Friday, July 27, 2012

Votes and Guns

I find it interesting to compare and contrast the approaches that we’ve taken with regard to two very important issues, both of which are core constitutional issues. In one case, we’ve begun enacting legislation that has a material adverse impact upon the core constitutional rights of potentially millions of people in order to prevent a crime that doesn’t seem to exist. On the other hand, we’ve refused to enact laws or take real measures designed to prevent (or reduce the impact of) real crimes that are being committed daily and have become a plague upon our society.

What am I talking about about? You know. Votes and guns.

The absolute core of our democratic republic is the notion that people elect their representatives. Take away the right to vote and you are limiting our democracy. Despite the fact that there is little or no evidence of actual in person voter fraud (of the type that would be prevented by voter ID laws), state after state has adopted laws that have the net effect of making it more difficult for large numbers of people to exercise their constitutional right to vote. We’ve enacted laws that impose burdens on the exercise of rights in order to prevent a non-existent crime.

The Constitution also protects the right to bear arms (though I still contend that the “militia clause” must have some meaning). Many people (especially the NRA) seem to read the Second Amendment to prevent any sort of restrictions upon guns or gun ownership. Sure, we require a background check (sometimes) before someone can purchase a gun. But we don’t require background checks to purchase 100-round magazines, armor piercing bullets, tear gas canisters, body armor, or any of a host of similar items. And we know, all too well, that there is an epidemic of crime being committed with guns. Real crimes with real victims, often children.

In other words, when it comes to imposing burdens upon voting, we tend to look at Constitutional rights through a very narrow lens. We don’t seem to mind that we might disenfranchise some voters if it will protect “the system” from the “threat” of a crime — even if that crime doesn’t really exist. But when it comes to the Second Amendment, we look at Constitutional rights through a very expansive lens and believe that almost anything goes and we dare not tread upon gun rights even if it is to stop a scourge of violence that kills literally thousands each year (9,146 in 2009, according to GunPolicy.org). I have no idea how many people are wounded by gunfire; nor do I have any idea the extent to which people change their behavior due to the fear of gun violence.

The history of our country has been to expand voting rights and voting access. From being very limited (landowning males only in some cases), voting rights have expanded to include most men, then blacks, then women, then those 18 and older. We’ve gotten rid of poll taxes and reading tests and other sorts of barriers to voting. Until recently. And now, many of our politicians seem set upon creating new barriers to voting. But when it comes to guns, we can’t even seem to get support for a ban on assault weapons and cop-killer bullets. We can’t get support for the notion that if you’re on the government’s “no fly list” you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. We can’t get support for closing loopholes that allow people to buy guns at gun shows without background checks. In fact, many of our legislators are pushing for more liberal gun laws, including allowing people to carry guns in bars, stadiums, schools, and courthouses, and requiring a concealed carry license issued by one state to be recognized by other states (and isn’t it odd that the people pushing for that are largely the same who don’t want states to be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state… but I digress…).

Over and over, we’re told that “guns don’t kill people; people do”. That may be true. But votes don’t kill people either. And yet we’re willing to restrict voting rights but not gun rights. That makes no sense to me. I simply cannot understand how fair-minded people can be willing to restrict rights to prevent a crime for which there is no evidence that it has or is being committed and, at the same time, not restrict rights to prevent crimes that are killing our fellow citizens and making our society less safe.

Votes and guns. Guns and votes. We’re making it too hard to do one; too easy to obtain the other. We’ve got our priorities seriously backward.

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