When It’s Easier to Get a Gun than a Ballot

Dear Joel,

Wouldn’t it be nice if Dana Loesch and friends cared as much about voting rights as they do gun rights?

Loesch, readers will remember from just yesterday, is a conservative talk radio host and too-frequent guest on mainstream TV news whose ad for the NRA, released this week, called for violence against a vague “them”—liberals, progressives, members of “the resistance” (like, say, all those women and this winter’s Women’s March in DC), and Black Lives Matters advocates.

It’s just a hunch, but it seems like the NRA doesn’t care about wooing centrists who think that gun rights are worth protecting as part of the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. These folks, who claim to love the law (but mostly just love authoritarianism) love guns, not liberty.

As more and more states adopt conceal and carry and open carry and as more people choose to own guns, the NRA will have to keep upping its scary rhetoric to prove that guns rights are under attack when it’s clear that, in fact, they aren’t. Since gun rights are secure and guns are everywhere* in this country, the NRA doesn’t have much to work with in appealing to moderates.

Instead, it has to prevent members from slipping over to the even extremist Gun Owners of America. After all, if you’ve already won the “middle ground” (and the fact that conceal and carry is the “middle ground” tells you about the terror that rightwing gun advocates must feel all the time), you just keep pushing right. The only end of it can be zero regulation of guns: any gun, for any person, any place, at any time, with no government oversight of production or sales.

As, gun rights advocates think, the founders wanted (for white people, I mean).


Above, a man with “We the People” tattooed on his forearm and a pistol on his hip. Photo from The Guardian. 

Rhetoric around gun rights consistently links back to the founding period: We need guns to fend off a possible attack by our own government. (Gun rights advocates tend to leave off the part about the racist militias that were required to maintain the brutal system of slavery, but let’s be clear: today’s gun rights arguments are also arguments for maintaining white supremacy over the lives of people of color.) Your neighbor isn’t stockpiling to fight the Germans. His ultimate enemy is the US government—or, rather, the government as he imagines it: intellectual elites promoting multiculturalism and equality at the expense of his white supremacy.

And rightwing lawmakers encourage this kind of hostility toward the government. They protect the privacy of gun dealers and owners at the expense of public safety—a courtesy not granted the vast number of US citizens who have been surveilled under the Patriot Act. Lawmakers have made it extremely difficult to collect any data on gun ownership, even in ways that protect subject privacy. The NRA has fought hard to prevent doctors from asking patients if they own a gun and secure it separately from ammunition—the security procedures recommended by the NRA itself—even though they can ask about smoke detectors, car seats, and cigarette smoking in the home.

By law, records about gun sales cannot be digitized. Because there is no standard for reporting this information, some people in gun sales submit their information on toilet paper—a contemptuous act that makes it incredibly difficult to access information about a gun when a crime using that gun has occurred. The disrespect impedes police work and undermines justice for victims of violence—two groups that the NRA says they care so much about.

But let’s say you are a Constitutional fundamentalist: the Founders wrote it, you believe it, and that settles it. Let’s take a Church of Christ approach: if it’s not specifically listed in the Constitution or can’t be inferred from a narrow reading, it’s not legit. So the Founders said, in the Constitution, that we had an individual right to own guns (or did they?), but they never said that you had to show photo ID to get one (How could they when there was no photography?) or that you had to be 18 or that you had to demonstrate basic competency with a firearm. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say that the government should track sales or require gun registration. The proper place of guns today is just where it was in the late 18th century (or at least where the NRA imagines it was).

And yet…

The Trump administration has demanded all kinds of personal information on voters from state attorneys general. A few have refused. More must.

Because, in previous centuries of American democracy, you didn’t have to show photo ID to vote. You didn’t have to navigate a complex paper ballot. (You very often just raised your hand, shuffled to one side of the lawn or the other, or tossed a bean or some other kind of produce into a hat.) You showed up (if you could make it past political opponents who were out to stop you), and you voted. No one asked for your government issued ID. And, afterward, no one collected the last 4 digits of your social security number (because, after all, we didn’t have one).

In other words, today’s pre-voting burdens and post-voting invasions of privacy are at least as offensive to the Constitution as are gun control laws, even if you read the 2nd Amendment as generously as possible.

“Second Amendment” people should be piping up very loudly right now. Their silence lets us know that they aren’t here to protect civil liberties or even to challenge an authoritarian government. Advocating for gun rights and against voting rights makes no sense unless the goal is to protect white supremacy, not civil liberties.

And for those of us who revere voting rights, perhaps we can take a page from extremist gun rights advocates. Let the members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, who will meet in DC on July 19, know what you think. Kansas’ Attorney General Kris Kobach (who couldn’t find a voter fraud case if it was sitting in an area nursing home) is VP of the commission, and I encourage you to reach out to him to let him know your thoughts—and, yes, toilet paper is a fine way to send them.



Places I have seen guns in the last year:

  • Waiter at a restaurant open carrying as he brought me my iced tea (and, yes, I left).
  • Employee of a boat launch at a state park swimming hole (and, yes, I left, because a person wearing a gun over swimshorts is not a person I need to be near).
  • Sandwich shop—a man perhaps in his mid-20s comes in with his three young sons, one with no shoes and another wearing just a diaper. While the man couldn’t bother to dress his children or keep track of their shoes, he did manage to strap on a gun. (Note: Having contributed at least a dozen single baby and toddler shoes to the universe, I tend not to judge. But I also know that if you are too overwhelmed to dress your child, you are not going to have the attention to keep a gun secure. And, yes, I left.)


  1. Thanks, Rebecca. I have yet to see an open carry. When I do, I plan to leave on the spot, even if it means leaving groceries in the cart in the middle of an aisle or a restaurant before I get my meal. Your point about constitutional consistency is spot-on. Just as the states’ rights people are now silent about the demand for voter information from a federal commission.

    I would just note, on behalf of readers who are not in Kris Kobach’s Kansas jurisdiction, that even KRIS KOBACH will not comply with Kris Kobach’s demand for this information.


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