Thomas Gabor: Gun Licensing Could Have Prevented Parkland Shooting

Tragically, fellow Americans, this time in Parkland, Florida, have once again been slaughtered ruthlessly by a young man wielding a weapon of war.  This is well past the time to discuss how these events can be prevented.  One does not need to be an expert to conclude that military-style weapons that can receive external magazines capable of holding 10-100 rounds of ammunition have no role in civilian life, other than to murder as many people as possible in the shortest time span.

parkland3Aside from banning these weapons, we need to do much better in screening individuals for their fitness to possess, own, or carry firearms.  In a January 8th post, I laid out some preliminary ideas for a national gun licensing system, although such a system could also be established at the state level.  The rationale is simple:  People operating a variety of forms of machinery and in many occupations require a license to ensure they meet certain requirements and maintain their qualifications to continue to engage in those activities.  In Florida, for example, licenses are required of motor vehicle operators, barbers and cosmetologists, mold remediation services, contractors in the construction industry, and many others.  If those operating cars and construction machinery need a license, it stands to reason that those owning and operating lethal weapons also ought to be licensed.

I mentioned in the previous post that expanding background checks to all gun sales and tinkering with our current system of checks is the low-hanging fruit with regard to reform as 95% of Americans support such actions.  Unfortunately, the obsession of gun safety advocates with this system has led us to lose sight of fundamental flaws in the way we screen prospective gun buyers.  Searching FBI electronic databases is not sufficient as, aside from clerical errors (seen in the lead-up to the Charleston church shooting) and the failure to forward data to the FBI (seen in the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting), every criminologist knows that official criminal records represent just the tip of the iceberg with regard to someone’s criminality and will miss troubling warning signs.  I therefore propose a comprehensive screening process including:

  • An in-person interview with law enforcement;
  • Reference checks;
  • Where applicable, notifying a current or former domestic partner of a license application;
  • Successful completion of gun safety and skills training provided by law enforcement or security firms;
  • Certificate of mental aptitude for applicants under 26 years of age; and,
  • A waiting period of 10 business days.

The shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School, just like many previous mass shooters, obtained his weapons legally.  The proposed licensing system may have prevented him from obtaining his weapons at four different stages of the process:

  1. The in-person interview may have uncovered some troubling attitudes on the part of the shooter in relation to guns. He may have even been deterred from pursuing a license due to the need for an interview.  With the private sale loophole closed, he may have either given up the idea of purchasing a gun or been forced into the illegal market.  With an accompanying assault weapons ban, the supply will eventually be reduced dramatically, substantially elevating the price of an illegal AR-15, which can cost $1,500 with all the accessories when purchased legally.  An illegal purchase might cost several times that amount, making it inaccessible to most young persons.
  2. Reference checks with peers, family (in this case surrogate family) members, school personnel, and social media checks would have uncovered his troubling behavior, statements, and threats.
  3. The psychological evaluation done for the certificate of mental aptitude may have uncovered disturbing attitudes and intentions.
  4. Even the requirement that he receive rigorous safety training—something not required to purchase a gun in Florida—may have raised some red flags for instructors.

No system is foolproof but experience with licensing in virtually every other advanced country with far better outcomes than the US indicates that it is time to develop such a regulatory system.  A national system is preferably to state licensing, as porous state borders mean that individuals who would be denied a license in one state can obtain firearms in nearby states that have lower standards.

Tom Gabor, Ph.D.

Criminologist and Sociologist

Author, Confronting Gun Violence in America (Amazon’s #1 new release in Criminology)


21 thoughts on “Thomas Gabor: Gun Licensing Could Have Prevented Parkland Shooting

  1. Progressive licensing could be an interesting idea. A simple background check for traditional hunting rifles. A more elaborate system for handguns and “modern sporting rifles”, i.e., ARs. Some research has been done on the so-called “weapon effect”, i.e., does the trigger pull the finger. I have often wondered if black rifles somehow work into a mythology of mass shooting. Mini-14’s are as easy to buy as ARs but you rarely hear about them being used in mass murders. At least unless you are in Norway.

    • Thanks Khal. Progressive licensing is done in Germany. A mini-Ruger was used in a Canadian mass shooting and was subsequently banned.

  2. Wow…where to start?

    Maybe start with: “Certificate of mental aptitude for applicants under 26 years of age”

    Why 26 years of age? How old was the shooter at the Naval yard, Fort Hood, San Bernardino, Pulse nightclub, as well as many other shootings?

    Or, should we start with: “substantially elevating the price of an illegal AR-15, which can cost $1,500 with all the accessories when purchased legally.”

    Wouldn’t this be an unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, i.e. the poor?

    As you say: “This is well past the time to discuss how these events can be prevented.” Why don’t we just start saying, what so many want to say, do away with the second amendment.

