Are Gun Stores Essential Businesses during a Pandemic?

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Source: Marcin Wichary, “Supermarket… with Guns. Unnerving.,” wikimedia.org, Sep. 5, 2008

Many states are having to debate whether gun stores are essential businesses that should be allowed to stay open during COVID-19 (coronavirus) stay-at-home orders.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued non-binding guidance on Mar. 28, 2020 that listed “[w]orkers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges” as essential workers.

As of Mar. 30, 2020, Daniel Nass, writing for The Trace, counted 28 states that list gun stores as essential or critical in the stay-at-home orders, or offer another provision to allow the stores to remain open. Virginia, for example, does not list gun stores as essential but allows any businesses to remain open if the businesses “limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment, adhere to social distancing recommendations, sanitize common surfaces, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.”

Texas does not yet have stay-at-home orders, but has preemptively prevented local governments from closing gun stores. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “State law provides several emergency powers to local governments to control movement within their region during a disaster, which serves our communities well during public health events like the one we’re fighting now. However, local regulation of the sale, possession, and ownership of firearms is specifically prohibited under Texas law. Under our laws, every Texan retains their right to purchase and possess firearms.”

As of Mar. 30, 2020, 7 states with stay-at-home orders have closed gun stores: Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and Washington. Four additional states had unclear orders or, in the case California, were allowing decisions about gun stores to be made at the county level.

In California, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva closed gun and ammunition stores on Mar. 26, 2020. Villanueva stated, “There are hundreds of businesses which, through no fault of their own, do not fall under the governor’s definition of critical infrastructure. As a result, I have instructed my deputies to enforce closures of businesses which have disregarded the governor’s order (gun stores, strip clubs, and other non-designated businesses).”

The NRA and other pro-gun groups filed a lawsuit against Villanueva, Governor Gavin Newsom, and other state officials on Mar. 27, 2020. Jason Ouimet, Executive Director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, stated, “Municipalities who target lawful gun stores for closure aren’t promoting safety—by weaponizing their politics to disarm you and your loved ones, these shameless partisans are recklessly promoting a gun-control agenda that suffocates your self-defense rights when you need them most.”

Kris Brown, President of Brady, a gun control group, responded, “In this time when we all need to sacrifice to flatten the curve and stop this pandemic, it is disturbing that the NRA won’t budge from its overriding purpose — to increase gun industry profits at any cost. There is no constitutional right to spread coronavirus while shopping, for guns or anything else.”

While a possible Mar. 2020 COVD-19 (coronavirus) increase in background checks for gun sales is yet to be calculated, there was a surge at the beginning of 2020 with 1,286,189 more background checks in Jan. and Feb. 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. The Jan. and Feb. 2020 surge is likely partially due to the 2020 election and fears about the possibility of new gun restrictions if the country elects a Democratic president. See what the 2020 candidates think about universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should gun stores be labeled essential businesses during a stay-at-home order? Explain your answer.

2. Is closing gun stores during a stay-at-home order a violation of the Second Amendment? Explain your answers.

3. What businesses do you consider essential during a stay-at-home order? Explain your answer.

Sources:

Bobby Allyn, “Officials Debate whether Gun Stores Are ‘Essential’ during Coronavirus Outbreak,” npr.org, Mar. 27, 2020

Department of Homeland Security, “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce,” cisa.gov, Mar. 28, 2020

FBI, “NICS Firearm Checks: Month/Year,” fbi.gov (accessed Mar. 30, 2020)

Marty Johnson, “NRA Sues California Officials for Closing Gun Stores amid Coronavirus Outbreak,” thehill.com, Mar. 28, 2020

J. Edward Moreno, “Texas AG Says Gun Stores Are Essential, Should Remain open amid Pandemic,” thehill.com, Mar. 28, 2020

Daniel Nass, “How Coronavirus Shutdowns Are Affecting Gun Stores in Each State,” thetrace.org, Mar. 25, 2020

Jon Passantino, “NRA Sues California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Other State Officials over Gun Store Closures,” cnn.com, Mar. 28, 2020