Amnesty International USA on Tuesday issued an unprecedented pre-election advisory, warning of the heightened threat of gun violence facing people in the United States, and the potential for armed intimidation of voters, as they head to the polls.
The human rights organization called on governors nationwide to ban guns at and near polling places to ensure the safety of voters, poll workers and community.
The rights group pointed to a historic surge in firearm sales across the United States throughout 2020 as a signal of elevated risk, with the pandemic, mass unemployment, and a rise in white supremacist violence all contributing factors to potential unrest.
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Reported plans to recruit tens of thousands of partisan election monitors in battleground states, many of them likely to be armed, add further potential for violence and could result in abuses of the rights to life, health and security.
One senior administration official even urged the public to “buy ammunition” in the lead up to the election, after President Trump suggested sending armed law enforcement to the polls.
Amnesty warned that Black and Latino voters are particularly vulnerable targets of armed intimidation, and urged governors nationwide to take immediate action to protect every person’s safety while they vote.
These precautionary measures would also protect tens of thousands of poll workers, who will be putting themselves at great risk already by volunteering to work in a crowded environment during a pandemic.
“The United States’ uniquely permissive gun laws are pouring fuel on the flames of a combustible moment, while the rules and norms to protect people participating in the elections from violence are not up to the task,” said Ernest Coverson, Manager of the End Gun Violence Campaign.
“Given the surge in gun sales, the recent rise in political unrest and violence, and the sobering reality that there are more guns than people across the United States, Americans are more likely than ever to come face to face with armed individuals at their polling place. There are concrete actions that state officials can and must take to intervene.”
In accordance with the principle of independence and impartiality in the organization’s statute, Amnesty International does not take a position on elections, nor does it take a position on which candidate should be president, but the organization issued the following recommendations:
- Prohibit guns/firearms from polling places. While most jurisdictions across the U.S. limit armed law enforcement officers from within 100 feet of the voting booths, the majority of states have no laws regarding armed private citizens in or around polling places. People should be held to at least the same standard as law enforcement officers. Secretaries of State across the country can institute temporary measures to guarantee that polling places are free of the threat of gun violence.
- Expand funding for gun violence prevention nationwide: Ultimately, gun violence is an ever-present threat in the lives of people living, working, or traveling in the United States, a threat that has increased in recent months. Amnesty supports a significant increase in local, state and federal funding for gun violence prevention programs, sustained well beyond election day. From Baltimore to Chicago, these programs are proven to reduce violence, but many this year face significant budget shortfalls because of plunging local, city and state revenues. A longer-term investment in gun violence prevention across the U.S. will enhance the ability of every person in the United States to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
Amnesty International has been a long-time advocate for legal reforms on the acquisition, use and possession of firearms in the United States. Amnesty International supports a range of measures to curb gun violence, including comprehensive background checks, national regulations for registering and licensing firearms, required training, a ban on high capacity magazines/assault weapons, and mandatory safe-storage laws.
“The widespread presence of guns at polling places, or armed groups aiming to intimidate voters, is a grave threat to the rights of all people to life, health, and security, and to participate in the political process free from discrimination and violence,” said Ernest Coverson Manager, End Gun Violence Campaign.