Our nation continues to struggle with the widespread impact of the COVID-19 virus. By now, everyone should be aware of the new “social distancing” paradigm, where we are all encouraged to avoid large groups of people, and maintain at least six feet of distance between each other when we do interact. Regular washing of our hands—which we should have been doing already—is now the norm, and anyone caught coughing or sneezing outside of the confines of their own elbow is at risk of being labeled a pariah.
Welcome to the new “normal,” at least for a while.
As we’ve mentioned before, though, Americans are a resilient bunch. We’ll get through this as we’ve made it through other calamities, even if this one seems a bit different.
That said, even with most legislatures having shut down operations, or severely limiting what they are doing in order to focus on responding to this viral threat, there are still those who would seek to exploit the situation and work to undermine the Second Amendment.
These uncertain times have led to many realizing that there could be occasions when they and their loved ones might need protection, and the government simply cannot respond in time. While it has always been true that police are often delayed when responding to an emergency situation, today’s reaction times may be even more dramatically reduced, as local government services are extended by the circumstances of today.
In order to ensure the security of their loved ones, law-abiding citizens are turning more and more to the Second Amendment. Gun stores have had their shelves stripped of stock, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has been overwhelmed over the past few weeks.
We said recently that the Second Amendment is a constant in times of crisis, and that remains the case.
Sadly, this renewed interest in the right to keep and bear arms for personal protection by law-abiding citizens has led to many irrational responses. Anti-gun media outlets responded to the increase in firearms purchases with mocking and misleading articles about who is buying guns, and why.
Newsweek ran a story titled “People Panic Buying Firearms Are ‘Adding Gasoline To A Fire’ Instead Of Protecting Families, Gun Control Advocacy Group Warns.” It included the standard hysteria from representatives of numerous groups that advocate banning firearms, including Giffords, Brady, and the Mike Bloomberg-funded Moms Demand Action.
Salon titled its anti-gun screed “Why Are People Buying Guns? That’s About the Last Thing We Need Right Now.” This article suggests people are buying guns because they fear “virus-zombies,” and claims “people imagine they can use these guns to defend their lives, families and property.”
While nobody is actually concerned with “virus-zombies,” people need not “imagine” firearms can be used for protection. It is simply a fact.
More troubling than the expected backlash from anti-gun media outlets, however, is how some government entities have reacted as part of their response to COVID-19.
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy (D) issued an executive order on March 21, establishing that all “non-essential” businesses shall be closed until the order is revoked or modified. Gun stores were not included as “essential,” but liquor stores and pet stores were.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) “New York State on PAUSE” executive order went into effect at 8:00PM, March 22, and required the closing of “in-office personnel functions” for all businesses in the state that are not considered, under his order, to be an “Essential Business.” Firearm dealers are not listed as “Essential Businesses.” Like New Jersey, however, liquor stores made the cut. New York law requires all firearm transfers, with a few exceptions for “immediate family” members, to include a NICS check conducted by a licensed firearm dealer. How Governor Cuomo’s executive order ultimately impacts lawful transfers of firearms in New York remains to be seen.
Whether or not gun stores in California will be allowed to operate seems to depend on where they are located. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 on March 4. He then issued another order on March 19, which directed “all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence,” with exceptions for those considered “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.”
While Newsom’s order doesn’t specifically close down any businesses, if one is required to remain at home, one cannot operate a business. Unless, of course, you are classified as an “Essential Critical Infrastructure Worker.” California guidelines do spell out who are considered exempt, but licensed gun dealers are not on the list. Yet again, liquor stores are.
But since stores are not specifically ordered to be closed, many gun dealers have remained open in California.
In Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the nation, Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced on March 23 that gun stores would be deemed “not an essential function,” and be ordered to shut down. Sheriff Villanueva told Fox11, “I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment, I’m a gun owner myself, but now you have the mixture of people that are not formerly gun owners and you have a lot more people at home and anytime you introduce a firearm in a home, from what I understand from CDC studies, it increases fourfold the chance that someone is gonna get shot.”
Villanueva being a gun owner should not be a surprise, considering he is the top cop in Los Angeles County. It is surprising, and quite revealing, to see him make an anti-gun claim to bolster his reason to shut down gun stores, rather than sticking strictly to the script that gun stores are “non-essential.”
In the Bay Area of California, things look equally murky for local gun shops.
On March 16, the County of Santa Clara California issued an Order of the Health Officer that directed residents to stay at home in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Several other counties in the Bay Area issued similar orders. The Santa Clara order also instructed businesses that are not considered to be “essential” to close, and Sam Liccardo, the Mayor of San Jose (a city within Santa Clara County) declared that gun stores are “non-essential” the following day, ordering them to be closed.
