Many people on the right who are in favor of the right to own guns do so based on reasons such as safety. For example, in the wake of pretty much any mass shooting, you will have people come out and say that the solution is to equip even more people with guns so that they can intervene and take out the shooter in such situations. Other examples include simple home security against robbers and what not.

But these same people also tend to oppose gun control policies such as competency tests and strict licensing prior to the acquiral of a gun. How is the co-existence of these two sentiments justified?

One would think that if the usage of guns is purely a matter of safety, then competency in using those guns would be a high priority. After all, if we want to equip people with guns to protect us from robbers or deranged shooters, we would want to ensure that they are as competent in using those guns as possible. And if a person can't pass a competency or licensing requirement, then perhaps they shouldn't own one.

So, what arguments are offered by these people to justify opposing gun competency tests?

Note that I am well aware that many people oppose competency tests because safety is not their primary concern. Rather, they just really like guns, and competency tests is a possible barrier that could prevent them from getting more of them, so they oppose it. My question is not about these people, I am speaking solely of people that concede that safety is their primary concern yet they still oppose competency tests. What arguments do they use to justify such a position?

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    It would help if you can cite (link to) some of these arguments so that we can evaluate whether safety truly is the primary factor in those arguments, as opposed to a secondary argument.
    – cjs
    Aug 6, 2019 at 2:51
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    – Philipp
    Aug 8, 2019 at 10:33

7 Answers 7


In America gun ownership is a right with enshrined protections from government infringement established in the constitution. Now pause for a moment and consider how you might feel if something you consider to be a right was going to have competency requirements e.g. the vote or water.

Going beyond the mindset and considering more practical matters

An amount of competency required to ensure the a person could use a gun safely to protect themselves or others (and not put others in more danger) would be hard for most people to achieve. This would require discipline and skill. Thus, tests would likely be hard for most to pass meaning them losing the right.

Competency requirement require someone to set out rules determining who is 'competent' and someone to assess people against those rules. In other words someone to assess if you are fit to be entitled to something that is supposed to be a right. These people have control over who can and can't own/bear arms. There has been a history of such assessors using questionable criteria to exclude particular people.

Tests require administration from the state/government. The right to bear arms is partly to protect personal liberty from the government/state.

Given the above it is highly possible that such requirements would pave the way for strict gun controls and even the banning of bearing/owning arms. Compulsory licencing would make this much easier to implement. The UK went down a similar path of licencing arms then removing a large amount of them.

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    "An amount of competency (...) to achieve." - Why do you think so? Using a gun safely is easier than driving a car safely. (Shooting effectively is a different thing though.) I googled for some data and found (on a pro-gun website unfortunately) that in 33 events where an armed citizen tried to stop an active shooter, there were 0 cases of armed citizens making things worse. Link: concealedcarry.com/news/…
    – user31389
    Aug 8, 2019 at 11:29
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    @user31389 just reading through that article, I can immediately tell you that there are quite a few flaws with the methodology, and realistically the data is not available to determine whether this is correct or not. Aug 8, 2019 at 15:13
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    Not enshrined in the constitution - in an amendment. This means that someone thought that the political and social circumstances of the time required a change to the constitution. When the political and social circumstances of our time require it, we "the people" can decide to change the constitution again, or one of its amendments. An new amendment could require competency tests for the right to bear arms. To say that, because something is in the constitution, it cannot be changed is a poor argument, in my opinion, especially when there is such overwhelming evidence in support of change.
    – cdonner
    Aug 8, 2019 at 20:19
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    This answer seems reasonable, but is there any evidence that this is actually what the people mentioned in the question think? Aug 8, 2019 at 21:54
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    Water is not a right.
    – Chloe
    Aug 8, 2019 at 22:09

Whenever there is a test, there is someone who will administer the test. And there is a long history of abuse of such tests, e.g. literacy tests to restrict the franchise. How do you stop Jim Crow from saying "you failed" because he doesn't like your skin color?

Follow-Up: As one might have guessed, the topic caused plenty of comments. Some have already been deleted ...

