Poll Taxes and Background Checks

Shelby Murdoc

September 20, 2017 — Years ago in discussion, someone proposed what I thought was a rather elegant compromise. We had been talking about gun control earlier in the day, but, by that evening, the conversation had turned to voting rights and voter ID laws. “Why not make the basic requirements for voting and for buying a gun the same?” came the idea. “If strict control over who can buy a gun is so important and so unintrusive, why would similar controls over elections be any different?”

This, of course, raised all sorts of protests from those who had been explaining earlier how background checks, strict identification requirements, and charges to be paid for keeping and bearing arms should be expected and, in their opinion, probably needed to be made even stricter.

Recently, John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, proposed the same thing in an opinion column. He wrote:

Democrats have long lauded background checks on gun purchases as simple, accurate and in complete harmony with the Second Amendment right to own guns. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has bragged that the checks “make our communities and neighborhoods safer without in any way abridging rights or threatening a legitimate part of the American heritage.”

If Democrats really believe that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System doesn’t interfere “in any way” with people’s constitutional rights to own a gun, doesn’t it follow that the same system would not constitute an infringement on people’s right to vote? This would give Republicans a system for stopping vote fraud and Democrats a system that they have already vigorously endorsed.

He points out that NICS does more than check criminal history databases and an election version of the system could be expanded to flag anything on record that would prevent a person from legally voting.

Part of the problem—as far as voter rights activists are concerned, anyway—would be the requirement for positive identification of the potential voter. Voter ID laws are a very controversial issue, and their existence is held up by critics as a method of denying people their ability to participate in the American democratic system. Just as no one can buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer without providing official ID and passing the instant background check, no one would be allowed to cast a vote without doing the same thing.

If it’s not burdensome for gun buyers, surely it cannot be burdensome for voters, can it?

But here we get to what I see as the real beauty of this proposal: Arguments that voter ID and background checks, perhaps accompanied by bills for licenses to participate in or to help defray the costs of elections, will be met with howls of outrage. Especially if voters would need to have their ballots recorded and “registered” for safety’s sake.

As far as I’m concerned, the goal of the equating requirements for voting with those for buying guns would not be to add requirements for voting. It would be make the restrictions on firearm ownership more readily apparent and the often-ridiculous burdens and costs extorted from gun owners far simpler to eliminate.

A compromise would be reached. It would likely include increased control over elections, which is obviously a good thing. It would likely include decreased restrictions on gun ownership. We would likely see a fairer level of regulation for both elections and guns. Both sides would get a lot of what they want while conceding only what they believe is a just amount freedom.

A letter in response to Lott’s column claimed that “waiting a bit for the background check should, in no way, inhibit those who have legitimate reasons to own a gun” and that using the same type of system for voting “would only contribute to the disenfranchisement of millions of voters.”

That is exactly why using the system for both would bring about so much improvement for American citizens, their personal freedom, and their government. We would all be able to decide together just how much waiting should, in no way, inhibit the exercising of rights and how much people should have to pay to be able to exercise them.

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