US judge allows guns at polling stations

Michigan gun owners will be able to carry them when they go to vote next week.
Michigan gun owners will be able to carry them when they go to vote next week.

A Michigan judge has sided with gun-rights advocates in allowing the open carrying of firearms at election day polling sites, blocking enforcement of a state order barring such displays to prevent voter intimidation.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, vowed to immediately appeal Tuesday's ruling, saying: "This issue is of significant public interest and importance to our election process."

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat, issued a directive on October 16 prohibiting the open carrying of guns at polling stations, clerk's offices and other places where absentee ballots are tabulated.

Nessel and state police chief Colonel Joe Gasper joined in endorsing the open-carry restriction, announced a week after 13 men were arrested on charges of taking part in a plot by armed extremists to kidnap Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

At least three of those were among dozens of armed protesters who thronged the Michigan capitol on April 30 as lawmakers debated Whitmer's push to order social-distancing rules aimed at controlling COVID-19.

The protests were widely criticised as an attempt by right-wing opponents of lockdown restrictions to intimidate legislators voting on the issue.

Michigan is an "open-carry" state, meaning a firearm can be carried in public by its owner without a permit, although that does not apply to churches, schools, libraries, hospitals and a handful of other public places.

Benson's order prohibited the open carrying of guns within 30 m of any voting or vote-counting location on Election Day, November 3, a measure she said was "necessary to ensure every voter is protected".

But Michigan-based gun owners groups challenged her decree as an abuse of authority and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent its enforcement.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray sided with the gun owners, finding Benson failed to abide by the state's Administrative Procedures Act in imposing her ban and that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail.

The judge added that existing state laws already make it a crime to intimidate voters "with or without a firearm," and explicitly bar the open carry of weapons in some venues used as polling sites, such as places of worship.

Murray also said with the election just a week away, there was still time, although not a lot, to obtain appellate review of his ruling.

Australian Associated Press