    I’m sure you know Florida is just weeks away from finishing their current legislative session. I would like to know if you have contacted your Senator in support of or non-support of SB 1476, gun registration? Or if you have contacted your Senator in reference to SB 196, transfer of “assault weapons and large-capacity magazines? If your like most people in Florida you have no idea these bills have even been written let alone been introduced. Be honest…I will take you at your word.

    • Alan, Many shooters are under 26. Germany introduced this after three school shootings in the 2000s. A careful reading of the Heller ruling on the Second Amendment shows that attaching conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of firearms does not violate the Constitution. I’m familiar with many, not all, Florida gun bills. Not sure how that is relevant. There are provisions on line 2,400 of a large agriculture bill so it is hard to know all that is going on as many legislators are not aware of all the shenanigans. I know because I was just in Tallahassee meeting with legislative staff.

      • Seriously, I believe you, and I’m happy to hear that you do work with your law makers and their staff on issues that are important to you. I’m not being flippant about that either. Most people that I talk with concerning the Second Amendment have no idea who their state representatives are, or even who their Congressional leaders are. They never communicate with them in helping to change the laws.
        For years I’ve worked with my representatives in the State legislature (my representatives and I are on a first name bases) and I am also on a first name bases with my Congressional delegation.
        So, I applaud you…seriously.

        You mention Germany. There is one fundamental difference between Germany and the U.S., that is the Constitution. I agree that Heller says that attaching condition and qualifications on the commercial sales of firearms. We have been doing that for years. And most rights, are not unlimited. So if you want to limit the Second Amendment to the age of 26 before you may purchase a firearm. Let’s use that age for other rights. Let’s say you must be 26 before you have the right for free Speach. You must be 26 before the Fith Amendment can be exercised. The list could go on.

        If you think one needs to be 26 before they can purchase a firearm what about the Selective Service? As it is now, all male U.S. Citizens and male immigrant non-citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to register with Selective Service. Let’s make that 26 before you register.

        As it is now you are allowed at 18 years of age to go to war. I was drafted for Vietnamese, and I wasn’t 26 years old. I was issued an M-16 rifle and also a 1911A1. (And while we’re at it…I believe in equality, all females must also register)

        What about the poor? You want to set the price for an AR so high that I don’t believe most poor people could afford. I believe this would be discriminating against the poor. Do you believe the poor should be discriminated against? Do you believe one needs to be at a particular social status before they are allowed to purchase a firearm?

      • Mr. Gabor, while I’m waiting for any additional explanation of my first two points on your proposal of a comprehensive screening process, let me ask about your suggestion of “A waiting period of 10 business days.” What is the reason for this?

        As you may know even before the National Instant Check System (NICS) replaced the 5-day waiting period previously required by the Brady Law, anti-gun groups and outspoken politicians renewed the call for a mandatory waiting period for anyone wishing to purchase a firearm. The reason most often cited is the need to provide a “cooling off” period for gun purchasers contemplating a crime of passion.

        If this is also your reason for the 10 day waiting period, what about those who already own a gun. Do they also need to wait the 10 days? If there is criminal intent on the part of the purchaser couldn’t he/she just use the firearm they already have?

    • Mr. Gabor, in reference to #2 “Reference checks with peers, family (in this case surrogate family) members, school personnel, and social media checks would have uncovered his troubling behavior, statements, and threats.”

      Do you mean like the 19 to 39 (depending on which article one may read) times the police responded to “reference checks” with Cruz peers and family (surrogate family included)? There are also reports coming out that peers reported to local Law Enforcement about some social media postings.

      How about the reference of school personnel. Cruz was expelled from school.

      How about the reference check on Cruz social media. The FBI was notified not once but twice about Cruz postings.

      I hope that I won’t be waiting a long time for a response.

    • Thanks Bruce. More states are adopting or looking at these and emergency protection orders. They are important but are after the fact. I favor a better vetting when someone first seeks to buy a gun.

  3. I read the Florida bill. Did anyone else? It seemed cumbersome and would actually not get rid of any ARs already in Florida but implement a registration requirement, limits on where you can have it, and add a non-transfer requirement for hi cap magazines and ARs. Of course, my non folding stock Ruger Mini-14 is fine but the one with a folding stock or ….gasp…a bayonet mount would be covered.

    So tell me how this would stop a suicidal mass shooter. Sure did stop Adam Lanza. Eventually by making it so onerous to own these, numbers would go down, but that would take time. Especially in the Gunshine State.

    Also was a 7 rd magazine limit. That was the one part of the NYS Safe Act that was thrown out by a Federal judge.

    People can throw all the tantrums they want, but the devils are always in the details and you don’t learn about a bill by reading Twitter feeds or Snapchat. Of course that bill would go down in flames. If the Dems down in a reddish state had a clue, they would have drafted something more carefully. This was political kabuki theatre.

