I've seen claims in several places that in some parts of the United States of America, the bureaucratic procedure to register to vote is more difficult/complicated than to get a permit to buy a personal firearm.

Two examples of these claims are as follows.

It's easier to buy guns in Pennsylvania than it is to vote

The voter ID bill – which has made it harder to vote – was signed into law last year under the watch of newly-elected Governor Tom Corbett. Current estimates show that the new voter ID law will negatively affect over 750,000 people – mostly minority and democratic-leaning voters – within the state of Pennsylvania.

So far, under Corbett’s watch, the process of purchasing weapons has become progressively easier while, at the same time, voting has become more difficult; to the point where it is now harder to vote than it is to buy a rifle.

When Buying a Gun Becomes Easier Than Voting

And Virginia is not alone... Many GOP-controlled state legislatures across the nation are now moving to implement voter suppression laws before the 2012 elections. Of the eight states that require residents to show photo identification before voting -- Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kansas, Indiana and Wisconsin -- all allow residents to purchase firearms through private sales without undergoing any type of background check or showing any form of identification. These sales are cash and carry, and no paperwork is required. 23 other states require residents to produce some form of identification before voting (though not necessarily a photo ID). Of those 23, only Rhode Island prohibits all private sales of firearms (Connecticut requires background checks for private sales of handguns only). Finally, in a development that may or not be coincidental, some states are now allowing residents to use a concealed handgun permit as an acceptable document to verify identity when voting, but not a student ID card issued by a public university.

Is it anywhere in the United States easier to get a firearm than to register to vote?

  • 14
    The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed to all people. The right to vote is only guaranteed to those people who meet specifically proscribed conditions. So you would think it should be easier to get a gun everywhere.
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 13:12
  • 2
    It would depend on the rifle in question too, pistol grip long rifles are illegal for persons 18-20, and yet you can still vote. You also confuse terminology. You say rifle in the header, and personal firearm (pistol would be one) in the Q body. Pistols have more restrictive laws.
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 13:37
  • It would also depend on the type of voting (I think), there have been ordinances to allow illegals to vote (do not know passing status). Resident aliens cannot vote (possible local election exception) but can get guns atf.gov/firearms/faq/unlicensed-persons.html#aliens-purchase
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 14:08
  • 1
    I think the question is about the difficulty of the process, so why don't we assume that this is for a person who is not excluded from either voting or owning a rifle. Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 15:20
  • 6
    You really need to define "harder". In Florida registering to vote requires an application process, but can be done from my computer desk; obtaining a firearm can be done with no "process" but involves a transaction with at least one other individual; which is "harder"?
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 17:16

2 Answers 2


Yes it is.

In any state, when purchasing at a gun show or from a private citizen, no formal registration or procedure is needed except for the purchase itself. So in those cases registering for voting, which is something that requires a procedure is harder that legally buying a gun.

While what KeithS saying is only true for professional gun sellers.

from Wikipedia:

U.S. federal law requires persons engaged in interstate firearm commerce, or those who are "engaged in the business" of dealing firearms, to hold a Federal Firearms License and perform background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System maintained by the FBI prior to transferring a firearm. Under the terms of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, however, individuals "not engaged in the business" of dealing firearms, or who only make "occasional" sales within their state of residence, are under no requirement to conduct background checks on purchasers or maintain records of sale (although even private sellers are forbidden under federal law from selling firearms to persons they have reason to believe are felons or otherwise prohibited from purchasing firearms).

The problem is that there is no regulation on the holding of guns. Here (in Israel) a permit is needed not only to buy a gun but also to hold it. So even if you find a gun on the street you can't legally hold it unless you have a permit for that gun specifically. And every sale, even between private people, must go through the Ministry of Interior Affairs.

Since that regulation doesn't exists in the US, almost everyone can hold a gun and can buy a gun from a private individual selling his firearm. And if you wish to have a greater variety to choose from, you can go to a gun show and buy from the vast variety there.

From source 1:

Purchasing deadly weapons in the United States is easy — especially at a gun show. Buyers can scoop up semiautomatic weapons and extended magazines from private dealers at these shows without undergoing a background check.

Moreover, individuals on the U.S. terrorism watch list are forbidden from air travel but may purchase a weapon. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office documented this “terror gap”: From February 2004 through February 2010, 1,228 individuals on the watch list underwent background checks to purchase firearms or explosives; 1,119, or 91 percent, of these transactions were approved. In an update published in April, the GAO reported that some 200 individuals on the watch list were approved for weapons purchases from March 2010 through December 2010.

From source 2:

"Criminals already know how to take advantage of gaps in our gun laws, and now Al Qaeda knows, too," said Bloomberg in a statement. "Americans, including NRA members, overwhelmingly support stronger laws to keep guns away from terrorists and other dangerous people. You are checked against the terror watch list to board an airplane, but you don't have to be checked when buying assault weapons. Weak gun laws aren't just a crime problem, they're a national security threat - and this ad should be a wake-up call to Congress."

  • 3
    Not sure how the terrorist watch list is relevant. Are peoples who's names are on the list unable to vote? Wikipedia is not a reliable source.
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 15, 2012 at 2:37
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    this has no comparison to the process of registering to vote, it may be easy to buy a gun, but that is only part of the question.
    – Ryathal
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 14:14
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    @Ryathal +1. In many states you can register to vote online, which is clearly easier than driving to a gun show :)
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 17:13
  • 11
    Your answer is all over the map. The OP says US but you quote Israel law. Your sources are weak and betray biases. Where are all the Al Qaeda having shootouts with all these gun show assault rifles? Must have missed it in the news. Terrorism as an excuse for gun laws is a red herring. The terror watch list is far afield of the topic, which is US voter registration law and bureaucratic difficulties.
    – geoO
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 7:14
  • 9
    Quoting Michael Bloomberg is not really a reliable source. First of all, there's no such thing as an 'assault weapon.' That was a nonsense term invented by the anti-gun lobby in order to intentionally confuse people into thinking they were talking about assault rifles. Assault rifles have been banned for manufacture for civilian purposes in the U.S. since the 1980s and buying a used one requires a license from the federal government.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 14:57


The first barrier to gun ownership is cost.

