“Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am — stuck in the middle with you.” — Stealers Wheel, 1972

Everywhere I read, the doom and gloom of the Left and the paranoia of the Right are evident. One percent of the Left wants confiscation of guns that terrify them and fifty percent of the Right believes the entire Left wants to take away all their guns.

None of it is true.

We need calm and rational thinkers. We need reasonable people to have conversations about guns in America and what legislation might look like. I wrote a few months ago about simple legislation that would start the ball rolling — mandatory registration of guns along the lines of cars and dogs, along with required safety and accuracy training classes, vision checks, and personal liability insurance.

The percentage of gun owners in the United States hasn’t significantly changed in 45 years. An average of 42 percent of Americans has legally owned guns. Men overwhelmingly own guns here. The further you are from the Northeast, the more likely you are to own a gun — especially in the South. Sixty-five percent of gun owners have never achieved a college degree, and half of that number never made it to college. Folks who live in a rural setting are the biggest demographic of gun owners, as are those over the age of 50.

A gun enthusiast and good friend of mine and I have been having a conversation about rational and reasonable gun legislation. I’m an independent — he’s a Libertarian. We both own guns. We both have kids. We both love our families and our country and we are sick to death of the killing as well as the partisanship in Congress and society. We agree that something has to give. So Todd came up with the idea of a tiered system of gun ownership. We’ve gone back and forth on what it should look like. It’s an intelligent approach to guns in this country that most gun owners can probably agree with since a vast majority of gun owners already support background checks.

Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

ALL tiers would require a certificate of safety and accuracy training. The NRA already offers safety training across the country. Military services could offer this as well. All tiers would require something akin to a photo driver’s license stating what tier the bearer is licensed for. Your gun license could only be gained with proof of training. The guns you own and bear must match the tier you’re licensed for. Any violations would involve fines. A national period of registration could be up to two years to allow current owners the time to get their licenses.

Tier 1 would be all single action rifles and shotguns and would require your standard background checks for purchase as well as the license described above. The Second Amendment is all about the ability to protect your property, so Tier 1 has the least amount of restriction for guns that evoke the least amount of concern.

Tier 2 would include all single-action pistols, as well as semi-automatic shotguns with a capacity of five rounds or less. Here we’re still within the realm of self-protection and hunting and makes up the majority of average Americans owning a gun. Most gun owners fall within the first two tiers, and the monies taken in by these licenses would go towards training, licensing, and background checks as well as outreach programs.

Tier 3 would encompass all semi-automatic pistols with a 15 round capacity or less, as well as ANY conceal carry permits for ANY pistol.

Tier 4 includes semi-automatic rifles with a capacity of 15 rounds or less, and/or semi-automatic pistols with unlimited capacity. "Conceal carry" is included. In other words, this would be where all AR-15 (or the like) owners would fall as long as no clip could hold greater than 15 rounds. Or if you owned a number of semi-automatic pistols and basically wanted to own any sized clip, you could “buy up” to this tier from Tier 3 for whatever the additional cost would be.

Tier 5 includes all semi-automatic long guns and all semi-automatic pistols with unlimited capacity. So again, this is a “buy up” from Tier 4 for those who want no limit to the number of guns owned nor the amount of ammunition that can be clipped. "Conceal carry" is included here as well.

Purchases in both Tier 4 and Tier 5 would require a mandatory 30-day waiting period and a HIPAA waiver that allows reviews of medical and criminal histories. This is where a history of mental disorders (paranoia, suicide, schizophrenia, etc…) would prevent the ownership of a weapon capable of vast harm.

A Tier 3 "Conceal carry" designation would also require a HIPAA waiver — a national license standard such that a "conceal carry" permit issued in New Hampshire allows that person to "conceal carry" in any state because they’ve passed a comprehensive federal check. If you want to carry your Glock into Walmart, the rest of us deserve to know you aren’t unstable. Our local police chiefs would be the initiator for any "conceal carry" request.

HIPAA waivers would have prevented nearly every single mass shooter in the past five years. Not all. Of the 10 million plus “assault-style” weapons out there, only 40 have been used in mass shootings. The majority of Americans are responsible gun owners. Why punish them? Implementing a fair system of licensure makes it safer for everyone. Violate the terms of your license and you’ll pay a penalty — just like driving a car. Protecting gun owners, as well as the general public, should be a common goal for ALL involved. We want to keep nuts away from things that kill, whether it’s a gun, a car, a truck, or fertilizer. Everyone deserves to live without constant fear.

Is this perfect? No. But it IS a start. And we need to start somewhere.

(Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.)

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