01/11/2013 02:09 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2013

A Gun Owner's Plea for Tougher Gun Laws

I'm a gun owner. I went shooting at a local firing range with my nephew last weekend. One of my handguns I bought over 40 years ago. But I also have a niece who was shot and killed at her Connecticut college three years ago by a man she barely knew, a stalker who wrote in his journal about killing Jews and other students on campus. Although certified insane at his trial, he hadn't had a problem acquiring the semi-automatic nine-millimeter pistol he used to murder her, shooting her seven times.

That is one of the reasons why, along with most gun owners, I'm not a member of the NRA and do not subscribe to their paranoid insistence that any reasonable gun law or gun tracking regulation is a partisan plot to disarm our citizenry. Luckily they were not an extremist industry lobby back when a law restricting private ownership of machine guns and sawed off shotguns was passed in 1934. Otherwise today's shootings might be even worse.

I believe that there are commonsense reforms that could help reduce gun violence and high-casualty massacres that are usually facilitated by young male rage and mental illness but also by our nation's too easy access to firearms. As a private investigator I worked on several cases of young men who'd killed other young men as a result of personal grudges that -- when I was in high school -- likely would have ended as fistfights, but turned deadly because of the spillover of illegal handguns from the vast and easily accessible legal market.

When I first got licensed as a PI I had to take a firearms safety course before I was allowed to possess a firearm for work. But most people can walk into a gun store and without prior training take possession of a range of weapons with lethal capacities well beyond hunting or home defense. Want a night-vision scope on that .50 caliber sniper rifle? Not a problem.

Given that I'm required to pass an exam to show I'm competent to drive my car, I feel I could and should be required to pass a similar competency test to own my guns. Unfortunately that level of regulation is not likely to happen any time soon in the United States even if Joe Biden suggests otherwise. As a first step towards more common-sense gun laws however we should, as suggested by President Obama, reinstate the assault weapons ban (1994-2004), including limiting ammo clip capacity. And we could get rid of the gun show exemption which pretends that hundreds of guys selling high-powered weapons to thousands of strangers without requiring an otherwise mandated FBI background check is the same as me gifting a gun to my nephew or selling one to my friend. It's actually more like gifting tons of armaments to Mexican drug cartels and convicted felons.

There is and ought to be a center ground between an individualized interpretation of the second amendment and an idealized vision of America transforming into the peaceable kingdom (or Great Britain). Once we acknowledge that individual gun ownership may be a right but is also a growing public health menace with over 30,000 gun deaths a year (suicides, homicides and accidents), we just might be able to join with Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly to begin a common sense discussion about our legal and moral responsibilities as citizens free of the non-productive tirades of the NRA. Otherwise we'll keep killing thousands of Americans every year whose numbers, with this past holiday season's massacre in Newton Connecticut, now includes 20 of the most innocent.