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• In many states, the wait time between registering to vote and casting a ballot can be as long as 30 days, while obtaining a gun can be done more quickly.
• A few states do have longer waits to secure a gun than for voting after registration.
• Experts say a comparison of voting and gun rules is not perfectly parallel because the regulatory needs are different.
Shortly after high-profile mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on gun violence. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., used an analogy with voting rights to make the case for stricter gun control.
"In a majority of states, new voters are able to obtain a rifle quicker than they’re able to cast their first ballot," Padilla said on March 22. "It seems to me we have our priorities entirely backwards when it comes to this, when we make it easier to buy a gun than we do to cast a ballot."
Some critics disagreed. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted that Padilla’s statement was "demonstrably, laughably false."
As support, Padilla’s office referred PolitiFact to statistics from the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures; the pro-gun-control Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and an analysis by the Washington Post.
When we reviewed these sources, we found Padilla’s assertion to be largely supported by the evidence, though we found some nuances.
In his analysis, Philip Bump of the Washington Post compared every state and the District of Columbia on how quickly a resident could secure a rifle and cast a ballot after registration. (Bump noted that policies for purchasing a handgun are different, but Padilla specifically mentioned rifles at the hearing. A rifle is a type of "long gun," which is a firearm with a longer barrel that is meant to be held with both hands.)
In 13 states, going through either process is equally fast: In Vermont, for instance, it’s possible to buy a rifle without a waiting period, and you can register to vote on Election Day itself.
Three states — Illinois, Minnesota and Washington — make it faster to cast a ballot after registering than to secure a rifle. (There are some complications in some states, such as rules applying to certain types of rifles but not others, Bump noted.)
But the majority of states — 34 states plus D.C. — have a longer wait time to cast a ballot than to obtain a rifle, according to Bump’s analysis. .
According to Giffords, some states have waiting periods for firearms generally, including rifles. For instance, in Hawaii, the waiting period is 14 days, while in both California and D.C. it takes 10 days. In Florida, the law is three days or however long it takes to complete a background check, whichever is longer. Only two states have waiting periods specific to rifles — Minnesota at seven days and Washington state at 10 days.
As for voting, registration is mandatory in every state except for North Dakota. However, the last day one can register before casting a ballot — in effect, the "waiting period" to vote — varies by state.
According to data compiled by the group Vote.org, some states like Alaska and Arkansas require registration 30 days prior to Election Day, while in other states like Colorado you can register on Election Day if you are going to vote in person.
The fastest voting procedures are in force in 17 states and D.C., where a resident can register and vote the same day, said Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting for the Campaign Legal Center.
"So there is essentially a waiting period for voting in all other states," she said. "You have to plan to vote ahead of time and can’t do it on a whim the day of."
The bottom line, then, is that about two-thirds of states have a faster process for obtaining a gun than for being able to vote. That’s a "majority," as Padilla said.
While Padilla is right on the numbers, the elements of his comparison — guns and voting — are not entirely parallel.
Bump noted in his article that voting "necessarily involves the state, while a gun purchase doesn’t. One can buy a rifle from a friend, for example; you can’t vote with a friend. That by itself tends to lower the benchmarks required" for clearing a new gun owner.
In addition, election bookkeeping is focused on the smooth functioning of a specific event on a specific date, said Edward B. Foley, an Ohio State University law professor who specializes in election law. The purchase of a gun isn’t.
"Once a background check has been done on a potential gun owner, is there any reason for the government to keep track of the gun owner’s identity?" he said. "A gun ownership ‘registry’ would be different than a background check."
Padilla said, "In a majority of states, new voters are able to obtain a rifle quicker than they’re able to cast their first ballot."
By the numbers, this is accurate: About two-thirds of states have a faster timetable for obtaining a gun than for casting a ballot after registration.
Obtaining a gun and casting a ballot aren’t exactly parallel activities. An election is an event on a specific day that requires some degree of advance bookkeeping by state officials to be prepared. Gun purchases do not require advance work to prepare for a deadline.
With that clarification, we rate the statement Mostly True.
Alex Padilla, statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, March 23, 2021
Washington Post, "Which is easier in your state: Buying a rifle or voting?," March 18, 2021
Guns to Carry, "Gun Laws By State," accessed March 25, 2021
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "Does a customer have to be a certain age to buy firearms or ammunition from a licensee?," September 15, 2015
National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action, "Maine Gun Laws," April 20, 2020
Minnesota Legislature, "2020 Minnesota Statutes," accessed March 25, 2021
Vote.org, "Voter Registration Deadlines," accessed March 26, 2021
Associated Press, "Mass shooters exploited gun laws, loopholes before carnage," March 25, 2021
CPR News, "The Firearm The Accused Boulder Shooter Bought Looks Like a Rifle, But It's Regulated Like a Pistol," March 24, 2021
Email interview with Matthew Weil, director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, March 24, 2021
Email interview with Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting for the Campaign Legal Center, March 24, 2021
Email interview with Edward B. Foley, Ohio State University law professor who specializes in election law," March 24, 2021
Email interview with Tess Whittlesey, spokeswoman for Alex Padilla, March 24, 2021
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