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Caption : Photo by Rux Centea on Unsplash.     

The United States has a gun violence problem: in 2020, over 43,000 people in this country were victims of gun violence, and 2021 is on pace to be the worst year for gun violence in decades. But despite the efforts of many young activists and advocates and overwhelming public support,  Congress has failed to pass common sense gun violence prevention laws.  This inaction is due, in part, to deep, systemic flaws in our democracy. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the influence of “dark money” in politics—among other issues—have created a nearly impassable divide between the gun violence prevention measures that voters want and the laws that legislators are willing to pass. The Freedom to Vote Act, a landmark pro-voter bill currently being considered by Congress, would work to undo that. The bill would be a significant step towards establishing a more inclusive and representative democracy and eventually passing gun violence prevention legislation that saves lives. 

Gerrymandering 

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral districts to give an unfair advantage to a political party or politician. It is often done to consolidate power and reduce the influence of voters who politicians expect to oppose them. One party may earn the majority of the votes in a state, but depending on how the districts are drawn, the other party could receive the majority of district seats. For example, in 2018, North Carolina Democrats won 51.2 percent of the votes for the state House of Representatives and 50.5 percent for the state Senate. But due to gerrymandering, North Carolina Republicans won majority control of both chambers. Similar things have happened in states throughout the country, giving an advantage to either party based on how the districts are drawn. Considering that 53 percent of all Americans and 81 percent of Democrats support stricter gun laws, gerrymandering does not allow fair representation of the democratic process. The Freedom to Vote Act would completely ban partisan gerrymandering, not allowing either party to take advantage of the redistricting process. The bill would also ensure transparency in the redistricting process.

Dark Money In Politics

Large corporations and special interest groups have power and money that ordinary voters don’t. These organizations spend their considerable resources on campaign donations, political advertising, and lobbying to persuade elected officials to act in their best interests. The special interest groups that have a vested interest in preventing gun violence prevention measures from becoming law, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been particularly successful.

The NRA, which is funded in part by gun manufacturers, have spent decades blocking life-saving gun violence prevention legislation through a coordinated campaign to exert political and financial pressure over candidates and elected officials. The most staunchly anti-gun reform politicians have more than likely received numerous contributions to their campaigns from groups like the NRA. The Freedom to Vote Act would help put an end to this. The bill would require super PACs, 501(c)4 groups and other organizations spending money in elections and on judicial nominations to disclose donors who contribute more than $10,000, create a 6-1 matching system for smaller donations to give ordinary people a stronger voice, and overhaul the Federal Election Commission to ensure that the agency does its job and investigates violations of the law.

Voting Accessibility

Decades of gun violence in our schools and communities have shifted the public opinion on guns, and it’s now clear that the majority of Americans want laws that will help prevent gun violence. Voting is one way for Americans to make their views and priorities known, but rampant voter suppression efforts that disproportionately affect young people and people of color mean that the freedom to vote has been eroded to the point where many Americans aren’t able to cast a ballot. The Freedom to Vote Act would create a national standard for voting rights protections and make voting more accessible to all Americans. The bill would require all states to offer an early voting period at least two weeks before election day and expand vote-by-mail, giving voters more flexibility to cast their ballots in a way that works for them. The bill would also standardize voter ID laws, which currently vary greatly on a state-by-state level, meaning that people will have a clearer idea of what they need in order to vote. These provisions are especially important to young voters, who face disproportionate barriers to registering to vote and voting. 

Conclusion

When the people have the power in our democracy, we get better public policy. Through a number of insidious laws and policies, the democratic process has slowly been chipped away and people’s voices have been silenced. Extremist politicians have introduced over 400 bills nationwide to suppress our votes, and they are gerrymandering states to disenfranchise millions of American voters. The Freedom to Vote Act would begin to undo these policies and allow the people to vote for legislation that they support. The Freedom to Vote Act would not only have lasting ramifications on gun violence prevention, but would also impact policy across many different areas, including climate change, reproductive rights, and more. It is critical that the Senate pass this bill to strengthen our democracy and put the power back in the hands of the people.

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