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Is It Really Easier To Buy A Gun Than It Is To Vote?

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In 2013, former President Bill Clinton famously said that "a great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon." But how true is Clinton's claim? Ahead of the upcoming GOP and Democratic presidential debates, we dug deeper into individual states' gun and voting laws.

Since Clinton made the statement during a celebration for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington, not much had changed for gun control on the federal level, until President Barack Obama announced his executive action plans earlier this month. On a state level, though, gun control laws vary. In recent years, tighter gun legislation has become a major point of discussion, with some states taking matters into their own hands.

The result: In some states, Clinton's suggestion is true — there are several states with strict voter ID laws, and gun control laws that are decidedly more lax. Interestingly, the reverse is also true; some states don't require voter ID, but have strict laws for purchasing guns.

We've put together some comparisons for how strict each state is on gun control and voter ID, using data from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the nonprofit Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence.

Gun Laws: Which States Make It Easy To Buy A Gun?
Photo: Illustration by Abbie Winters.
For gun control laws, we defined "strict" laws as states where buyers must be registered to purchase guns, or where background checks are always required to purchase guns. These states have closed the legal loopholes allowing people who purchase guns from private dealers or at gun shows to avoid background checks. In states with "moderately strict" gun control laws, background checks are sometimes required for buyers, and sellers should be licensed. States we classified as moderately strict may not have limits on the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time, while some of the strict states regulate that number. The states categorized as "lax" on gun control laws don't have background check requirements for gun trading between private parties, such as private sellers or gun purchases at gun shows.

Voting Laws: Which States Have Strict Voter ID Legislation?
Voter ID laws are a bit more scattered. Some states have instituted strict voter ID laws, while other states have had voter photo ID laws struck down and rendered ineffective. For voter ID laws, we defined "strict" as the states requiring photo identification to vote, "moderately strict" as states requiring non-photo identification to vote, and non-strict as states where voters can cast their ballot without identification.

For states with strict voter ID laws that have been struck down or aren't in effect, we looked at the laws that are in place now. States where voters must take additional steps to vote without non-photo ID, such as having election officials sign sworn statements confirming their identity, were categorized as moderately strict. In some strict and moderately strict states, photo and non-photo ID forms are requested, but for people who are indigent or have religious objections to being photographed, there are exceptions to the requirements.
Based on the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence's data we reviewed, 32 states fell under the "lax" category for gun control laws. There are 11 states, including California and Connecticut, that have instituted strict gun control laws, with background checks always required to purchase guns. In some sense, Clinton's 2013 remark isn't far off — more than half of U.S. states have loopholes for gun background checks.

Meanwhile, 24 states have strict or moderately strict voter ID laws in place. (The NCSL puts that figure at 33 states, but we classified states where voters can sign affidavits confirming their identity as non-strict.)
California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon are noteworthy states since they've implemented strict gun control measures, but are lax on voter ID measures. Conversely, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin all have strict voter ID laws, requiring voters to show photo identification before their vote is eligible, while their gun control laws are less stringent.

Connecticut, for example, has some of the strictest gun control laws in the U.S., many of which were implemented after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "I think there was an appreciation that we stepped forward and we did the right thing – and we weren't afraid to do the right thing when it came to guns," Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) told MSNBC host Steve Kornacki in 2014. But in terms of voter identification, the state is less stringent — a non-photo ID is requested. According to the NCSL, electors can use a state form to provide their name, address, and date of birth and sign a statement confirming their identity, if they don't have a form of non-photo ID.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Georgia instituted a law in 2014 that allows residents to carry firearms anywhere, as long as they are licensed. Georgia doesn't require background checks for firearm transfers between private parties, and the state has a no waiting period on firearm purchases. But in terms of voting, photo identification is required. If voters don't have a form of photo ID, they can cast provisional ballots, however, if they don't return to the election office with valid forms of photo ID within three days, their votes won't be counted.

As it turns out, every state has its own nuanced laws for obtaining guns and voting. Yet closing the "gun show loophole" has become a major point of discussion for the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates, and in the wake of recent events, it wouldn't be surprising if gun control laws are discussed at the upcoming GOP and Democratic debates. States hold a tremendous amount of power in the gun control debate, and it's important for candidates to recognize that fact during campaign season.
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