WASHINGTON: Wal-Mart stores across America are removing guns and ammunitions from its sales floors amid rising concern that a deadlocked Election Day or a verdict one side may contest could lead to violent clashes and civil strife.
Gun sales across America have rocketed this year following Covid-related shortages and shutdowns, racial unrest, and political tensions. An estimated that 5 million people are reported to have purchased firearms for the first time, according to industry estimated and national survey of retailers.
As it is, the United States has more guns than people, with the highest per capita gun ownership in the world — an estimated 120.5 guns for every 100 residents, twice that of the next-highest nation, Yemen.
The prospect of civil strife in the aftermath of elections has been flagged by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, among others. “I’m worried that with our nation so divided, and election results potentially taking days or weeks to be finalized, there’s a risk of civil unrest across the country,” Zuckerberg said on Thursday as he outlined steps the company as taking to tamp down provocative misinformation.
President Trump has repeatedly signaled to rightwing militias, identified by agencies of his own administration as the primary threat and instigators of violence, to stand by for action in case election results go against him. A study released last week by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and MilitiaWatch released identified Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all battleground states, as being at high risk of increased militia activity leading up to and following the election.
“There is an increasing narrative and trend that groups are organizing to ‘supplement’ the work of law enforcement or to place themselves in a narrowly defined ‘public protection’ role in parallel with police departments of a given locale,” the report said. It identified nine groups including Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, Oath Keepers, Light Foot Militia, Civilian Defense Force, American Contingency, and Boogaloo Bois among the “most active” militias that could take action leading up to or after the election. Some of them have openly expressed support for Trump and he in turn has praised them.
Trump has repeatedly denigrated the election process and said he will not accept the election results if they go against him. On Friday, he latched on to a story about a United States Postal Service employee charged with obstructing the passage of mail after more than 100 absentee ballots and other mail was found in a construction dumpster, to question the entire process, tweeting “Rigged?”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 1604062495000
Election experts have said several times that voter fraud and ballot tampering in US is exceedingly rare and is not on a scale that could make a difference to the eventual outcome.
There have been several accounts of militias preparing to take to the streets if Trump is “denied” victory. Court battles are being fought in some places over whether people can carry guns to polling stations, and in one instance, a judge in Michigan ruled that it is legal to do so.
Trump seemingly endorsed that ruling, tweeting “SECOND AMENDMENT!” in all caps, a reference to the unfettered constitutional right to carry arms.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 1604063946000
Trump also raged in a 2 am tweet against the Supreme Court, which he has tilted 6-3 in favor of Republicans, for allowing counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. “If Sleepy Joe Biden is actually elected President, the 4 Justices (plus1) that helped make such a ridiculous win possible would be relegated to sitting on not only a heavily PACKED COURT, but probably a REVOLVING COURT as well. At least the many new Justices will be Radical Left!” he wrote.
If Sleepy Joe Biden is actually elected President, the 4 Justices (plus1) that helped make such a ridiculous win po… https://t.co/7R0SuYSbio
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 1604041057000
With less than 100 hours to go before Election Day, there is no sign Trump is closing the average 8 per cent he trails behind Democratic rival Joe Biden in terms of popular vote support, yet not one pollster or pundit is writing off the President from winning a second term. That’s because of the peculiarity of the American system where a candidate can lose the nationwide popular vote by millions but still become President by winning sufficient number of clutch states that yield electoral votes, 270 (out of 538) of which are needed to make it the White House.
Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is among half-dozen such 50-50 toss-up states that have see-sawed between Republicans and Democrats over several election cycles, and it is here that the Trump and Biden campaign are zeroing in this weekend, fine-tuning their messaging to two large, specific voting blocks – seniors and Hispanics.
Some 82 million voters, more than 50 per cent of the expected turnout, have already cast ballots in an election both sides say is a battle for the soul of America.