Amnesty calls for a ban on guns near polling stations during forthcoming elections

Amnesty International has called on US state governors to ban guns at or near polling stations during the forthcoming elections to ensure the safety of voters, poll workers and the wider community.

Amnesty warned 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. 

Amnesty pointed to a historic surge in firearm sales across the USA 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.

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 officers to the polls.

Amnesty is warning that Black and Latinx voters are particularly vulnerable targets of armed intimidation, and urges 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 already be putting themselves at risk by volunteering to work in a crowded environment during a pandemic. 

Amnesty has long called for legal reforms on the acquisition, use and possession of firearms in the USA. The organisation 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.  

Amnesty does not take a position on elections, nor does it take a position on which candidate should be president.

Ernest Coverson, End Gun Violence Campaign Manager at Amnesty USA, said:

“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.

“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.”

Amnesty has issued the following recommendations: 

  • Prohibit firearms from polling places. While most jurisdictions across the USA limit armed law-enforcement officers from within 30 metres of voting booths, the majority of states have no laws regarding armed private citizens in or around polling stations. 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 stations are free of the threat of gun violence.
  • Expand funding for gun violence prevention programmes nationwide. 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 is calling for a significant increase in local, state and federal funding for gun violence prevention programmes, sustained well beyond election day.

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