"A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon." - President Bill Clinton
The former president is absolutely right about what a great democracy should do. Unfortunately this is not the case in the United States today.
There have always been attempts by conservatives to restrict the franchise. It took women well over a century and painful struggle to get the right to vote. For African Americans in the South, activists were beaten and killed before the federal government stepped in to end "Jim Crow" laws against voting. Then it took massive voter registration drives in an atmosphere of intimidation to fully extend the right and access to vote for all citizens.
Until recently, there was a movement in the states towards making voting more convenient and accessible. Now, conservative governors and legislators are turning back the clock on progress.
Many Americans suffer from the difficulty of voting on a Tuesday in November instead of the weekend -- a relic of an agricultural nation. But it wasn't enough for some conservatives.
So, they discovered a "solution" in search of a "problem" -- the infinitesimal amount of voter fraud. But the real motive was stated by GOP Pennsylvania House Majority leader Mike Turzai, "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
According to the authoritative Brennan Center, since the beginning of 2011, 19 states have passed 25 laws and two executive actions restricting voting. The laws vary, but all have the same impact. In these states, it is now more difficult for those Americans who typically have the least access to power in our democracy to participate. Some of the restrictions are particularly perverse.
Texas allows a state-issued "concealed carry permit" for guns to count as a voter ID but not a duly authorized ID from the flagship University of Texas. Tennessee and North Carolina also prohibit university identification from their own systems. A student without a driver's license essentially loses his/her rights while a gun owner, simply by owning a gun, does not. On Election Day 2012, Florida had hours-long lines because of new restrictions on early voting. North Carolina also eliminated same-day registration and reduced early voting. Indiana now allows other voters to challenge and demand proof of registration from fellow voters before they can vote.
The purpose of these voter restrictions laws is to make it more difficult for the young, the elderly, the poor and minorities to vote. Our voter participation rates are already among the lowest in the world's democracies, but conservatives seem intent on lowering it further.
But guns, why, owning them should be easier than ever. Congress failed to renew the assault weapons ban, but one can buy an assault weapon from an individual or a gun show without having to show any identification. Even after the movie theatre carnage in Colorado and the slaughter of school children in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut by individuals wielding assault weapons and large ammunition clips, Congress failed to provide enough votes for simple background checks.
A recent study by two professors at Cleveland State University estimated that Americans own between 262 and 310 million firearms. The U.S. population is less than 314 million. Over 30,000 Americans die every year from firearms, and one person in three knows someone who has been shot according to the Brady Center. There are many suggestions about reducing gun violence in the United States. But allowing someone to buy an assault weapon without showing any identification surely is not one of them. Despite the paranoia fostered by the gun lobby, no government agency is going to come and take away guns from American citizens. In fact, the only national database of gun ownership is controlled by the NRA!
It is time to promote sensible reforms about gun violence and to stop further restrictions on voting. The only way this will happen is if enough Americans vote for politicians willing to oppose the NRA and its backers -- the gun manufacturers, and vote out those politicians who seek to restrict Americans' right to vote for their own narrow partisan reasons.