The National Rifle Association wants convicted felons to be able to purchase firearms, yet its leaders are lambasting efforts to restore voting rights to the same people.
At the NRA’s annual meeting on Friday, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the most prominent leader of the powerful gun lobby, criticized recent efforts to end the disenfranchisement of former felons in states across the country. He claimed that the reforms were all made in order to get Clinton elected president:
There’s no limit as to how far the elites will go to put Hillary into the White House. They’re even allowing convicted felons the right to vote, including violent rapists and murderers. Sounds outrageous but it’s true. The Democratic-led Maryland General Assembly did it for 44,000 ex-cons. In Virginia, Democratic Governor Terry McAullife, Hillary’s longtime bag man, did it for 206,000 convicted felons. Tentacles of the Clinton machine are out registering those felons right now. They’re releasing them and then they’re registering them. Heck, when they sign their release papers, they might as well, at the prison door, be standing there giving them a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker. It’s unbelievable.
Chris Cox, the group’s chief lobbyist, also called out Clinton and Democrats who have expressed support for allowing citizens who have completed their sentences to vote.
“You fought to give voting rights, voting rights, to violent felons and crack dealers,” he said. “We fight for the innocent people they terrorize.”
Democratic lawmakers in states like Virginia and Maryland have made efforts this year to restore voting rights to ex-offenders who have completed their debt to society. Because of laws passed after the Civil War with the intention of preventing black people from gaining political power, an estimated 5.85 million people across the country can’t vote because of current or previous felony convictions. Roughly one in 13 African American adults are disenfranchised.
Kentucky, where LaPierre was speaking on Friday, is one of three states with the strictest felon disenfranchisement laws in the country. State law prohibits returning citizens from casting a ballot for the rest of their lives, unless they get a rare pardon from the governor.
Because returning citizens do tend to vote for Democratic candidates, NRA leaders are not the first to allege that Democrats are allowing them to vote for political gain. Donald Trump, who the NRA endorsed Friday, has called Virginia’s rights restoration decision “crooked politics.” And Republicans in the state legislature are planning to sue to stop the new voters from being permitted to cast ballots, claiming that Gov. McAuliffe issued the order as a political favor to Clinton.
Studies show that ex-felons who have their voting rights restored are less likely to return to prison. Former inmates who lost their voting rights, many of them for non-violent drug offenses, have told ThinkProgress they feel like “less than a citizen” and “less than human.”
While LaPierre and other NRA leaders criticize efforts to reintegrate people into society, they have no problem allowing former “violent rapists and murderers” from obtaining firearms. Though the group often claims that federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from obtaining a firearm, the NRA and NRA-backed lawmakers have fought for legislation to allow ex-felons to regain their gun rights.
Different states have different processes in places for ex-felons to regain their gun rights — much like voting rights — and Republican lawmakers have tried in recent years to loosen those gun laws. Last year, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) proposed an amendment to allow all ex-felons to petition the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for restoration of their gun ownership rights. “America is a land of second chances,” Buck said on the House floor in support of the legislation. “One mistake should not define your future.”
The amendment failed, but the NRA remains committed to passing similar legislation.
The NRA has also staunchly fought legislation on the national level and in states to close the gun show loophole, which currently allows anyone to purchase a weapon at a gun show without being subjected to a background check. An investigation by pro-gun reform group Mayors Against Illegal Guns recently found that at least one in 30 potential buyers on the website Armslist.com had felony or domestic abuse records that barred them from purchasing and possessing guns.