We should treat guns just like we treat cars

February 10, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

The television commercial depicts a plainclothes investigator with the Motor Vehicle Administration -- a secret agent, if you will -- sneaking up to a parked car in order to remove its tags. "Don't let this happen to you!" intones an announcer in a doomsday voice. The commercial is for an area automobile insurance company, warning us of what can happen to motorists who drive uninsured.

"You guys don't really do stuff like that, do you?" I ask a spokesman for the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

The spokesman chuckles. "Yeah, we do."

"You sneak up to cars and take their tags?"

"We have investigators," he says, speaking slowly and putting careful stress on the word investigators, "who go out and take tags off of the cars of uninsured motorists. It is a way of taking uninsured motorists off the road, of stopping them from driving until they comply with the law. After the motorist obtains insurance and pays the appropriate fees and any outstanding fines, they can then apply for and obtain a new set of tags."

"Does this sound nice to you?"

There is a stiff silence over the phone. "Maybe what you ought to do is speak to the head of the enforcement division," says the spokesman. "He can explain the program a lot better than I can."

"No, no, that's OK," I say. "I just couldn't believe you guys did that."

Actually, I cannot fault the MVA for enforcing the mandatory auto insurance law in any way the agency can. And I can find no fault with the law itself.

But I just do not like the idea of state employees creeping around like hooded ninjas, snatching the license plates off the cars of unsuspecting drivers. It doesn't seem nice to me. It is not the way I would like my government to treat people -- even those who are uninsured.

I sense that this kind of program snags otherwise law-abiding citizens who are going through rough financial times; maybe they live in one of those areas that allegedly are "redlined" by the insurance agencies -- though insurance companies deny they would ever do such a thing.

I'm willing to bet that the real bad guys, those who defy the law with cold-blooded deliberation, probably are too smart to get caught so easily.

But what can you say? The law is the law. The state's gotta do what the state's gotta do. And maybe we ought to pursue gun owners with equal zeal; I am speaking, of course, of a gun owner's worst nightmare.

The National Rifle Association and its supporters are right about people like me: What we'd really like to see is a state Lethal Weapons Administration; a humorless, super-efficient bureaucracy that would stalk gun owners as relentlessly as the MVA goes after car owners.

I would like to see prospective gun owners required to learn how to use and care for a weapon before they are allowed to purchase one; and then I'd like to see them required to take periodic proficiency tests.

I would like to see mandatory insurance for gun owners, so an owner would be liable for any harm committed by a weapon registered in his name. I would like the state to hold annual firearm inspections -- I don't even know what kind of inspections -- as an equivalent of our emissions control tests.

And I would like to see gun owners subjected to an avalanche of new licenses and taxes and fees: a bullet tax and a trigger tax. I'd like to see firearms taxed by the caliber, by the barrel and by the inch. And there is no doubt in my mind that a Lethal Weapons Administration -- in true bureaucratic style -- would place the biggest burdens on law-abiding citizens.

Maryland has decided that it has a vested interest in controlling the motor vehicles belonging to its citizens, so much so that the decision to own and operate a car is not something to be taken lightly. And to a degree, state regulation pays off. Incompetent people are not allowed to drive. People who prove themselves irresponsible lose their licenses. The laws are tight enough that a bad guy has to sweat at least a little when he wants to evade them.

I believe the same logic should hold with regard to firearms. I do not want to live in the Daytona Speedway. And I am growing tired of living in Dodge City.

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