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Ban Guns at Voting Sites

A new Brennan Center report highlights the risks of mixing firearms with voting.

September 19, 2023

You’re read­ing The Brief­ing, Michael Wald­­­­­man’s weekly news­­­­­­­­­let­ter. Click here to receive it every week in your inbox.

No one should have to worry about encountering a gun while voting, but only 12 states and Washington, DC, prohibit open and concealed carry of firearms at poll sites.

Banning guns wherever votes are cast shouldn’t be controversial. Think about it — the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision was the most sweeping expansion of gun rights in the history of the country. It wiped out vital public safety laws in six states and invited dozens of lawsuits challenging others across the nation. And yet Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged that Americans have always agreed there are certain places where guns simply do not belong. He specifically named three of them: legislative assemblies, courthouses, and polling places. 

It is, in short, constitutionally sound to ban guns where Americans vote. But states have not kept up with the profusion of guns and their new constitutional protection. 

In a report published this week, my colleagues Sean Morales-Doyle and Robyn Sanders, along with Allison Anderman and Jessica Ojeda of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, issue a call to prohibit guns wherever election administration occurs: at or near polling places, ballot drop boxes, election offices, and ballot-counting facilities.

The report comes at a critical moment. For more than 20 years, lobbyists have pushed to loosen restrictions on firearms in legislatures and in the courts. Twenty-seven states now allow people to carry a gun in public without a permit or background check, up from just two in 2010. States that have tried to hold the line against the proliferation of guns have run into a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down restrictions on who can carry a weapon, and where. As a result, there are now more guns than people in the United States.  

The spread of guns has coincided — perhaps not entirely coincidentally — with the rise of extreme political polarization and political violence. You know the facts. Election officials have been forced into hiding. Domestic terrorists have threatened actors at nearly every level of government. Police foiled a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. And an armed mob attempted on January 6, 2021, to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power after a lawful election. 

Tamping down the rising tensions about political disagreements so that violence is never on the table will be the work of generations. It will require a cultural shift and a degree of political bravery and will that many of our leaders can’t seem to muster. But getting guns away from voting sites is something we can and should do right now. It’s common sense, it’s constitutional, and it’s absolutely necessary.