In testimony before President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission on Tuesday, the controversial researcher John Lott cast himself as the unlikely defender of a gun background-check system he has excoriated. His proposal to force voters to be certified through the federal background-check system, or NICS, he said, is “a solution that might please both sides.”
Here is his reasoning, as best can be determined. Republicans suspect voter fraud. Democrats don’t think that voter fraud is a problem, and profess strong faith in NICS’s efficacy. So Democrats can use their cherished background-check system to prove to Republicans that no voter fraud is occurring. And Republicans can use NICS to prove that it is.
Given Lott’s past critiques of the background-check system, it is hard to view this as a serious proposal (though the Washington Post’s Philip Bump gives it a try).
In 2014, Lott wrote that the federal background-check system had done little to keep guns from criminals. He has said that 99 percent of NICS denials are false positives. And in a Chicago Tribune commentary last month, he argued that liberals were hypocrites because they object to photo ID requirements to vote, yet insist on background checks to buy guns.
One of the commissioners, Maine’s Secretary of State Mike Dunlap, told ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman that, at first, he thought Lott was joking. But Huseman said Lott told her the proposal was serious. Huseman tweeted before the hearing that she’d asked Lott “why he thought they’d prevent voter fraud when he doesn’t believe they prevent gun violence. No clear answer.”
“If he is trolling, it’s a very serious troll,” said Devin Hughes, a Trace contributor who has challenged Lott’s work on several occasions. “If he is able to establish the narrative that Democrats are willing to take the right to own a gun away, but balk when it comes to voting, he can back Democrats into a corner on a number of issues relating to guns, such as concealed carry reciprocity.”
At the hearing, Lott claimed that his plan is a way to help Democrats and Republicans meet in the middle to find a workable solution to voter fraud.
“I can think of problems with the NICS system,” he said. “But they’re all easily fixed.”