Registering to vote is free.

Handguns cost hundreds of dollars and an assault rifle (definitions of these weapons vary) easily costs over a thousand dollars, even for a used model.

The next barrier to gun ownership is registration.

Registering to vote can be done extremely easily online, at voter registration election offices, at the department of motor vehicles, at public assistance agencies, at armed services recruitment centers, at state-funded programs that serve people with disabilities, and more. 1

There are fewer activities that are easier to perform than registering to vote! It can be done at 17 years old, younger than the age required to own a gun in the US, which is 18 for long guns (21 in New York State 2 and some other jurisdictions) and 21 is the the minimum age to own a handguns in the entire United States.

The next barrier to gun ownership are background checks.

Buying a gun from a dealer requires a background check. This is true of a dealer at a gun show. A private sale at a gun show, depending on jurisdiction, does not always have the background check requirement 3. However less than 4% of sales occur at gun shows 4.

When buying a gun from a dealer anywhere in the US you must fill out federal form ATF 4473 that clearly states that drug users (even legal marijuana users), convicted felons, and many other classes of persons are absolutely barred from buying a gun for life 5 and the actual form is here: 6. Yes, you can lie about drug use at the risk of a long jail sentence but your criminal record will be revealed after you present your ID to the seller for checking.

In contrast there is no background check for voter registration. State laws permitting drug use do not stop a person from registering to vote. Voting is permanently restricted only for convicted felons and then only in 11 states. 7 The other 39 states handle felons differently and most only restrict felons while actually incarcerated (same source).

There are pending Voter ID laws that will impose an identification barrier to voting in a few states, but in no case will the ID requirements exceed those of those required of a gun buyer. 8

The next barrier is licensing.

There may indeed be some rural place in the US where acquiring a gun is less difficult than in other places. However, the majority of Americans live in urban areas and cities. These places tend to have extremely onerous gun laws, with the possible exception of Texas. Jurisdictions such as San Francisco, New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, etc put up such enormous legal barriers to gun ownership that the rates of legal ownership in these places is virtually zero 9. There are also far fewer registered gun owners in the U.S. (about 20% 10 than registered voters (over 70% 11). This speaks to the relative difficulty.

In DC for example, there are 20 distinct steps to getting a gun. 12 The cost to acquire a gun permit in New York City costs hundreds of dollars and requires several visits to a basement office. 13

Then the final barrier is purchase and transport.

Having a car is probably going to be necessary to bringing your gun home. A car, obviously, is not required to register to vote or to perform actual voting, which can usually be done by absentee ballot. Furthermore, polling places are selected for their proximity to the voter, whereas gun dealers and gun shows are limited by zoning and regulation to specific districts and venues.

The final barrier is the law.

What is hard? Living as a felon with an illegal gun is hard.

Some of the barriers I've laid out can be avoided by illegal acquisition. This is true, if you don't mind risking a long jail sentence it becomes a bit easier to get a gun. Not that getting a gun illegally is easy, it does provide a way to bypass background checks and licensing requirements.

A note on gun shows.

Gun shows are a place where the law is hard to enforce. You might find an illegal high capacity magazine at a gun show. You may find an unscrupulous seller who will not do a background check. But you simply can't just go to a gun show whenever you like. You have to wait for one to happen! They generally take place only on weekends 14 and only at certain specific venues. Cities like Washington DC and NYC simply do not allow them. You also have to research the date and location of a gun show and then arrive there to make your transaction. And you are almost certainly going to need transportation to get to one.

You need to decide which is easier, now that you have some facts. Personally, I think getting a gun takes money, knowledge of the law and legwork and nearly always requires filling out a form at a gun dealer. You need a clean criminal record. You also cannot have a state marijuana card! This is far more difficult than simply registering to vote which takes a pen and 30 minutes plus a trip to the mailbox. In 20 states you can do it online and never even leave your house!

  • 10
    Please provide some references to support your claims.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 14:46
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    Buying something at 18+ and complying with an enormous body of law, not to mention driving and spending money, is easier than registering online or mailing a letter at 17? Some gun politics are in play in this question, certainly not logic. I'll wear the downvotes proudly.
    – geoO
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 13:34
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    @geoO: I'm not quite sure what this "enormous body of law" is, or why you think I would comply with it. Remember that the original question says "some parts" of the US, and indeed, there are some places that have onerous laws. Other places, including much of the West, do not. From personal experience, I can confidently state that buying a gun is as simple as finding someone who wants to sell, and giving them the money.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 19:21
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    @jamesfq "...finding someone who wants to sell, and giving them the money." That sounds a lot easier than mailing a letter, driving nowhere (or having no car at all), and spending no money. I'll just have to take your word for it. Of course if you missed a couple of gun laws you weren't aware of, you may find yourself under arrest. But we're ignoring the dozens of pages of Federal, State, and local gun laws. permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps41631/2005/p53004.pdf atf.gov/publications/firearms/state-laws/31st-edition/… plus the laws of each city and county! Yeah, real easy.
    – geoO
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 19:19
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    FWIW, there's lots of documentation of voter suppression, even if legally on paper it should be "easy". Ancedotally, I and several people I know have registered to vote, yet when I showed up to the polling place I was not found in the registry and turned away. So I can at least say that "you just need to register" is not always sufficient, although take that with a grain of salt and please trust the documented cases more.
    – Cliff AB
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 20:17

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