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Unequal rights

The obvious contradictions in conservative arguments supporting our constitutionally protected gun rights versus our constitutionally protected voting rights suggest a belief that Americans are more capable of responsibly exercising their right to own a gun than their right to vote. Organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Republican Party vehemently fight against measures that would make it easier for law enforcement to track gun sales or computer systems similar to the databases that track how much Sudafed one buys anywhere in the country, while supporting measures that make it harder for people to vote by erecting bureaucratic barriers and new taxpayer-funded ID requirements.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence estimates that nearly 100,000 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents or by police intervention annually. Numerous gaps in our national database systems, lax state reporting and the ability to buy guns from private sellers (40 percent of gun sales) impede efforts to stop people prohibited by law — criminals, the seriously mentally ill and drug abusers — from owning guns. Despite a history of serious mental illness, Seung-Hui Cho was able to pass a background check and buy the guns he used in the shootings at Virginia Tech; a habitual drug user disqualified from military service, Jared Lee Loughner, should not have been able to buy guns and ammunition. 

{mosads}Despite recent polling that shows a majority of Americans, most NRA members, support responsible gun ownership and a crackdown on illegal guns and those who use them to commit crimes, the NRA, GOP and others insist that constitutional freedom outweighs any new measures focusing on responsibility and the illegal purchase and use of weapons. Going so far as promote myths about fomenting violence in Mexico to increase political support for the expired assault weapons ban, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to block enforcement of new reporting requirements for multiple sales of long guns along the Southwest border that law enforcement could use to track illegal guns used in the very same violence.

When the conversation shifts to Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, the arguments shift dramatically to stress the need for new measures that impede our rights by increased registration regulations, decreasing the number of days for early voting and vote-by-mail as well as new ID requirements, which could prevent 5 million Americans from voting. Despite only nine documented cases of voter fraud between 2000 and 2007, and only 13 cases of in-person voter impersonation in the last 10 years when 649 million votes have been cast in general elections, we hear a consistent GOP myth about rampant voter fraud. A recent analysis by the Violence Policy Center showed states with higher gun ownership rates and weak gun laws have the highest rates of overall gun death; as many state gun laws remain lax, nearly 1,000 bills adding more voting restrictions have been introduced in 46 states.

Many of us share an equal sense of urgency in protecting our right to vote and the ability make decisions about our healthcare, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we do the right to bear arms. As the late Charlton Heston, actor and former NRA president, said, “As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed … ‘From my cold, dead hands!’ ”

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant, and co-host of POTUS/Sirius XM’s “The Flaks.”


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