What the gun industry can learn from scuba divers

Private regulation is a win-win, so it should certify gun owners

The Supreme Court will issue a major interpretation of the Second Amendment in coming weeks. But even as both sides in the gun debate await the D.C. v. Heller ruling, the gun industry should set its sights on a different target: certification.

It should develop and adopt a private licensing and certification program fashioned on the highly successful scuba diving industry model to provide safety, legal, and marksmanship training to all gun owners and users. Such a private mandate will ensure a base of safer and more knowledgeable gun users and develop a fresh and lucrative revenue source for the whole industry.

For decades, the debate on gun control in America has been defined by polar opposite political positions. On the left, gun ownership abolitionists seek the intervention of government to severely restrict or outlaw firearms possession and use. With strong support among coastal urban populations and high-income elites, these gun-control advocates appeal to the inherent evil of gun violence as proof of the desirability of severely restricting access to guns. Their argument is moralistic and practical, if altogether naive given the millions of firearms already present in American homes – and the ease of obtaining guns for criminal purposes.

On the other side, defiant gun owners and libertarians cite constitutional justification – and anachronistic biblical and patriotic frontier mythological imagery – to bolster their possession of an immutable right to "keep and bear arms." With such a political impasse of instinctive and deep mistrust, there is no wonder that little progress had been made in making our homes, streets, and fields safer from the real dangers of legal and illegal firearms use. The core of this problem derives from the absolutist nature of both camps. It is simple "No restrictions" versus "complete regulation or abolition."

Enter the scuba model. For decades, the international Scuba diving community has required all divers to obtain certifications from one of two private associations, the National Association of Underwater Instructors and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. No diver may fill their tanks or take part in recreational or professional diving trips without first obtaining a certification card from one of these private organizations. For their part, dive shops and schools generate significant portions of their revenue from the tuition that would-be divers pay to obtain their certifications at basic to advanced levels. Undergoing class-room instruction, pool lessons, and "open water" testing, graduates of these programs are thoroughly trained in all aspects of safety and proper procedure in what would otherwise be an inherently dangerous pastime.

The gun industry, perhaps led by the National Rifle Association, should develop a curriculum of training and education leading to firearms certification." All retailers of guns and or ammunition would require the provision of such private certification by the consumer before consenting to the sale of any of those items. Background checks should be included in the certification process as well as periodic refresher courses. The federal and state governments would not be involved. Records of gun ownership would be available to government or law-enforcement officials only with the written consent of the certified owner or a warrant provided by proper authority. Nonconsenting retailers would be "blackballed" by industry leaders and cut off from supplies of goods and services.

The firearms industry has an unprecedented opportunity to show leadership and creativity at this time when the debate is otherwise deadlocked. More safety and additional revenue for gun ranges and stores makes for a healthier industry that will have better success at attracting new sportsmen and customers.

Peter A. Gudmundsson is CEO of Dallas-based Beckett Media. He is a hunter and gun owner.

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