01/24/2014 09:58 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2014

Blocking Votes, Selling Guns

Why is the right to vote less valued than the right to own a gun? Why is one ID attacked and the other protected?

On June 25, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. ruled that parts of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional. Even though Congress periodically reviewed the timeliness of the precautions implemented to reduce racially motivated blocks to voting, the majority opinion claimed that the Voting Rights Act "imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs." In conflict with this assessment, Congress, which, according to the Constitution, has wide powers to legislate the voting process, last reviewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006, only seven years ago. Suggesting that racial discrimination is radically diminished, the majority opinion concluded, "[N]early 50 years later, things have changed dramatically." Eighteen days later, on July 13, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of the black teen Trayvon Martin. In a rare turn of events, the court of public opinion perversely put the dead youth on trial to defend himself posthumously against a white Hispanic man with a restraining order against him for domestic abuse. Who gets to keep their voice? Who gets to choose?

Within six weeks of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, six Southern states passed or implemented new voting restrictions. And we need to remember that, according to The Nation, "[s]ince 1965, the Justice Department blocked at least 1,150 discriminatory voting changes from going into effect under Section 5 of the VRA." The Rev. William Barber, NAACP North Carolina president, speaking about the assault on voting rights, said, "In some ways, these tactics are not Jim Crow. They do not feature Night Riders and sheets ... This is in fact, James Crow, Esq. Jim Crow used blunt tools. James Crow, Esq. uses surgical tools, consultants, high paid consultants and lawyers to cut out the heart of black political power." 

The horror that was the Sandy Hook shooting that left 26 dead happened on Dec. 14, 2012. In the year that followed, the U.S. experienced 23 more mass shootings where four or more people were killed in a single incident. According to The Daily Beast, there were "at least 24 school shootings claim[ing] at least 17 lives" in that same time. And according to The New York Times, the previous Tuesday, "a 12-year-old boy opened fire with a shotgun at the middle school he attends in Roswell, N.M., striking two among the dozens of students who were gathered inside a gym waiting for the first bell to ring...." Dalia Lithwick, a court and law columnist for Slate, wrote, "We just make a decision to treat armed killers in schools as we previously treated fires and tornadoes: as acts of God instead of failures of legislative and moral courage. ... And so this is what we have tacitly agreed to do now: We ask our kids to pile themselves silently into their classroom closets, and we tell them this is what 'freedom' looks like."

There's a question that's floating around social media that goes, "How did asking white people to pass background checks to buy a gun become more offensive than asking minorities to provide photo ID to vote?" Why is it that minorities' access to equal power is more threatening to some people than anyone's access to a deadly weapon? How did citizenship become more terrifying to us than mass murder?

Every person is entitled to fair, equitable treatment. Every person is entitled to their voice having a reasonable say. Every person is entitled to safety in our society. My faith and our secular values call for this. All these crises can easily be swept aside, and we came blithely blame the lack of public interest or commitment to civic duty, or the proclivity for reality TV over educational documentaries.

I think in some ways disinterest, misinformation, and denigration of education are to blame. But all these reasons are merely a blip in the face of corporate power. We have a gun lobby that dictates the safety of our children. Although the Second Amendment is often cited as the main reason for the strength of the gun lobby, I believe that strength is rooted more in wealth. In the year following the Sandy Hook shooting, gun makers' profits went up 52-percent. There is a financial cost to big business in order for our kids to have safe schools. It's not profitable for the select few to make choices grounded in common sense.

And as long as minorities continue to tend to vote in such ways that support the interests of the working and middle classes, or merely the interests of common human decency, their votes become dangerous to conflicting special interest groups -- groups that are not interested in common human decency.

It is horrifying to me that our nation will lift up the life of Nelson Mandela, a leader who fought to ensure that everyone had the right to vote, a leader who strived to help his nation move past a time when voting centers in black communities were dealing with bomb threats and actual bombs, and then we would dismantle our own bill of rights for the very reasons that Mr. Mandela dedicated his life against.

Freedom really means recognizing how we are all interdependent and living with compassion in light of that fact. It's not about removing our inhibitions. It's not about ignoring our accountability. It's not about maintaining an ignorance of the ramifications of our actions. Freedom, real freedom, is living and letting others live too. Sometimes freedom means accepting mild, reasonable limitations on our sense of entitlement in order for others to have a fair chance at the same free life. Freedom is another way to say communal maturity.