My distant friend Kent Lundgren, one of the most capable and thoughtful firearms instructors out there, has written a blog post addressing the tricky question of how we might filter potential carriers of concealed weapons for competence without involving the government.
I’ve struggled with this one myself. Kent is right on, we absolutely do not want the government to have an easy pretext to forbid people from bearing arms; that is too dangerous a power to let government have. Any legal bar should have preconditions at least as difficult for the state as a finding of clinical insanity.
Yes, private-sector competency tests might be a good thing. I’m all in favor of voluntary certification. It’s the produce-on-demand part Kent suggests that’s a little worrying. We’ve got more than enough of “Your papers, please” in America already – it’s not a demand that is compatible with a free society in the long term.
Thinking about it now, though, I’m not sure how much good a firearms competency certification would actually do for basic safety. Such proposals would have the same adverse-selection problem that “gun control” laws do; the people you don’t want armed are exactly the people most likely to flout them. The effect of all such filters is perverse, to disarm only the conscientious and law-abiding.
The most important thing to remember when thinking about this sort of policy issue is a criminological fact I learned from Don B. Kates: that gun crimes and accidents are highly concentrated in an approximately 3% cohort of the population that is also strongly deviant by other measures, including: rates of domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, auto accidents, rates of criminal conviction, and accident proneness. Low intelligence and low impulse control are nearly defining traits of this group. Elsewhere I have borrowed some cop slang and called these people “mooks”.
Your chances of being shot deliberately or accidentally by a non-mook are on a par with your chances of being struck by lightning – such instances are so rare that each one gets individual newspaper coverage (incidentally misleading us to way overestimate the frequency).
The trouble with an (essentially) voluntary certification requirement is that non-mooks don’t need it and mooks won’t bother with it. The criminal mooks would laugh at the requirement the same way they laugh at “gun control” laws, and the mere losers generally wouldn’t have their act together enough to go through the procedural hoops. They’d carry anyway, though, because they’re stupid and thus exceptionally prone to the Dunning-Krueger effect, overestimating their own competence.
Where does this leave private-sector certification proposals? Basically, in the same bad place as “gun control” laws, without the go-directly-to-jail threat. The training requirement might do some good at slightly increasing competence levels among non-mooks, but non-mooks are already so unlikely to shoot each other that I’m doubtful any improvement in safety would breach the statistical noise level.