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?

  • 11
    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
    Sep 14 '12 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
    Sep 14 '12 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
    Sep 14 '12 at 14:08
  • 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. Sep 14 '12 at 15:20
  • 3
    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
    Sep 19 '12 at 17:16

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
    Sep 15 '12 at 2:37
  • 7
    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
    Sep 17 '12 at 14:14
  • 4
    @Ryathal +1. In many states you can register to vote online, which is clearly easier than driving to a gun show :)
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 19 '12 at 17:13
  • 9
    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
    Nov 29 '12 at 7:14
  • 8
    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
    Jan 9 '15 at 14:57

No. Registering to vote is a very simple matter. Buying a gun can be simple, but is usually much more involved and involves much more law. There is also a considerable expense in acquiring a gun. Registering to vote is always free.

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]

This really isn't hard at all! There are fewer activities that are easier 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 and 21 for handguns.

Acquiring a gun, even when the law isn't a barrier, is much more time consuming. Most urban centers (NYC, Chicago, Washington DC) put up enormous legal barriers to gun ownership. There are also far fewer registered gun owners in the U.S. (about 20% [2]) than registered voters (over 70% [3]). This speaks to the relative difficulty as well.

There are those that mention gun shows. You have to wait for one! They don't take place every day. Generally only on weekends.4 You have to research the date and location of a show nearby and then show up there to make your transaction. Sure you can drive far to find one at a more convenient date and time, but now you need transportation to get there, something not needed to register to vote!

You need to decide which is easier, now that you have some facts. Personally, I think getting a gun takes research, money and legwork and often requires filling out a form at the gun dealer. This is harder than registering to vote which takes a pen and 30 minutes plus a trip to the mailbox you were making anyway. In 20 states you can do it online and never even leave the house.

Avoiding the real time it takes to get a gun you can make a pithy remark about how easy it is versus registering to vote but in reality it isn't as easy as mailing a letter. And don't forget that a driver's license is required to buy a gun in nearly all circumstances as well but a driver's license isn't required to vote.

  • 8
    Please provide some references to support your claims.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 10 '15 at 14:46
  • Also you probably have to pay (money) for a gun. But your answer needs references, e.g. for the claim that "most sellers are going to want to see an ID" even when (as claimed in the reference in the OP) you "purchase firearms through private sales".
    – ChrisW
    Jan 11 '15 at 0:26
  • 3
    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
    Jan 12 '15 at 13:34
  • @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
    Jan 12 '15 at 19:21
  • 1
    @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
    Jan 13 '15 at 19:19

Yes and no

It depends.

For example, non-citizens can buy guns, but they cannot vote.

A non-citizen would say owning a gun is easier than voting.

On the other hand, convicted felons can often vote, but they cannot purchase a gun.

A felon would say voting is easier than buying a gun.

Voting registration

The most stringent voting requirements at the time of the claim were in Kansas. Online or mail-in registration is require 21 days prior to voting, and registration required proof of citizenship (no longer the case).

Gun purchase

US federal law requires purchaser to be least 21 years old (or 18 in the case of a long gun), have proof of ID, pass a background check, and not be a felon.

These requirements do not apply to private sales (e.g. a family gift), where the parties only "occasionally" purchase and sell firearms.

So again, it really depends on what aspects you are wanting to compare.

If you take for granted that it's a private sale, you'll likely conclude that purchasing a gun is easier. But is that a fair assumption? Voting is open to (almost) anyone without requiring private coordination. In practice, perhaps private sales are not hard to arrange. But if we're considering praxis not just legality, do we now have to include purchase price and taxes as part of the act (neither of which exist for voting)?

It's easy to draw whichever conclusion you want.


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