Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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People wait in line for early voting in Virginia. [AP Photo/Andrew Harnik]

Daily Bulletin: Preventing Armed Intimidation at the Polls

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

Preventing armed intimidation at the polls. The 2020 campaigns are playing out against the backdrop of rising militia activity and dozens of documented cases of armed groups appearing at protests. In a new report, the advocacy groups Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Guns Down America are urging state officials to take action to ensure that armed individuals can’t intimidate voters at polling places — particularly after cases in swing states in 2016 and 2018. “You’re already starting to see vociferous protests at early polling places,” Joshua Horwitz, the head of the CSGV, told The Trace. “I have no doubt that there will be guns added to that mix.” Five battleground states — Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin — lack laws that explicitly prevent gun carrying at voting stations. How states can ensure the safety of polling places: The groups are calling on states to ban guns at polling locations — a long shot with just 40 days until election day. Short of that, there are other options:

  • In states like North Carolina and Virginia, local city councils have authority to ban firearms in the public buildings that often serve as polling stations
  • Most states have anti-harassment, voter intimidation, and brandishing laws that could be used to prevent or police intimidation with guns
  • State laws banning unauthorized paramilitary and militia activities can also be invoked to stop armed people from attempting to patrol and police voting locations, as a new legal guide from Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection points out

Above all, Horwitz and Guns Down executive director Igor Volsky want state election officials to “offer absolutely clear guidance” to poll workers about what their laws say. As Volsky told The Trace: “If there is armed intimidation, Number One: Who do you call? Number Two: Who deals with the individual or group and asks them to leave? Number Three: What do you do if voters who may be in line to vote see this kind of armed intimidation?” — Chip Brownlee, editorial fellow 

Leaked messages show far-right groups discussing violence at protests. The Guardian and Bellingcat obtained chat logs of the Patriot Coalition of Oregon, an online pro-Trump, pro-police network, where members traded tactics and lobbed threats ahead of several recent rallies in Portland, Oregon. Another right-wing demonstration is planned for tomorrow, but its status is uncertain after city officials denied a permit. Per Bellingcat, “More than anything, the chats catalog the rapid radicalization of Patriot Coalition’s membership, many of whom express a willingness to kill their perceived left-wing enemies.” The broader risk: FBI Director Christopher Wray testified this week that domestic violent extremism was America’s biggest internal threat, while acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf zeroed in on white supremacy as “the most lethal and persistent” danger.

NRA-backed state bill would ban any future gun store closures. During the first several months of the pandemic, some states closed down gun stores after classifying them as nonessential businesses under lockdown orders. A number of their governors later buckled to gun industry pressure and reversed course; in other states, gun dealers simply flouted restrictions. Ohio’s gun stores never closed, the Republican-controlled state Senate just passed a measure that would take those public health and safety decisions out of officials’ hands altogether and prevent shuttering gun stores under future emergency orders.

Many police forces grew less diverse, even as some larger departments made gains. The New York Times crunched data showing that more than two-thirds of police departments with at least 100 officers became whiter than their communities from 2007 to 2016. But many of the nation’s largest departments became more diverse, often fueled by gains in Asian and Hispanic recruits as forces struggled to retain Black officers, the Times found. Some research has found that more diverse police forces boost trust in nonwhite neighborhoods, but the effect that has on officer shootings and use of force is contested. Other scholarship “shows that the race of the police chief, or upper management, does matter in terms of decreasing police killings,” one expert told the Times. Black and Hispanic chiefs and supervisors were far more likely in cities with populations above 250,000.

Rising gun violence in America’s murder capital is falling hard on children. In St. Louis, which currently has the nation’s highest homicide rate, shootings have led to record numbers of kids being treated this year at the area’s two leading children’s hospitals — 180 people under the age of 20 in total. “When you have to walk into a room and talk with a child going through this, it hits you different,” a social worker told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Brutal echoes: “When you have so many kids being killed, especially young people under 13, that’s everybody’s responsibility,” an anti-violence leader told Block Club Chicago about that city’s young gun violence victims.

DATA POINT

61 percent of survey respondents said crime was a major problem in the United States. But the same poll found that only 13 percent said crime was a major problem in their area. [The New York Times]