Clinton’s ID Fallacy
It’s a typical Clinton distortion to claim it’s easier to get an assault weapon than it is to vote.

Bill Clinton speaks at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2013.


Charles C. W. Cooke

For his part, Seitz-Wald puts it like this:

There are 33 states where you can buy an assault weapon without ID, versus zero states where you can vote without providing some kind of ID — it’s federal law. Meanwhile, there are 43 state [sic] where you can buy an assault weapon with an ID, and, and 37 states were [sic] you can vote without a government-issued ID.

If you’re wondering about that “zero states” claim, note that Seitz-Wald is willfully conflating registering to vote with actually voting. Certainly, federal law holds that Americans need “some sort of ID” to register. But it does not hold that they need an ID actually to vote. It is the latter, not the former, that has led to the problem of people voting on behalf of others, and it is the latter problem that voter-ID laws are designed to fix. Moreover, because states do not have equal populations, his tally doesn’t quite show what he thinks it does. The total population of the states that do not require background checks for private purchases of “assault weapons” is 210 million; the total population of states that do not currently feature strict voter-ID laws is 260 million.

Seitz-Wald also argues that:

While it takes just a few seconds to complete a background check in more than 95 percent of cases, it can take hours of work and days of waiting for someone to acquire the ID they might need to vote.

It does indeed take only a few seconds to complete a background check. However, Seitz-Wald neglects to mention two crucial things.

First, in order to go through the mandatory federal background check that accompanies all commercial firearms purchases, buyers are required by federal law to provide a government-issued photo-ID. Thus, to the background-check process, you can add, in Seitz-Wald’s own words, the “hours of work and days of waiting for someone to acquire [an] ID.”  

It is this system that the Democratic party was desperate to expand to all sales. Had Toomey-Manchin passed, every single firearms transaction in the country would have been subjected to a background check that required a government-issued ID. The Left thus simultaneously holds the positions that it is so horrible for the government to require citizens to show ID before they vote that all such requirements must be abolished, and that it is so necessary to require citizens to show ID before they can buy firearms — even from a friend — that the requirement must be nationalized.

Second, many states require citizens to get hold of a permit to purchase a firearm in the first place — long before they ever get to the background-check stage. Indeed, depending on their local laws, many citizens have to go through some combination of a firearms class, police fingerprinting, the submission of forms, and a criminal background check before they are allowed to try to buy a gun — privately or commercially. And, of course, as part of this permitting process, the majority of the states that issue permits require applicants to show — yes, you’ve guessed it — a valid ID.

I suspect that those comparing voter-ID laws and the purchase of firearms are leading themselves down a road they will one day wish that they had not. Bill Clinton was arguing against requiring voter ID on the grounds that obstacles to the exercise of basic rights are unbecoming of a “great democracy.” The logical response to his jab is to ask if he favors removing all restrictions on firearms purchases, including federal background checks, all state permitting, and concealed-carry laws — and, if not, why not?

If we pretend for a moment, as Seitz-Wald does, that both voting and the right to bear arms are constitutional rights (the former is not, but that’s for another day), there is little way of arguing consistently that voting should be subject to no identification checks but that firearms purchases should. There’s a racial history to such restrictions on both sides, too: Blacks have been systematically denied firearms in the United States, often in the most disgraceful way. If, in an ideal world, the government is not allowed to check that you are who you say you are when you cast your vote, then why on earth should a gun store have to?

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.