Echoes of the Capitol Insurrection: Trump’s Call to ‘Guard the Vote’ Raises Concerns of a Dark Future for Democracy

Washington, D.C. – Three years after the harrowing events of Jan. 6, 2021, echoes of the Capitol insurrection continue to reverberate through our democracy. Former President Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s leading candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination, has urged his supporters to “guard the vote.” This dangerous rhetoric has already led to armed vigilantes standing watch at Arizona polls in 2022. Experts in a comprehensive 2023 survey by Protect Democracy and the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University warned that political violence is eroding democracy in the United States.

As we enter a consequential election year, it is imperative that decisive steps are taken to protect public health and civil rights by safeguarding the spaces sacred to the political process. Poll workers are afraid of the upcoming election due to the threats from Trump and his supporters. Strengthening the nation’s disjointed gun laws is central to this effort. Policymakers have the tools to protect Americans and democracy, they just need to take action.

Limiting the public carry of firearms, especially in locations where political participation occurs, should be the starting point. The presence of firearms in polling places, legislative buildings, or political protests is inherently threatening and undermines the safety of individuals. Evidence from various sources suggests that protests are more likely to be violent when guns are present, hindering people from exercising their First Amendment rights.

States must repeal or modify firearm preemption laws that make it illegal for local leaders to enact stronger firearms laws. Currently, 45 states have such laws on the books. Colorado, for example, became the first state to roll back its firearm preemption law, inspired by a shooting incident that occurred after a court struck down the city of Boulder’s assault weapons ban for violating the preemption statute. Implementing Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws to temporarily disarm individuals found to pose a high risk of violence is another crucial step.

Additionally, states should strengthen the enforcement and implementation of existing laws to prohibit illegal paramilitary activity, such as military-style training and shows of force by unaccountable civilian groups. These measures can prevent potential threats to democracy and protect public safety.

To prevent violence before it occurs, it is essential for elected officials and cultural leaders to openly disavow political violence. Research shows that people who trust and respect others are less likely to commit acts of violence. By breaking the insurrectionist permission structure and denouncing violence, the American people can contribute to fortifying democratic foundations.

As we mark the third anniversary of Jan. 6, it is crucial to reflect on the resilience of democracy and acknowledge the work that needs to be done. The danger of future armed insurrection is real, but so are the solutions. By taking concrete steps to strengthen gun laws and promoting a culture that rejects violence, we can ensure that our democracy thrives in an atmosphere of safety, inclusivity, and respect for the principles we hold dear.