Can a license to drive be a license to own a gun?

I trust Matt Dunlap more than Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

This isn’t personal; it’s just his job. Maine’s elected officials are more responsive to the needs of our state than a far-off federal government in Washington. That is true regardless of who resides in the White House at any given time.

But maybe Secretary of State Dunlap can help with this ongoing gun control debate.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap waves after the Legislature elected him to another term in December. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

No one can deny that shootings by deranged individuals have been in the news lately. Last weekend’s rampage in Odessa, Texas, was perpetrated by an individual who — reportedly — acquired his firearm in a private sale. When he had previously tried to buy one from a licensed firearms dealer he was denied following a background check.

This has understandably resulted in renewed calls for “universal background checks.” Maine voted down such a proposal in 2016. Yet, despite the fact that “the people have spoken,” advocates won’t hesitate to try, try again. Such is the nature of the democratic process.

Those background check proposals generally require any transfer of a firearm to go through a licensed firearm dealer. They check national databases to see if the would-be recipient is prohibited from having a gun because of previous criminal convictions.

The objections are multifaceted. Some object by citing the Second Amendment, while others correctly point out that the federal system has massive gaps. If we can’t enforce existing laws, what good will more laws do?

Different opposition is concerned that such a requirement is a prelude to a national “gun registry.” Such a registry would provide the federal government with a workable list of all firearms owners in the United States. Modern history is replete with totalitarian regimes executing confiscation of privately owned weapons in advance of atrocities. The Ottomans, Khmer Rouge, and Soviet Union all disarmed “undesirable” populations prior to the Armenian genocide, the terror in Cambodia, and the Stalinist “agricultural collectivization.” The deaths that followed are numerous.

The retort is “that could never happen here!” Of course, President Trump is called a fascist daily in some corner of the internet, while one of his would-be Democratic opponents — former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke — has explicitly called for a “mandatory” buyback program. Confiscation with compensation.

So what can we do? Call Dunlap.

As a default, every American has the right to keep and bear arms. The reality of our modern world requires nearly every American to have some form of identification. Most are issued by states, and also happen to allow the holder to operate a vehicle. They are driver’s licenses. For those who don’t drive, they can get an ID card.

In Maine, before Secretary Dunlap will issue you an ID, you need to prove to him that you are both in the country legally and actually reside in Maine. If you are a veteran, he will put a small American flag on your license to set you apart.

Maybe there is an opportunity to designate on everyone’s license that — as the default — they are authorized to possess firearms. If a person later breaks the law and, as a punishment, loses that inherent right, the judicial system can ensure their license is lost and reissued. No need to go through laborious background checks; it can become part of the routine process of law enforcement following conviction.

In such a world, “private sales” can then require the seller to check the ID of the buyer, but skip the creation of a federal paper trail. If a criminal is willing to forge a document to get a gun, they are probably willing to get it countless other ways. The Odessa killer broke numerous laws on his rampage, including hijacking vehicles. A statute book would not stop him.

There is a lot more to think through in this proposal. Policymaking isn’t well suited to 600-word columns; maybe there are good reasons it isn’t workable or even appropriate. But the concerns of gun control advocates are real. The objections of firearms owners are valid. And there might be a way to thread the needle between constitutional rights and the enforcement of existing gun laws through a new approach.

Then we can talk about voter ID!

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.