Pennsylvania, like California, was a bit confusing, but appears to be evolving in the right direction. Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed an executive order on March 19 that prohibits the operation of businesses that are not “Life Sustaining.” Governor Wolf also issued a “guide” to help businesses determine how they might be impacted. Firearms dealers were not specifically mentioned, initially, so it was unclear how they would be impacted throughout Pennsylvania.
In Philadelphia, government officials have indicated firearms dealers are NOT considered “essential,” and should be closed.
A lawsuit challenging the order from Governor Wolf that claimed the governor overstepped his authority as it relates to shutting down gun stores was dismissed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The dismissal of the lawsuit, without comment, led some to believe that all gun stores in Pennsylvania would be ordered closed. As one justice pointed out in his dissent to the dismissal of the case, as Pennsylvania requires all firearm transfers—with only a few exceptions involving some family members—be conducted at either a licensed firearm dealer’s place of business or a county sheriff’s office, Wolf’s order effectively eliminated virtually all lawful firearm transfers in Pennsylvania as long as it remains in effect. Whether or not county sheriff’s offices will continue to be available for processing private transfers is not clear.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania has quietly updated its “guide” to allow for firearms dealers to “operate physical businesses on a limited basis to complete only the portion of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law” provided the transaction is conducted by appointment and the business follows “social distancing” and “sanitization” guidelines.
Delaware, like Pennsylvania, started out on the wrong foot, but appears to be improving. Governor John Carney (D) issued a Declaration of a State of Emergency for Delaware on March 12, and has issued five “modifications” since then. As with other states, Governor Carney attempted to define businesses as “essential” and “non-essential,” with those deemed “non-essential” ordered to close. Yet again, stores that sell alcohol were specifically singled out as “essential.”
Gun stores were not listed, specifically, as “essential,” but would easily qualify under the category “Necessary Products Retailers,” which includes one definition as “Any other household consumer products or other products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences.” Clearly, firearms are “necessary to maintain the safety…of residences.”
Nonetheless, NRA received notification that at least one gun store had received a cease and desist order, stating it needed to close. After NRA notified Delaware of our intent to take legal action, the state relented, somewhat, and issued the following guidelines for gun stores:
“Firearms dealers may conduct sales of firearms, ammunition, and other goods directly related to responsible firearm storage and maintenance, by appointment only. No more than two appointments per half hour shall occur, and sellers are limited to operating during normal working hours they operated on prior to the State of Emergency. Any seller who violates such directive may be subject to criminal prosecution or other civil enforcement remedies up to and including arrest or the involuntary closure of the business.”
We continue to receive reports from some states indicating gun stores are being closed, including Maine and New Mexico. The order issued by Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) does not specifically exempt gun stores from operating, although it does allow for businesses to remain operational if they are used for “[o]btaining necessary supplies and services for family or household members…to maintain safety…of the home or residence.” Again, firearms are clearly used to “maintain safety” of people’s homes. Nonetheless, we have received numerous reports that gun stores in Washington are being told to close.
But there is also plenty of good news as it relates to the Second Amendment during these trying times. While all states have now issued some sort of emergency order in response to the national outbreak of COVID-19, few have ordered gun stores to close. In fact, many have singled them out as “essential,” and are to remain open while other businesses may be forced to close down.
Arizona has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Colorado has determined that gun stores fall under “Critical Retail.”
Connecticut has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Hawaii has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Idaho has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Illinois has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Indiana has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Kentucky’s order states, “nothing in this Order should be construed to interfere with the lawful sale of firearms and ammunition. Any businesses engaged in the lawful sale of firearms and ammunition must follow social distancing and hygiene guidance from the CDC and the Kentucky Department of Public Health…”
Louisiana has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Maryland State Police stated: “The governor’s orders do not close gun stores. Under federal guidelines and advice from the governor's legal counsel, gun stores are retail establishments that can remain open, provided they comply with the 10-person requirement and social distancing guidelines.”
Mississippi has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Montana has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
New Hampshire has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Ohio has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has issued Opinion No. KP-0296, which clarifies that municipalities and counties are prohibited from adopting regulations related to the transfer of and commerce in firearms.
Virginia law explicitly prohibits the governor or any other government entity from restricting “the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms….”
West Virginia has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
Wisconsin has determined that gun stores are an “Essential Business.”
As everyone is reminded daily, response to the COVID-19 outbreak in America is in a constant state of flux. While most states may either explicitly protect gun stores, or at least not require them to close, local governments, as we have seen in California, may try to go beyond what the state mandates. NRA will continue to monitor these and related issues, and determine what action may need to be taken.
Please be sure to return to this site regularly to stay current on the impact the virus may have on the Second Amendment, and to see what you can do to help protect our fundamental right to keep and bear arms.