US elections at risk of political violence as guns and distrust in democracy spread: report
A report released Monday highlights how state laws across the U.S. fail to protect voters and election workers from the "growing risk of gun violence" tied to increasing firearm deregulation and sales as well as American political leaders fomenting distrust in democracy.
"The 2024 election will unfold in a transformed legal environment," warns Guns and Voting, the new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and Giffords—a gun violence prevention group founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived being shot in the head.
The publication explains that "in 2010, only two states let people carry concealed firearms in public without a permit or background check. Now, 27 states allow 'permitless carry.' While other states have strengthened gun regulations during this period, the Supreme Court has threatened their ability to do so."
"With more guns and more political polarization and violence, states need strong laws to limit risk."
"Last year, in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, the court forced the six states with the strongest concealed carry laws, as well as Washington, D.C., to weaken their restrictions," the document details. "And it announced an entirely new test for evaluating the constitutionality of gun regulations, inviting a wave of litigation."
In the states impacted by the right-wing justices' majority opinion—which critics of denounced as "devastating"—applications to carry guns in public climbed after the ruling, and there have been over 450 related court decisions issued since June 2022.
U.S. gun sales and violence have also soared in recent years. As more than 42 million guns were sold in 2020 and 2021, there was a 15% jump in gun-related incidents, a 34% rise in nonfatal gun injuries, and a 28% increase in gun deaths from March 1, 2020, and February 28, 2021.
"Meanwhile, American democracy has been facing new and unnerving pressure as the result of a growing election denial movement," the report notes. "In 2020, states expanded voting by mail and early voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Endeavoring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, then-President Donald Trump and his allies launched massive disinformation campaigns targeting this expanded access to voting, claiming that the election was 'rigged' and that election administration officials were engaged in fraud."
"This election denial movement has spread beyond Trump and reached into state and local elections, fueled by conspiracy theories about mail voting, drop boxes, election officials, poll workers, and ballot counting," the report continues. "From its inception, threats of political violence marked this movement. The most prominent example, of course, was the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol."
Now, Trump is the top Republican presidential candidate for 2024, despite arguments that inciting the January 6 insurrection constitutionally disqualifies him from holding office again. Trump also faces four ongoing criminal cases, two of which are connected to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The GOP nominee is expected to face Democratic President Joe Biden, who is seeking reelection next year. While Biden has taken some limited executive action on guns and signed a bipartisan safety bill last year, Democrats' efforts to pass sweeping federal gun control and voting rights legislation have been thwarted by congressional Republicans.
"With more guns and more political polarization and violence, states need strong laws to limit risk," the new report argues. "In Bruen, the Supreme Court recognized that prohibitions on guns in 'sensitive places'—and specifically in 'polling places'—were 'presumptively lawful.' Yet today only 12 states and Washington, D.C., prohibit both open and concealed carry of firearms at poll sites."
"Ironically, the states with the strongest gun regulations—which had restricted the ability to carry guns in public generally, rather than prohibiting guns in particular locations—were made most vulnerable in the wake of Bruen," the publication warns. "In fact, only one of the six states that had their laws struck down by the decision specifically prohibited guns in polling places at the time of the decision."
After laying out in detail the recent changes in U.S. gun control legislation, how disinformation has sown the seeds of political violence, and increases in extremism and gun violence—including mass shootings—the report offers policy recommendations.
"States should broadly prohibit firearms, including concealed carry, at and around all voting sites—including drop boxes—and places where votes are being counted and elections are being administered," the document asserts. "In addition to prohibiting guns wherever protected voting or election activity occurs, states can strengthen voter intimidation laws."
Guns and Voting co-author Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center, echoed the report's call to action in a statement Monday.
"Though American elections have remained safe and secure, both political and gun violence pose significant risks to the safety of voters and people bravely conducting our elections," she said. "The 2024 presidential election brings an unprecedented confluence of factors that heighten these risks."
"Ahead of next year's elections, it is critical that states take the steps recommended in the report to ensure that elections remain free from violence," Anderman added. "Our leaders must act to protect our democracy."
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