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Preventing Armed Insurrection: Firearms in Political Spaces Threaten Public Health, Safety, and Democracy

Report highlights recommendations and policies to help prevent political violence 


A new report by researchers at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examines the increased threat of armed insurrection to both public health and the functioning of democracy. The report offers policy and practice recommendations to help prevent armed attacks aimed at disrupting democracy and limiting civic engagement. 

The report, Defending Democracy: Addressing the Dangers of Armed Insurrection, recounts that the January 6 insurrection in 2021 at the U.S. Capitol was part of a long line of events in which individuals have sought to justify political violence or threats of violence by invoking false claims that the U.S. Constitution protects citizens’ rights to insurrection and the unchecked carrying of firearms in public. The report argues that armed insurrection can be prevented with effective policies and practices at the local, state, and national levels focused on protecting the integrity of the nation’s democratic processes. 

The report recommends policies and practices to help prevent armed insurrection, including:

  • Prohibit or regulate the open carry of firearms in public spaces and regulate the concealed carry of firearms.
  • Strengthen or increase the enforcement of current laws to prohibit paramilitary activity.
  • Prohibit civilian possession of firearms in locations essential to political participation, such as polling places, legislative buildings, and protests to protect the core functions of government.
  • Enact and implement Extreme Risk Protection Order laws to temporarily disarm people who pose a high risk of violence.
  • Repeal or create exceptions for firearm preemption laws to give local governments the ability to create policies to address risks of insurrectionism in their jurisdictions.
  • Openly denounce violence and other intimidation tactics used by insurrectionists. 

“The false assertion that the U.S. Constitution includes a ‘right’ to take up arms against the government is a threat to the public’s safety and the functioning of our democracy,” says Tim Carey, JD, law and policy adviser at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and a report co-author. “As the 2024 election approaches, elected officials, policymakers, and advocates should condemn violence as a political mechanism in both their words and by making policy changes that will protect everyone.”  

The report counters the myth that the U.S. Constitution protects political violence or intimidation. This report debunks the assumption by some that the Second Amendment creates a right to insurrection or the unrestricted public carrying of firearms in public. U.S. courts have also not recognized the open carry of guns as speech protected under the First Amendment. The report details how courts have explicitly rejected a right for individuals or groups to take up arms against the government—a right that would be incompatible with U.S. democracy. 

The report describes the growing threat of insurrectionist ideologies advanced by extremist and anti-government groups across the U.S., including many that support white supremacist views. The authors describe the ways guns embolden insurrectionists to disrupt government, chill political participation, and increase the likelihood of violence. The report outlines how less restrictive gun laws, such as permitless concealed carry policies that have dramatically increased in recent decades, are associated with increased crime and make it easier to disrupt political spaces, including voting sites.

“Weak firearm laws allow individuals committed to insurrectionism to disrupt government and chill democratic participation with the threat of violence,” says Kelly Roskam, JD, director of law and policy at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and a report co-author. “Insurrectionist ideologies are often rooted in white supremacy and violence. The idea that armed insurrection is a legitimate form of political dissent puts our democracy at risk.” 

The report was supported by the Joyce Foundation and the Morningstar Foundation.

Defending Democracy: Addressing the Dangers of Armed Insurrection was written by Tim Carey, JD, and Kelly Roskam, JD, with the contributions of Josh Horwitz, JD.

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Media contacts: Joe McHugh and Kris Henry