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Democracry is not about who has guns at the polls

The right to vote safely and without intimidation in the U.S. is fundamental to our democracy.

In the past months, we have experienced heavily armed militia intentionally intimidating protestors who are demanding police reform and an end to racial inequality. In some instances, these militia have injured or killed protestors while Trump has refused to condemn them.

In the first presidential debate, not only did Trump refuse to denounce white supremacy, but also he told the Proud Boys “stand back and stand by.” In this shocking shout-out to a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center defines as a hate group, Trump energized, and basically gave permission to, the Proud Boys to take the law into their own hands.

In a Twitter ad, Trump’s son calls for “every able-bodied man and woman to join army for Trump’s election security operation. We need you to help us watch them … . President Trump is going to win. Don’t let them steal it go to (a website for readers to sign up) and enlist today.” In the debate, Trump reiterated this call to action by telling his supporters to be “poll watchers.”

The words and actions by Trump and his family directly call for confrontation and intimidation at polling places, and have the potential to create a seismic crack in the foundation of our democracy.

During a protest in Albuquerque, New Mexicans experienced what these armed vigilantes are capable of when they showed up armed to the teeth. It did not stop there. Daniel Carr, a member of a far-right militia group, the Three Percenters, went to the home of a witness who was at the protest, armed and making threatening statements. He was released with a GPS monitor pending trial.

This is a troubling moment for our country. As we head to the polling places, we now have armed vigilantes primed and emboldened by the president to frighten people who protest racial inequality or who are exercising their right to vote.

There is no law in New Mexico banning guns at polling places unless it is at a school. Our local city councils do not have the authority to ban guns thanks to the preemption law the NRA helped to pass decades ago. This means armed vigilantes, even dozens of them, can stand 40 feet from polling places.

Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence strongly suggests that localities and election officials use all available laws to stop armed individuals from attempting to patrol and police voting locations, including enforcing voter harassment laws, location restrictions (for instance, if the polling place is in a school or on private property), and laws to ban unauthorized paramilitary and militia activities.

This would give New Mexican voters the ability to go to a polling place without worrying about their safety.

Armed intimidation at polling places is nothing new. A report by Guns Down America found that in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, there were many occurrences of armed intimidation at polling places. In one report, there were 85 instances in 28 states.

We are in unchartered territory in our country. We are dealing with a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands, a long overdue reckoning of white privilege and systemic racial inequality, an election with a president who threatens to refuse to step down if he loses, and a record surge in gun sales. It is more imperative than ever to make sure that everyone exercising their right to vote can do so without the presence of guns at polling places.

Rev. Dr. Harry Eberts and Miranda Viscoli are co-presidents of New Mexicans To Prevent Gun Violence

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