Why Not Regulate Guns Like Cars?

I was just on a HuffPost Live panel with, among others, Elie Mystal (Above The Law), and he suggested — as a gun control proposal — that guns should be regulated like cars. This prompts me to repost an item I posted several years ago:

Cars are basically regulated as follows (I rely below on California law, but to my knowledge the rules are similar throughout the country):

(1) No federal licensing or registration of car owners.

(2) Any person may use a car on his own private property without any license or registration. See, e.g., California Vehicle Code §§ 360, 12500 (driver’s license required for driving on “highways,” defined as places that are “publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel”); California Vehicle Code § 4000 (same as to registration).

(3) Any adult — and in most states, 16- and 17-year-olds as well — may get a license to use a car in public places by passing a fairly simple test that virtually everyone can pass.

This is pretty much how many gun rights advocates would like to see guns regulated, and is in fact pretty close to the dominant model in the over 35 states that now allow pretty much any law-abiding adult to get a license to carry a concealed weapon: No need to register or get a license to have a gun at home, and a simple, routine test through which any law-abiding citizen can get a state license to carry a gun in public.

Now I suspect that many gun control advocates would in reality prefer a much more onerous system of regulations for guns than for cars (though Mystal seemed to say that he was indeed suggesting a very similar regime for guns and for cars). Of course, one can certainly argue that guns should be regulated more heavily than cars; thoughtful gun control advocates do indeed do this. But then one should candidly admit that one is demanding specially burdensome regulation for guns — and not claim to be “merely asking that guns be regulated like cars.”

Incidentally, I don’t claim any great originality on these points: Others have made them before me, see, e.g., David Kopel’s Taking It to the Streets, Reason, Nov. 1999. But some things are worth repeating.

UPDATE: I originally omitted the “of gun owners” in item (1); I included it in response to a comment pointing out that manufacturers must generally place VINs on cars, much as federal law already generally requires serial numbers for guns.