It saddens me to post in response to such a horrific occurrence as the mass shooting in Connecticut. However, this occurrence brings up issues of national importance that we all should be contemplating, so I thought it would be worth writing out my contribution to the discourse here.
I just directed a short that has a gun; a tranquilizer-dart-shooting air pistol, but a gun nonetheless. As we were shooting the scene the weekend before this tragedy, there was some discussion about the “cool factor” of a gun in a movie. I’m being honest. As outraged as I’ve been that yet another mass gun murder has taken place, I’m still putting guns on screen. Because they’re cool. Because people like them in these morality plays we create and call entertainment. And because it served my narrative purpose.
While I fall short of calling for an outright ban on all guns, I have been fairly vocal on social networking sites where I participate that I believe gun ownership should be subject to increased regulation. I use car ownership as my model, as it requires the training and testing needed to obtain a license, and regulation to the extent that certain infractions (repeated drunk driving, for example) rescinds your right to drive. Furthermore, you don’t get to drive anything you want, your license entitles you to drive a certain type of vehicle, and that vehicle needs to conform to certain standards to be considered “street legal.”
My rationale is this; I’m not looking to take cars away, I just want to make sure that people who own cars know how to use them, that the cars they’re driving are safe for the purpose of transportation, and that their license for use is dependent on their behavior with their vehicle. Vehicles are dangerous, and we want drivers to be responsible.
Likewise with guns. Guns have one purpose, to put a bullet into a target. Whether that target is a clay pigeon, a deer, or a person. Their inherent danger both to their owners (accidents are not unknown) and to others I believe demands the same level of training and oversight as ownership of an automobile. And I don’t want to hear about voluntary measures from anyone who’s not willing to let driver training and testing for licensing be voluntary as well.
Furthermore, I don’t believe that firearms with automatic actions, assault weapons, and large magazines are necessary for general civilian use. If you need a magazine with 15 rounds to hunt deer, you might be doing it wrong. And you should not require a Glock with 26 rounds to fend off an assailant; if so I sure as hell don’t want to be around while you’re doing it.
We used a dummy prop in my movie, and the logistics of the effects meant that our actress didn’t actually have to point the fake gun at anyone at all, just at a green screen. Consequently, little oversight was necessary beyond me taking the time to go through the motions of confirming the fakeness of the gun, confirming or unloading the chamber of our fake gun, and making sure the darts being handled were properly capped.
However, were it a production necessitating actual firearms firing actual blanks around other actual actors, we would have required an arms master, multiple levels of checks and safety drills, and our insurance premiums for the shoot would have gone up.
Which leads to my actual question—what if gun owners were required to carry the same kind of liability insurance that car owners and filmmakers need to carry?
Regardless of who you are and what your track record is, if you’re a responsible filmmaker, you should carry liability insurance. There are dozens of things that can go wrong, and all kinds of ways that your cast and crew members can be hurt. If you don’t carry insurance beyond what your rental agreements require, you are being irresponsible. My small shoot, three days of principal photography, ended up carrying a burden of $1900 worth of insurance overall. I gladly paid, because I wanted to make sure that if the unthinkable went wrong and anything bad happened, the right thing would be done.
Insurance is a free market solution. Let private insurers handle gun owner liability, setting premiums using the same metrics they use for other insurable activities. If you’re uninsurable, then you don’t get to have a gun, because you probably shouldn’t.
As far as I’m concerned, this would be a ratification of the personal responsibility borne by gun owners. If you’re responsible, your premiums will be low, and your motivation to properly store and lock up your dangerous tool will be high.
Furthermore, this insurance would provide a fund to deal with the inevitable accidents and homicides that we in the United States are declaring we’re willing to accept as a consequence of wide-spread gun ownership. Make no mistake, if we are willing to accept civilian ownership of guns, we are saying that we accept the accompanying accidents and homicides committed as a result.
If the general consensus remains that gun ownership is, in fact, worth that price, then we owe it to ourselves to create a comprehensive, non-optional culture of gun safety and oversight, and to limit the potential for mass fatalities by setting realistic limits on what can be owned.
Ranchers, hunters, and enthusiasts can continue to keep those guns deemed acceptable for civilian availability. There are many legitimate uses, and people who need them. But if you’re a gun owner who’s against gun controls, you need to own up to the hazards these tools present, and you especially need to own up to the fact that not everyone is as responsible in their gun ownership as you are.