  • A gun safety test is not the same as a government record of gun ownership, but proposals for both may go hand in hand. (Many people have a driver's license, but no car.)
  • A meaningful test should include hands-on weapons handling by the candidate. Multiple choice on an anonymous website provides only administrative overhead, no added safety.
  • If a test is also supposed to spot people with mental problems, then subjective impressions by the examiner must enter into it.
  • The mere possibility of uneven enforcement is no reason to stop a law. But a historical precedent of uneven enforcement of similar tests would be a reason to reconsider. Interestingly, those ethnic groups who seem most vocal in their complaints were least likely to be affected by Jim Crow.
  • 3
    Please support this claim with quotes or evidence of people opposing competency tests for this reason.
    – CramerTV
    Aug 6, 2019 at 16:21
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    @CramerTV Here's an example of the NRA using it. Of course, this isn't just a theoretical argument. Jim Crow laws very frequently imposed various licensing and other restrictions on firearms for the specific purpose of disarming black people after the Civil War (just like they tried to do with voting and other such rights.)
    – reirab
    Aug 6, 2019 at 16:32
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    At o.m. - that was true in the past - but today, with randomized questions on a web-based portal circumstances are different.
    – Mayo
    Aug 6, 2019 at 20:31
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    @Mayo Was that satire? Yes, in an ideal universe with nothing but benevolent overlords that are in charge of everything, you could have perfectly fair, randomized questions on an unhackable web-based portal. Anything short of that, and there is doubt: are foreign agents hacking the site, are domestic agents hacking the site, who made up the questions, are they actually random, are they actually fair, do they actually allow someone to demonstrate firearm competency, does the test actually stop bad people intending to do harm, or does it just stop people who can't figure out how to use Google?
    – John Doe
    Aug 6, 2019 at 23:25
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    I don't see how possible unequal enforcement of a law is an argument against having that law in the first place. I mean, violent crime laws don't seem to be enforced equally or fairly either. Does that mean we shouldn't have those laws? Aug 7, 2019 at 13:47

It's one of three situations, from most to least likely:

  1. Despite safety ostensibly being the primary concern, it's not.
  2. They're not well justified arguments.
  3. They're arguments based on particular forms of manditory competency training or certification that are ineffective.

For the first, even when not explicitly stated, many arguments about using particular techniques to help improve firearm safety implicitly rest on constraints from other assumptions about the regulation of ownership. In the U.S., most freqently this is that owning firearms is a right that cannot be greatly restricted. (Whether you believe this is a greater good or merely a situation that cannot easily be changed is irrelevant to this particular argument.) Thus any gun control policies (involving training requirements or otherwise) that would be seen to overly restrict this right cannot be implemented. Note the proponents of such argument may be very much in favour of training, and object only to it being mandatory for gun ownership.

It would help if you could provide examples of the arguments you're talking about, so we could indeed verify that these arguments don't "oppose competency tests because safety is not their primary concern."

For the second, while it would seem clear that better trained and more competent firearm owners would increase safety, there has been resistance to studying this in the U.S.. This could be used to argue that we don't have good data about the effectiveness of training (or many other things), and thus shouldn't make it a requirement until we do. This doesn't appear to me to be justified given the studies that have been done, inside and outside the U.S., however.

Third, there are plenty of what even firearms advocates agree are very poor mandatory training courses for concealed carry. There's an argument to be made that these are really no more useful than no training at all and thus are not worth the burden they place on the applicant.

  • 4. …forms of mandatory competency training or certification that are discriminatory. 5. Arguments that are an overreaction against people who appear to think the Constitution should be as easily changed/ignored as any other law.
    – WGroleau
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:01
  • Did I miss something? While talking about evidence whether competency tests actually work, you just linked evidence that some random, unrelated gun control measures that worked? (link 3)
    – Shadow1024
    Aug 11, 2019 at 5:02
  • @Shadow1024 As the start of the paragraph points out, we seem to be lacking in studies that do a good job of disambiguating competency tests from other firearms control measures. Given that, I can only point to tests that at least touch on that as a component of such measures and extrapolate (with obviously more limited validity) from there. If you know of studies that do better in this area, you should certainly write an answer linking to and explaining them!
    – cjs
    Aug 11, 2019 at 5:50
  • The problem for me is that you make some bold sentences, which if anyone bothered to follow link start to look overstretch. "Resistance to studying this" means: "after fierce bickering a tiny part of fed funds were moved from studying gun deaths to brain injury". // Good study? Sorry, publication bias. From researcher perspective picking a project where the result is likely to be "no statistically significant difference" is a waste of time, while prestigious journals have more juicy articles to publish.
    – Shadow1024
    Aug 11, 2019 at 6:47
  • @Shadow1024 "[N]one of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control," especially when that's interpreted as "you can't do any study where a possible result might be an argument for restricting gun ownership in any way," is a long way from "a tiny part of the funds were moved." But as I said, you should post a detailed answer. Also mention it in a comment here; if it truly shows that we have good evidence in this area, I'll link to it from mine.
    – cjs
    Aug 11, 2019 at 6:53

There's 'safety', and then there's 'safety'. Reasons for ownership posed by gun ownership advocates are about the safety of the gun owner. Reasons for certification and licensing posed by gun control advocates are about the safety of the general public FROM the gun owner. Ownership advocates consider the former necessary, and consider the latter to be infringements on their constitutional rights.

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    Hello PMar. These statements seem to anecdotally match experiences I have had with people on this issue. However, could you cite some reputable sources that state these arguments? It will allow other readers to go to a document to see how you arrived at your inferences.
    – isakbob
    Aug 6, 2019 at 13:44
  • This answer seems reasonable, but is there any evidence for it? Aug 8, 2019 at 21:58

Gun advocates generally oppose most restrictions, no matter how sensible they may seem to their proponents. I believe they mostly view any encroachment on what they view as an absolute right (due to the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution) as a slippery slope on the way to taking away their guns completely.