    • Just an idea to throw out that might have gotten some bipartisan support. Clearly not all anyone wants, but as the Stones said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need”

      What if Florida amended its concealed carry law to also use it as a permit for ARs? Florida already has rules for getting a CHL and while an AR is obviously not a concealed weapon, using the CHL permit as a Concealed Weapon and Evil Black Rifle Permit (with different restrictions, on each perhaps) would allow sufficient screening with well established protocols to let people keep their black rifles rather than banning them, while keeping them out of the hands of an 18 year old or someone with a bad actor history. Here are the disqualifications for a CHL in Florida.

      The following is a list of things that can cause an application to be denied.

      The physical inability to handle a firearm safely.
      A felony conviction (unless civil and firearm rights have been restored by the convicting authority).
      Having adjudication withheld or sentence suspended on a felony or misdemeanor crime of violence unless three years have elapsed since probation or other conditions set by the court have been fulfilled.
      A conviction for a misdemeanor crime of violence in the last three years.
      A conviction for violation of controlled substance laws or multiple arrests for such offenses.
      A record of drug or alcohol abuse.
      Two or more DUI convictions within the previous three years.
      Being committed to a mental institution or adjudged incompetent or mentally defective.
      Failing to provide proof of proficiency with a firearm.
      Having been issued a domestic violence injunction or an injunction against repeat violence that is currently in force.
      Renouncement of U.S. citizenship.
      A dishonorable discharge from the armed forces.
      Being a fugitive from justice.

      Just a thought exercise, since I railed about the Dems not having any new ideas and as it happens, I’m a Dem.

      • Sounds good, Khal, but the vetting of applicants is inadequate in my view and the training in Florida, if one can call it that, is pathetic. I’m promoting the comprehensive licensing idea for all buyers and carriers.

  4. I wish the author would comment on the absolute failure of the school district, the Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, and the individual cop stationed at Douglas High school to take some action to prevent this act of mass murder.
    How is it possible that you can strip people of their right to self defense and then stand back and deny any responsibility for their safety?

    I will bring up another issue in the authors need to restrict magazine capacity. A study of the NYPD from 1998 to 2006 found that the average number of hits by officers during a defensive shooting is 18%. So, it will take, on average, 5.55 shots to get ONE hit on target!
    We also know that it takes 2-3 bullets to incapacitate the average assailant in these police shootings. The level of civilian training might be less or more.
    Right out of the gate , it requires from 13 -15 shots to survive an average gunfight.
    It’s almost like you want people to fail.

    • I agree with you William. The Department of Family Services (DCF) had several investigations on Nikolas Cruz. One investigation on Cruz for cutting himself numerous times. In the DCF report it states “Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr. Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for.” (emphases on “he plans to go out and buy a gun”) It’s apparent both the Law Enforcement, I’ve heard reports that LE visited the home over 19 times, (Sheriff and local) and DCF in Florida were inept and clumsy in handling this 19 year old. These departments need to go back for additional in-service training on their own “Florida Baker Act.” Maybe I could point them in the right direction and have them study their own Florida Statute 394.451 – 394.47891. It is my opinion that if anyone is responsible for the 17 deaths, it is Cruz and the FBI, local law enforcement, and DCF share in the responsibility.
      And I don’t give a pass for the school system either.
      I would also like to hear a response from the author of the failure of the entire system.

    • William, Who is denying people the right to self-defense? I haven’t heard anybody defend high-capacity magazines as a defensive tool and use the NYPD and related studies as a basis for arming civilians. My understanding is that the “hit” rate for civilians would be closer to 5% or less. How many more civilians do we want to arm when they shoot so inaccurately and with the sham of the training required by most states? Most of the high-capacity magazines will be used by shooters not “good guys” with guns, if we believe the research.

  5. Schools are Gun Free Zones. By denying staff and students the ability to protect themselves the school and law enforcement is then obligated to protect them. The school board failed to report this murderers criminal behavior to police. The local Sheriff responded three dozen times to the murderers residence, the FBI took at least two reports from people who knew the murderer and his threats to conduct a school shooting and had weapons, and the sheriff’s Deputies stationed at the school failed to intervene.
    That, my friend, is Gun Control in a nutshell. It is already established in Supreme Court case Law that all those who failed to protect the dead will not be held accountable.
    You are a vocal proponent of magazine restrictions. By your own research a person defending himself with a firearm will not have enough bullets to survive an average encounter with a criminal.


    This story means the psychological screening mentioned above should include finding out if the person is on the autism spectrum.

    Also, having a law to require all schools report students with autism to a national database and requring a person on the database wanting to buy a gun undergo a psychological assessment before allowing a purchase to go through could prevent some shootings. Now of course this is not PC.

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