Fact-checking Bill Clinton’s absurd rhetoric

Clinton_MLK_50thWhile speaking at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, former President Bill Clinton made the absurd claim that it is “harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.

I appreciate the fact that the primary point of his comment was to criticize states which have passed voter ID laws but nonetheless, it is high time that we stop letting politicians get away with such patently absurd comments about gun rights.  Otherwise, there will be those who actually believe them to be true.

So … let’s set the record straight.  Is it easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to vote?

Well … since gun laws vary from state to state, we need to select a state that the anti’s seem to think has very lax gun laws.

I know … let’s use Virginia.  In addition to being one of the favorite targets of anti-gun advocates for its supposedly lax gun laws, Virginia also has a recently-passed voter ID law.  It will be the perfect test-bed for our comparison.

Buying a so-called ‘assault weapon’

Let’s start by looking at what a prospective buyer of a so-called ‘assault weapon’ must do to complete the purchase.

  • They must produce both a primary and a secondary form of ID.
    • The primary form of ID must be a photo ID issued by a governmental agency or by the United States Department of Defense
    • The secondary form of ID must show an address identical to that shown on the photo ID and must be one of the following:
      • Evidence of currently paid personal property tax or real estate tax, or
      • A current lease, or
      • Utility or telephone bill, or
      • Voter registration card, or
      • Bank check, or
      • Passport, or
      • Automobile registration, or
      • Hunting or fishing license
  • They must then complete a Virginia Firearms Transaction Record (Form SP-65)
  • They follow this up by completing an ATF form 4473
  • The information from these forms is then transmitted to the Virginia State Police where the purchaser’s background is checked.  If the background check reveals any of the following then the purchaser cannot buy the firearm:
    • Conviction of a crime punishable by more than 1 year in prison
    • Being a fugitive from justice
    • Being an unlawful user of, or addicted to, a controlled substance (This includes users of medical marijuana)
    • Being adjudicated as a mental defective
    • Being committed to a mental institution
    • Being in the US illegally
    • Having received a dishonorable discharge from the military
    • Having surrendered their US citizenship
    • Having been convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence
    • Having been acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity
    • Having been adjudicated legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated
    • Having been involuntarily admitted to a mental health facility or ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment

I should also note that any incorrect answer on the Virginia Sp-65 form or the ATF 4473 form subjects the prospective buyer to criminal liability.

As for how long this all takes, the background check is supposed to be ‘instant’, and often is, but may also be delayed for minutes, hours, or even days depending upon a variety of factors.

In the best case scenario, a purchaser of a so-called ‘assault weapon’ will need to allow at least 30 minutes to complete the process.


If the same person were to show up at the polls under Virginia’s voter ID law, they would be required to do a single thing:

  • Provide an acceptable form of ID.  This would include:
    • Virginia voter registration card
    • Valid Virginia driver’s license
    • Military ID
    • Any Federal, Virginia state or local government-issued ID
    • Employer issued photo ID card
    • Concealed handgun permit
    • Valid student ID issued by any institution of higher education located in the Commonwealth of Virginia
    • Current utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck indicating the name and address of the voter
    • Social Security card

Even then, lack of proper ID would not preclude a person from casting a vote.  Any voter who does not bring an acceptable ID to the polls will be offered a provisional ballot.

And despite the fact that felons lose their right to vote as well as to own firearms, there is no requirement that the prospective voter undergo any kind of background check.

Assuming no line, a voter can be in and out of the polls in 5 minutes.

So what’s the real comparison between voting and gun rights?

The truth of the matter is that the right to keep and bear arms is not only enshrined in the Constitution but is the second article in the Bill of Rights whereas voting was not mentioned at all in the original Constitution.

So long as citizens must produce ID to exercise the fundamental right to keep and bear arms because of a supposed state’s interest in public safety, then there is no valid legal argument against requiring ID to vote to further a supposed state’s interest in only extending the franchise to those actually qualified to vote.

A warning to the ACLU and other civil liberties groups which inexplicably oppose gun rights … you should be very careful what you ask for.  When you put forward an argument for the infringement of a basic right and that argument is accepted, do not be surprised when the same argument is used to infringe another right.

About John Pierce

Monachus Lex is written by Virginia attorney John Pierce. John is a life-long gun rights advocate, an NRA certified instructor and co-founder of the nationwide gun rights group OpenCarry.org.

He has an undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems, an MBA from George Mason University and is a 2012 Honors Graduate of Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, MN.

Professionally, John is a member of the American Bar Association Second Amendment Civil Rights Litigation Subcommittee and his writings have been published by the ABA Civil Rights Litigation Committee and the ABA Minority Trial Lawyer Committee.

In addition, his open carry advocacy has been featured on Nightline and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
This entry was posted in 'Assault Weapons', General Civil Rights, President Clinton, Voting Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Fact-checking Bill Clinton’s absurd rhetoric

  1. Джин says:

    I think you’ve made a gloss-over error, John.

    Having been admitted to a mental health facility or ordered to mandatory outpatient treatment

    According the the NRA-ILA page for VA, I found that it was nearly the same for my state. The distinction that needs to be made is that you cannot have been committed to a mental health facility; commonly referred to as an invol in the public safety community.

    This is important to me because there are people who could benefit from seeking voluntary treatment who don’t for fear of what it would do to their civil rights. This is why I will never support universal background checks. If any gun rights group caves on this matter, that is when I will part ways with them.

    • Robert Delashaw says:

      Wrong, getting an ID to vote is infinitely easier not only in terms of cost but in terms of the hoops required when purchasing in a STORE. Buying a “so called assault weapon(a term that in itself is utter nonsense) from a private owner is still difficult simply due to finding one that is willing to part with one and there are still legal ramifications for selling privately to a prohibited person so most sellers vett the buyer anyhow.

  2. Pingback: Fact-checking Bill Clinton’s absurd rhetoric | The Gun Feed

  3. Alex Arnau says:

    Holy jeebus, I had no idea VA was so restrictive! All I have to do in PA is show a gov’t issued ID, and fill out the 44473. Wow. I guess PA one-ups VA for being “lax”.

  4. Geoff says:

    Both are easy in South Carolina.
    Voting: Voter registration card, proof of current address and one picture I.D. (FREE from DMV if no DL)
    Buy rifle, shotgun, handgun, or “assault weapon”: Fill out 4473, show Concealed Weapon Permit, pay the money and go. About 10 minutes.
    Or show DL and submit to NICS, pay the money and go. 10 minutes or more, depends on NICS.

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