Assuming you’re a Second Amendment supporter, chances are that you oppose any legislation that suppresses a law-abiding citizen’s fundamental right to keep and bear arms. You probably believe that the Constitution is pretty clear on this, and “shall not be infringed,” means exactly what it says.
Likewise, you probably believe that civilian gun ownership is critically important to the preservation of a free society because it is the last line of defense against tyranny from despots, terrorists, criminals, etc. To put it another way, an unarmed populace is an easily victimized and subjugated populace.
Am I right so far?
Supposing that I’m correct, how do you feel about laws that arguably suppress an equally important right. That is, the right of a citizen to participate in the democratic process, the right of the citizen to have a say in government, the right to vote.
Specifically, I’m talking about voter ID laws. What is a voter ID law? Well, it basically says that before one is allowed to cast a vote one has to show polling attendants photo identification, e.g. driver’s license, passport, military ID, concealed carry permit, citizen’s certificate. In theory, it sounds like a reasonable proposition. Why shouldn’t someone have to verify who they are before they vote? You have to show ID before you do a lot of things: Rent a car, board an airplane, buy a beer.
Yet, in practice, opponents of voter ID laws suggest that they inhibit folks from voting. Not only that, voter ID laws are a solution in want of a problem.
To start in reverse order, that is to address the criticism that they are a solution in want of a problem, here is what Loyola University Law School professor Justin Levitt had to say on the matter in an article published in the Washington Post:
I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.
To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.
So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.
To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.
Levitt goes on to say that 31 figure may actually be overinflated because of error on behalf of those reporting the numbers. He postulates that people may have confused names on lists, or while entering polling data into computers or any number of ways, and suspects that a few of those incidents will ultimately be debunked, meaning it wasn’t voter fraud by clerical error. Yet, needless to say, his central point is that cases of voter fraud as defined by people showing up at polls pretending to be other people is exceptionally rare. One can argue that it’s so rare that it’s a negligible concern.
As for how voter ID laws suppress voter participation a Government Accountability Office report published this past fall compared two states which enacted voter ID laws between the 2008 and 2012 elections, Tennessee and Kansas, with four states that made no significant changes to their respective voter requirements, Maine, Alabama, Arkansas, and Delaware.
The results of the study were revealing, as The Boston Globe reported:
Kansas and Tennessee experienced significantly steeper drops in the number of voters who went to the polls than the four comparison states, the GAO found. The groups where turnout dropped the most came as no surprise: African-Americans, young voters, and recently registered voters. The GAO also noted drops in Hispanic and Asian-American turnout. In the 2012 presidential election, voting for Barack Obama dropped in the control states, as it did nationally, but nowhere by as steep a percentage as in Kansas and Tennessee.
While the GOA study is admittedly limited, there is enough evidence there to suggest what is obvious to many opponents of voter ID laws, it makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to vote.
Pretty interesting. Where do I come out on all of this? Well, voter ID laws remind me a lot of universal background checks. Instead of doing what they’re designed to do, which is keep the wrong people from obtaining firearms, they actually have the opposite effect, they make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their fundamental right to keep and bear arms.
How does this happen? Well, criminals don’t follow the laws in the first place. Another law on the books won’t stop a criminal from stealing a firearm, buying one on the black market or borrowing one from a fellow thug. By contrast, requiring a citizen to travel to a gun shop dealer and pay a sizable fee (it’s not uncommon for FFLs to charge $50-60 to process a background check) before he is permitted to transfer that firearm to his cousin, neighbor or friend is, at least in my book, an infringement. It’s another hoop to jump through, and where it will really have an impact is with prospective gun owners, those who do not yet own a gun but are interested in learning more about guns. With UBC laws on the books, a prospective gun owner’s ability to shoot, test, possess a variety of firearms before deciding on the “right” gun for him becomes a cost prohibitive endeavor due to the background check fees he would likely incur by receiving transfers from friends and extended family. To put it another way, a fundamental right is turned into a costly pain in the butt.
Overall, UBC laws place an unfair burden on law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to stop the wrong people from gaining access to guns — and that’s pretty much the same thing with voter ID laws. Again, consider what Levitt has to say:
Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.
Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.
Voter fraud happens, just like gun-related violence happens. But pretending that a feel-good universal background check measure or a voter ID requirement will make a difference is foolish. The reality is that these laws don’t stop bad people from doing bad things, but stop good people from exercising the very fundamental rights that make America the best country in the world.
So, it’s with that in mind that I ask you, are gun owners who support voter ID laws hypocrites?