The political expediency of stoking the paranoia of the far-right as well as generating powerful lobbies to satisfy their aims is well demonstrated, but one does grow suspicious when the justification for two of their core tenets is so antipodal.
I am referring to the voter-ID laws and the expansion of gun rights; two issues which have recently gained much political ground despite there being no apparent need for reform. Since the Obama presidency, it can be seen from the data below that many demographics have advocated for greater gun rights, particularly white men. And although it is unclear from the data whether the same people are building arsenals or if there are more gun owners or both,as the percentage of households with guns have gone down since the early ’70s, one thing is clear: the arguments in favor of less gun control have had quite some impact in just under three years.
Despite a crime rate that has fallen consistently since the early ’90s gun sales have risen steadily since 9/11 and made a considerable jump in late ’08 to early ’09. Perhaps many were bracing for the recession, many relied on the conventional wisdom that violent crimes rise in hard times, but crime has fallen just as steadily as it had been. After all, sales had fallen about half as much as they rose the year after the peak in the graph below, so perhaps many had misprognosticated the bedlam. The political insecurity concerning gun rights has been unusually high and many have defended them at times when the arguments would seem untenable. We all remember, that what had so stuck in Michael Moore’s craw in his documentary, Bowling for Columbine is that the NRA would blithely rally at a town that had recently experienced a tragedy related to gun violence and would ironically bring with them the message that gun-rights and gun tragedies are a non-sequitur. Despite Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the Arizona shootings, despite the Trayvon murder, and probably despite the Aurora shooting, these numbers will remain largely unchanged and that even modest measures of gun control will be spurned. Republicans, having changed the tone against gun control, are using these tragedies not to discourage gun ownership or tighten the screening process, but citing them as evidence of the need for greater guns–priming a fearful, rather than regulatory response.
The argument in defense of gun rights, especially after a tragedy is: you can’t use one incident of gun violence to frame the argument against gun rights. Which is true, but in plotting (x) protecting innocent lives against (y) more guns, they will find the trend is as useful to them as the “aberrant” incident of violence. As John Velloco incorrectly asserted “Guns save more lives annually than they take. They’re used more often by law-abiding citizens to stop crimes than by criminals to successfully commit crimes.” That is not to say that more criminals own guns than law-abiding citizens, but the data shows us that guns are more effective as a means to crime and violence than protection. As the number of gun shootings amass, it is clear the change in attitude among most Americans and the enduring conviction of the gun lobby: that more guns in more hands more of the time maximizes both freedom and safety, are more than ever running counter to the facts.
The other perversion of the cost-risk analysis in recent policy changes is the voter-ID laws. The striking incongruence is that recent gun laws are expansive, while voter-ID laws restrictive. Voter-ID laws attempt to weed out the very negligible portion of the votership that engages in fraud–which in and of itself is a good thing–but because it is expected to discourage hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters, it is clear that the policy is a subterfuge to make it needlessly expensive and difficult for traditionally Democratic voters from turning out. Therefore, in branding themselves as the champions of the legitimate vote, Republicans in favor of the law can mask their desire to see less voting taking place with pride in the democratic process and vigilance against corrupting influence, no matter how inconsequential.
The need for reform, on both accounts, is not a social need but a partisan one. Republicans are losing the young and minority votes by large margins, and they are hoping that the inconvenience of the DMV will be enough to deter them, and I do think they will have some success. On the other hand, gun rights–even for non-gun owners–will contribute to the rally-cry for freedom that the right are laying claim to. These are manufactured crises which can hide behind the flimsy but intelligible arguments that “guns don’t kill people, people do” and that fighting voter fraud is worth it, no matter the cost. But the costs are high in either case and it is no offense to American freedom to say that it should be harder to get a gun than vote.