I'm not sure this actually reflects the attitude of most gun owners, but it's the kind of warning raised by spokespeople of the NRA and other gun rights organizations, and stokes fears of "they're coming for your guns" in the people who believe their propaganda. So even though polls often show that the vast majority of Americans favor common sense gun legislation in principle, when it actually comes time to propose such legislation, gun owners are conditioned to oppose it.

For examples of the kinds of laws that are typically encompassed in "common sense gun regulations", see Model Laws:

1) require background checks on all gun purchasers; 2) license firearm owners; 3) register all firearms; 4) regulate firearms dealers and ammunition sellers; 5) require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms; 6) impose a waiting period before the sale of a firearm; and 7) limit firearm purchases to one per person every 90 days.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Aug 8, 2019 at 10:38
  • You framed most of this as being your opinion, which is not generally appropriate for an answer on this site. Can you provide any evidence that this is true? Aug 8, 2019 at 21:59
  • While I admit characterizations like "sensible" are opinions, I think something like "gun advocates generally ..." is an observation.
    – Barmar
    Aug 8, 2019 at 22:08

For me personally, it's Federalism. I am opposed to a nation wide requirement to a gun safety course requirement, but I am not opposed to California having a state requirement to take the course before purchase (which technically it doesn't... every county government in California made it a law to have taken the course making the State requirement redundant work). It's not that I'm opposed to the principle of the law, but the authority that is making the law (i.e. Washington politicians as opposed to someone who is more local to myself).

There could be other valid reasons for some states not requiring it (again, as pointed out, Gun Rights supporters are nearly always very aware and supportive of safety. The NRA, for example, opperates a safety course that is accredited in states that require it and it's the same course in states where it's not and do advocate all first time buyers should take a course, even a competitor's regardless of requirements). Another reason is that it might already be culturally ingrained. States with a high number of hunters might have learned proper gun safety as children hunting with dad long before they ever get to the age to legally purchase a fire arm (A family friend's second grade daughter is excited as all get out to go deer hunting with her father this season (I wanna say fall) and I know her dad well enough to know she's gonna get a very though gun saftey lesson prior to that trip ever happening. No trophey kill is worth his daughter's life).

Most gun rights advocates are also big on personal responsibility especially with fire arms (especially the self-defense advocates) and would likely argue that it shouldn't be a requirement because you should be doing this education yourself before you ever consider getting a fire arm and not having any training is no excuse if you do use a gun in an unsafe manner. After all, states that have this as a requirement don't let you off for handling a gun in an unsafe manner results in you killing someone. (BTW, I do not want to own a gun at all. Doesn't mean I haven't learned how to be safe with handling a gun. Just to be safe. Most of the rules are pretty common sense. In fact, the first rule of gun safety is always treat a gun as if it was loaded and the second is never point the business end at anything you don't want to be held legally responsible for destroy and are prepared to destroy, like furniture, cans, people, your face).

  • 1
    As long as you're getting "technically", counties (and cities, school districts, etc.) are all creations of the state. None of those governmental subdivisions can do anything that the State of California didn't empower them to do. So whether the laws were adopted individually by each county or by a vote of the state legislature, in Constitutional terms they are state laws, because the counties got their authority to pass those laws from the state (which can take it away from them). Aug 7, 2019 at 18:10
  • @MontyHarder: They are de facto local law that creates a du jure state law. There is no de facto state law in California that says the counties may make the determination or that the state may make the determination. If in the hypothetical a county decided not to require the test, the de jure state law does not exist. To create any state law in this situtation, the state would have to override the county by making a de facto state law, which would remove the decision from the counties.
    – hszmv
    Aug 7, 2019 at 19:26
  • @MontyHarder: Or more suscinctly, now where in the California Constitution is the local government allowed to make these laws. But more importantly, no where in the California Constitution is local government not allowed to make these laws. (Generally in the US, when a constitution falls silent on a matter, then the government created by a constitution is not permitted to legislate on that matter.).
    – hszmv
    Aug 7, 2019 at 19:38
  • These all seem like reasonable reasons, but you can you provide any evidence that this is actually the answer? Aug 8, 2019 at 22:00

I don't know how true this is but, according to folklore, where gun licenses require a training course, it has been customary in some places to hold such training only once every two years with very limited enrollment, and announce it publicly only after the roster is filled with friends of the sheriff.

“You want to take the safety qualification? Sure, just watch the newspaper for the next session. Oops, this year's session was last week. Well, there will be another one someday. No, we don't have a way for you to sign up to be notified, it's not in our budget.”

Even if this never really happened, it's widely enough believed to make pro-gun people suspicious of any comparable conditions on licensing.

  • 3
    I believe the "folklore" in fact describes the history of gun licensing in Rhode Island; you should look up the history of that and update your answer accordingly.
    – supercat
    Aug 8, 2019 at 19:31

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