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Guns Don’t Belong at Polling Locations

The Second Amendment doesn’t protect voter intimidation.

October 25, 2022

Guns and voting don’t mix. Bringing weapons to a polling place doesn’t promote election security. It intimidates lawful voters and risks bloodshed.

Last weekend, however, armed vigilantes in tactical gear were spotted lurking around a ballot drop box in Maricopa County, Arizona. It’s impossible to view this incident as anything other than blatant voter suppression. Just a few days earlier, a voter reported being approached and followed at a second voting site in Maricopa County. It all grows directly out of the Big Lie of a “stolen” 2020 election that has sent misinformed extremists into the street to counter a threat that doesn’t exist.

It also grows from the belief among some Americans that Second Amendment rights have no boundaries. That belief is unfounded. Even under the most expansive reading of the Second Amendment, the government retains the power to prohibit gun possession in sensitive places.

Courts have agreed for more than a century that this includes polling sites. As my colleague Eric Ruben pointed out on Twitter, a Georgia court in 1874 called gun ownership at voting sites “improper” and “wholly useless and full of evil.” Even in this year’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen — the broadest interpretation of the Second Amendment ever adopted by the Supreme Court — Justice Clarence Thomas specifically named polling places as a location where the government retains the ability to restrict gun possession. That the government can keep guns away from voting locations is uncontroversial.

Laws against voter intimidation already on the books may be sufficient to prosecute vigilantes who use guns to keep citizens from voting. And some states (including Arizona) have laws barring gun possession around polling places. It’s not enough, though. Guns are carried to polling places with troubling regularity. In the 2016 election, for example, 85 voters in 28 states reported seeing guns at the polls. 

There is a bill pending in Congress to place a nationwide ban on possessing a firearm within 100 yards of a federal election site, with exceptions for on-duty law enforcement and security personnel. Congress should bring it to a vote. It’s common sense legislation that should be acceptable to even the most ardent supporter of gun ownership rights. No good can come from mixing guns with voting.