If you live in Michigan and were disappointed you couldn’t cast your ballot holding an AR-15 on Nov. 3, don’t worry: Judge Christopher Murray has you covered.
On Tuesday afternoon, Murray, a judge for Michigan’s Court of Claims, struck down the state’s new rule barring voters from bringing open-carry firearms to the polls on Election Day.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued the directive earlier this month amid simmering concerns about potential armed voter intimidation, and a surge in right-wing paramilitary activity across the state. The directive was issued about a week after state and federal authorities said they foiled an elaborate plot to allegedly kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home and put her on “trial” for treason stemming from her COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
In his ruling, Murray sided with pro-gun groups like Open Carry Michigan and Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners, that argued Benson’s directive leapfrogged normal rule-making processes.
A chorus of conservative sheriffs in the state had already vowed to ignore the directive. Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel has described some law enforcement officials as complicit in the rise of militia groups in the state, and vowed to dispatch state troopers to counties where she didn’t trust sheriffs to enforce the open carry ban or other laws against voter intimidation.
Nessel’s office told CNN on Tuesday that she planned to “immediately appeal” Murray’s decision. Benson said she has a “sworn duty to protect every voter and their right to cast their ballot free from intimidation and harassment,” in a statement to news outlets.
Michigan has long been a bastion for armed anti-government extremism. Before Timothy McVeigh carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, he attended meetings with the self-titled “Michigan Militia,” which at its peak in the ’90s was a sprawling network of thousands.
In a recent interview with MSNBC, Nessel acknowledged that Michigan has grappled with extremism in the past, and that the problem had only gotten worse this year.
In May, armed protesters, including many self-styled “militiamen,” stormed the state Capitol building in Lansing during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions. A new report from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and MilitiaWatch, a research group, identified Michigan as one of five potential hotspots for violence on Election Day.
Intense polarization and an uptick in political protest violence has fueled concerns about voter intimidation nationwide. Those concerns became more pronounced following the Sept. 29 presidential debate, when President Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud and urged his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”
Just 10 states— Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas— as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have laws explicitly barring people from bringing weapons to the polls.