I had some big milestones to accomplish this year leading up to my 21st birthday.
Last summer I got the opportunity for my first real full-time job working for a government agency. It was a chance to put my computer science studies into practice and a perfect launching pad for my career. But first, there were the human resources hurdles that go along with this kind of employment. There was the standard job application with letters of recommendation and college transcripts, along with the I-9 form to prove my citizenship. The next step was a drug test by a contracted testing agency, which required a government-issued photo ID.
This was a problem. I was one of the growing number of young people who never got around to getting a driver’s license while I was in high school. So the next best option was a passport. Oops – mine was expired. So after getting a FedEx delivery of my original birth certificate and Social Security card sent to California from my home in North Carolina, it was off to a Post Office with mug shots and a hefty cashiers check in hand to apply for a passport.
Two weeks later, the passport arrived, the drug test was passed, and I was fingerprinted and photographed again to get my government ID card and gain access to the work site. Did I resent all of these steps, which ended up taking more than a month? Not really. These are the expected protocols for security and proper identification in modern society.
With that milestone accomplished, I realized I had better check off that driver’s license box on my bucket list. On my December break trip back to North Carolina, I tackled a tangle of requirements. First there was the liability insurance binder so I could begin the process of practicing my rusty behind-the-wheel skills that I had begun to learn in high school. Then I downloaded the state’s driver’s manual and spent several hours studying the laws, road signs and driving practices that I would be asked about on the written exam. I waited two weeks for my exam appointment, arrived at the correct time to get my eyes tested, pass the written test, and spend some nervous moments with a very stern highway patrol officer driving on local streets and highways. He was a no-nonsense guy who took seriously his mission of making sure every new driver was ready to handle the responsibility of operating a vehicle. My license arrived in the mail three weeks later and I got the joy of paying my first auto insurance premium. Yep, a real right of passage – I guess this means I am an adult.
The third milestone came purely by accident: I shot a gun.
It wasn’t something I had ever thought about. Our family is one of the estimated 68 percent of American households that do not own a gun. In fact, I had never held a gun nor had any desire to do so.
But a friend was at a local shooting range with his Glock 19 and convinced me to join him. After some cajoling and teasing, there I was, gun in hand and pointing at a target. Surreal.
I squinted hard, pulled the trigger, and the hole appeared right in the head of the outlined figure on the target. Had it been a real person, the wound would have been fatal. I shuddered, felt a little sick and quickly handed the pistol back. Did I want to try again? No. I was overwhelmed by what had happened. It still haunts me. This wasn’t Hollywood. Real gun. Real bullet. Real bullseye.
I may be a bona fide sharpshooter, but I am clearly not ready to own a gun. I would still need significant training. I should be verified, fingerprinted and insured. This is serious stuff. Except not back home, in North Carolina’s Alamance County. Under state laws, I can walk into any gun store and buy a rifle or shotgun, no questions asked, no permits required. And if I want to buy that Glock, it’s slightly more challenging. I can go on the local Sheriff’s website, download a two-page Pistol Purchase Permit and answer 13 simple questions. I need to supply my new drivers license number for identification, and I need to sign a release for any court orders related to my mental health. The pistol background check should be returned within a few days and I can go to the local gun dealer and arm myself.
Over the past several years, we’ve heard just about every argument that can be made on the question of gun control as the carnage continues across America. For now, it seems we’re at a stalemate, with the Second Amendment advocates holding the upper hand and the victims of gun violence continuing to mount.
Still, my own experiences as I count down the weeks to my 21st birthday lead to some common sense questions: If our society has determined it is reasonable to require job applicants and drivers to pass through some standard gateways, why are we not doing the same for the ownership of firearms? Is it not reasonable to require training and a competency test before granting access to an instrument of deadly force? Doesn’t it make sense to require fingerprints, or perhaps even tests of physical or mental fitness before allowing individuals to own and use a weapon that can end a human life with the simple squeeze of a trigger?
One more question – why are we not holding our elected leaders responsible for using common sense on the question of gun control? Here’s a novel idea: hand the enforcement over to the Department of Motor Vehicles. There’s at least one mean-looking highway patrolman in North Carolina who will make sure only those who are qualified get access to guns.