Commentary: NRA should manage gun safety in public-private partnership

Like most teenagers, I found my first political voice in high school. Growing up in a conservative town, in a deep red state, I have vivid memories of taking on the controversial topic of gun reform for a speech competition as a sophomore at Santa Fe High School, where I also played football.

Although I’ve still never owned a firearm, close conservative friends from my hometown kept me grounded in a culture that views firearms as an essential tool – as ingrained in the Texas ethos as Friday night lights or barbecue brisket.

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From countless social media debates over recent years with hometown friends, it struck me as no surprise that the community’s reactions to the school shooting stood in stark contrast to the Parkland High School students. I knew that even after last week’s events, most Santa Fe High students would likely still defend the Second Amendment and echo conservative-firebrand talking points that divert blame to the “devaluation of human life,” as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told reporters recently.

I can’t help but think there’s a missed opportunity here for common ground. Reasonable, conservative friends repeatedly express to me that the “law-abiding citizens” who compose the National Rifle Association’s membership should not be punished for the actions of violent criminals who abuse firearms. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, we also agree that responsible gun ownership is more essential to preventing high school shootings than any sort of targeted firearm ban could ever be; in Sandy Hook to Santa Fe, the assailant accessed firearms that were ineffectively secured by their owners.

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So, why not make the subject matter experts – most prominently, the NRA – responsible for enforcing “responsible gun ownership” through universal registration, training and accountability laws? Most card-holding members of the NRA would be the first ones to vehemently describe the critical importance of gun safety — and yet we’ve all simply left responsible ownership to the honor system.

Instead, put the enthusiasts at the NRA in the center of the requirement. Allow everyone to keep their guns, but make mandatory the initial background check — for criminal history, including any account of domestic violence — annual safety training, reporting of private sales and safe storage audits. What better way to codify the “responsible gun ownership” mantra of the NRA than to give it a fundamental role in oversight? In the public policy arena, we’d call this a “win-win.”

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A public-private partnership like this wouldn’t be without precedent. In fact, every year, most students at Santa Fe High comply with another state-sanctioned duopoly administered by third parties: standardized college admissions test. The SAT and the ACT are required or recommended by 87 percent of colleges and universities in the United States, including every public university in Texas. However, both exams are actually administered by a non profit organization called the College Board and ACT, respectively. This means the state has effectively granted authority to these two non governmental organizations to determine who is fit to go to college.

Similar public-private partnerships exist. Although the state medical boards officially issue a medical license, they leave the training and certification of physicians to medical schools – many of which are private institutions. State laws make it illegal to practice medicine without a license, but the heart of eligibility is determined by these non governmental organizations. You’ll also find analogous arrangements for pilots.

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Why not grant the NRA and other firearm enthusiast groups a similar stake in ensuring that gun owners have demonstrated the required competency to be deemed “responsible gun owners?”

Saeed, a doctor in Dallas, graduated from Santa Fe High School in 2001. He studied public policy at Harvard.

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