The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Problem with the Latest Anti-Gun Talking Point

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

I see this talking point doing the rounds:

There are two problems with this claim. The first is that it’s mostly untrue. The second is that it’s predicated upon a comparison that, when interrogated, doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

Let’s start with its veracity. It is indisputable that commercial firearms sales in Georgia — which is to say almost all firearms sales in Georgia — require more documentation and more steps than does voter registration. To register to vote in Georgia, one must be a U.S. citizen, be resident in the county in which one is registering, be 17 and a half (18 to actually vote), and not be a felon or mentally ill. In addition, one needs either an unexpired Georgia drivers license, a State ID number, or a “paper registration form.” Registration can be done online, and takes five to ten minutes. To buy a gun from a commercial seller in Georgia, one must be a U.S. person, be resident in the state, be 18 (to buy a long gun) or 21 (to buy a handgun), and not be a felon or mentally ill. In addition, one needs to present a state-issued photo ID, to fill in Form 4473 (which asks many questions, including about drug use), and to undergo a criminal background check conducted by the FBI. The latter process takes longer — and involves more hoops — than does registering to vote.

In a handful of circumstances, these steps are, indeed, truncated. Georgia is one of 37 states that do not superintend the private transfer of firearms and, thus, that allow intrastate transfers without checks. To privately transfer a firearm in Georgia, one must meet the same eligibility requirements as for commercial transfers: One must be a U.S. person, be resident in the state, be 18 (to buy a long gun) or 21 (to buy a handgun), and not be a felon or mentally ill. But one does not need to provide ID or undergo a background check. In the real world, there are, of course, many good reasons for the state to decline to regulate the transfer of private property — including that it is extremely difficult to do well, that compliance tends to be low (even in deep blue states), that it doesn’t help catch criminals, that it rarely intersects with mass shootings (in both Georgia and Colorado, the guns were bought after a background check), that it involves the de facto creation of a gun registry, and that it is hard to devise a useful set of rules that don’t also prevent friends and family from loaning or giving each other guns. But, that notwithstanding, it is true that sometimes in Georgia it is easier to buy a gun than to vote.

I get off the boat at the conclusion that this “says a lot about where America is headed.” It doesn’t. Indeed, it is an entirely meaningless comparison. Registering to vote is an intrinsically public action; one has to do it through the government. Buying a gun — or any product, for that matter — is not. At one level, it will always be easier to buy a gun (or, say, to buy heroin) than to register to vote, because there is no such thing as private or illicit voter registration, whereas there is such a thing as a private or illicit firearms (or drug) deal. The State of Georgia could try to ban firearms completely, and it would still be possible to say “it’s easier to buy a gun than to register to vote.” These are discrete areas, and they require discrete approaches. Acknowledging this doesn’t play well on social media, I’m sure. But it’s true, nevertheless.

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