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New Report: 2022 Midterm Elections Vulnerable to Armed Extremists

States are ill-equipped to prevent armed intimidation by extremists in the aftermath of January 6th and SCOTUS’s decision in Bruen, Giffords report finds

Washington, DC — Today, Giffords Law Center published a new report showing that the 2022 midterm elections are increasingly vulnerable to armed extremists, given violent rhetoric from far-right candidates, high rates of gun violence, and the US Supreme Court’s decision in N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Assn. v. Bruen.

This report details how the use of firearms as an intimidation tactic has reached systemic levels and shows no sign of abating. It examines how the current political environment has shifted since the Capitol insurrection on January 6th, 2021, the culmination of months of armed protests at state capitols, threats to election and local government officials, increased political polarization, and a surge in gun sales.

The report’s findings reveal the scope of states’ vulnerabilities against the open carry of firearms in spaces where Americans exercise their constitutional right to vote. The report also provides a roadmap of policy recommendations and laws that should be enforced ahead of November.

Allison Anderman, Senior Counsel & Director of Local Policy, Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence:

“This November will be a powder keg as Americans vote in the shadow of the January 6th insurrection and multiple years of armed intimidation, harassment, and record-breaking gun violence. This report shows that we can’t ignore the current radical political environment we’re in, and that armed intimidation and potential violence at the voting booth is real and imminent. Our country was founded on the principle that every citizen is entitled to exercise their constitutional right to participate in democracy, but that principle is being threatened by a different type of American exceptionalism—an epidemic of gun violence and extremist gun culture unrivaled in peer nations. We must use every tool at our disposal to prevent the use of guns to erode the freedoms and liberties America was founded on.”

For this report, Giffords Law Center analyzed gun carrying laws across all 50 states in locations sensitive for the exercise of democracy such as where citizens vote, attend government and school board meetings, and protest. The analysis revealed:

  • Thirty-three states, including key 2022 battlegrounds, such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, don’t have laws prohibiting guns at polling places or election centers. Local governments can establish polling places at commonly used and locally owned spaces like K–12 schools, private property, churches and other houses of worship, and while there are states that prohibit guns from these spaces, these states do not have laws that specifically ban firearm carry at the polls regardless of where they are held. Prohibiting radicalized individuals from carrying firearms is critical especially as studies show people are less likely to engage in constitutionally protected rights if guns are present. 
  • Only three states have laws explicitly prohibiting guns where election officials count votes. Only Colorado, Virginia, and Washington explicitly prohibit guns in or around buildings where votes are being tabulated. While a number of states prohibit guns in places were votes are typically counted, such as courthouses, city halls, and county offices, and other public buildings, 36 states have no such laws that protect election officials from being subject to armed intimidation.
  • Twenty-two states do not prohibit guns in or around their State Capitol buildings. These states include Arizona and Michigan where election conspiracy theorists descended with guns on the state capitols following the 2020 election.  In response to the events of 2020 and 2021, only Oregon, Virginia, and Washington prohibited individuals from carrying some or all guns in or around their state buildings and only after each state saw armed protests at their state capitols. These laws also come as the Department of Justice this year documented over 1,000 reports of threats to election officials, including a Michigan official who voted to certify the 2020 election.
  • Thirty-three states allow local governments some ability to prohibit guns in sensitive locations.. Because of gun industry lobbying, most states have explicitly removed authority from local governments to regulate guns and ammunition. However, even in such states, many still allow local governments to prohibit some or all types of gun carrying in places sensitive for the exercise of democracy.

In the report, Giffords Law Center recommends the following policies and practices to help ensure that all Americans can exercise their rights without the threat of violence:

  • Prohibit firearms in specified areas that are critical for democracy
  • Allow local governments to pass laws about where and when guns can be carried 
  • Make it a crime to intimidate or harass anyone involved in the administration of elections
  • Post warning signs at polling places and other locations indicating that gun intimidation may be violating the law

In the 52 days before the election, Giffords Law Center urges policymakers to use every tool at their disposal to prevent the use of guns to erode our democracy.


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