Indeed, even in states that have looser or nonexistent permitting requirements, federal law nevertheless requires all citizens to show identification and to submit to a background check when they purchase guns from a dealer — thus presuming that they have obtained the very government-sanctioned credentials that we hear are impossible to acquire. This is to say that progressives who rail against similar requirements at the voting booth spend much of the rest of their time doing their level best to expand the use of identification requirements within the Second Amendment’s sphere and attempt to complicate the system of private sales — including between family members. Could we not fairly make the case here, as opponents make the case against voter ID, that these rules are going to limit — unfairly and disproportionately — poor, minority, and immigrant Americans’ access to what is an enumerated and recognized constitutional right? Could one not make the case, further, that this is particularly worrying given that the poor are more likely to be in need of the means of self-protection than are the rich? I rather think that we can. But what do we hear instead, from the eccentrically outraged? We hear that such measures are mere “common sense.” This, I’m afraid, is hypocrisy.
One cannot even claim that the issue of voting is more historically sensitive than is the issue of firearms and therefore a separate question. As anybody who has taken even a cursory look at the topic will know, the history of gun control and the history of racism are, alas, utterly inextricable. From the beginning, attempts to make guns difficult to obtain have been aimed primarily at minorities — a trend that has come to a happy close only in the last 30 or 40 years. The colonies in both Massachusetts and Plymouth prohibited the sale of firearms to Indians prior to the revolution, and, before Louisiana became a territory of the United States, the French instituted “Black Codes” that required colonists not only to deny blacks weapons but actually to beat
“any black carrying any potential weapon.” In the antebellum South, state constitutions often reserved to “freemen” the right to bear arms, and, after the Civil War, the Democratic party and its terrorist wing, the KKK, passed and enforced a new set of “Black Codes,” which barred former slaves from owning guns and were so effective in doing so that the initial draft of the Anti-Klan Act of 1871 made it a criminal act to “deprive any citizen of the United States of any arms or weapons he may have in his house or possession for the defense of his person, family, or property.” As late as 1968, the anti-gun historian Robert Sherrill has documented, “gun control” was really another word for “disarming blacks,” and the banning of so-called “junk guns” was really a means by which the sorts of firearms that poor minorities could afford were taken off the market. “The Gun Control Act of 1968,” Sherill notes, “was passed not to control guns to but control blacks, and inasmuch as a majority of Congress did not want to do the former but were ashamed to show that their goal was the latter, the result was that they did neither.”
Now, I am, of course, under no impression that the “common sense” gun legislation of which the Democratic party is so fond is driven by racial animus. Misguided and counterproductive as it is, the gun-control movement does generally believe that it is doing the right thing. Nevertheless, if we are to believe that the arguable consequences of voter ID must be taken to be the intentions of voter ID, then can we not apply the same standard to those who would put obstacles in the way of the purchase of handguns? And if not, why not?
What about health care, for that matter? The notion that health care is “a right” is, of course, philosophically and economically illiterate — and, in America at least, it is legally absurd. Still, the president has taken to telling his audiences that “health insurance isn’t a privilege, it is your right,” and has promised to “keep it that way,” so I suppose one must presume that he believes this to be true. One might ask, then, why he and his defenders are so happy with the identification requirements baked into Obamacare? After all, even if one doesn’t consider the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be protecting a “right,” it is at least outlining a government service, and the most basic understanding of the principles of equal protection should determine that the state is not allowed to deny people access to services that are rendered in their name. Per HHS, Obamacare requires registrants to have at the minimum a Social Security card, which, in turn, requires proof of both identity and of U.S. citizenship — the very two things that we are informed are beyond the pale when it comes to voting. Has this discrepancy ever been addressed?
The answer, of course, is “No, it hasn’t been addressed.” Why? Well, because the Left does not really have a principled objection to there being obstacles put in front of rights — rather, it dislikes obstacles being put in front of those rights that it happens to like, and it has recognized, too, that this particular case is political dynamite. The genuine and reasonable fear of disenfranchisement to one side, just as the War on Women has proven a useful marketing tool, so painting the other side as being the reincarnation of Bull Connor has become an effective galvanizer of the party’s core electorate and a source of immense self-satisfaction. Why would anybody involved bother to look for inconsistencies?
So, what would a principled stance toward this question look like? For a start it would yield a system in which there were strict rules governing voting, firearms, and government services — or, contrarily, weak rules for all of the above. Next, it would see progressives railing equally against the voter-ID requirements in North Carolina and the firearms-permitting processes in New York City and much of the Northeast, admitting that their talking points about the ease of gun purchases simply aren’t true, and conceding that “Well, I like voting but not guns” is neither a legal nor a moral argument. Likewise, it would see conservatives acknowledging that “Well, you have to show ID at the drugstore!” is no better an argument in support of voting reform than “Well, you have to get a driver’s license!” is a strong argument in favor of gun-permitting, accepting that there are downsides to all reforms, and perhaps showing a little more sensitivity toward the worries of people for whom genuine oppression is a recent memory. And, most important of all, it would see both sides acknowledging that while the Supreme Court has ruled that authorities may put obstacles in the way both of firearms-purchasing and of ballot-casting, our political institutions may elect to impose them on neither — and maybe should. Who’s up for a little bipartisanship?
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.