocommitting crimes. The data says your worries are misplaced. Hence, I submit you are spending 99% of your time worrying about less than 1% of the problem. The reverse is much more productive.

INO, your worries are directed towards the wrong group of people.

You did not address my question about penalties.

On the other topic, you mentioned 'changing to fit the times'. Dave, I have absolutely no problem with changing the Constitution IF it is done correctly. That means an amendment. If you want to change the 2nd Amendment, for example, and define various modifications the state or feds can make to that citizenry Right, then you can do so if you go through the hoops defined by the Constitution. I'm ok with this.

Third, examine CLOSELY the grammar, structure, and wording of your own quote: "“That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men...."

I think you made my point, that there are indeed absolutes detailed by our founders. Your own quote states categorically that there are Rights. There is no ambiguity here; the Rights are simply assumed as real fact, and that fact is placed up-front and in the reader's face. The paragraph does go on to say that, for us to make those rights secure (i.e., no one takes them away), we must have a government comprised of fellow citizens who recognize that their sole job and responsibility is to secure those rights.

NOT to figure out a way to redefine those rights.

(Report Comment)

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