Coronavirus and the States: Gun Shops vs. Governors; Chloroquine Restrictions

By: - March 25, 2020 12:00 am

Stephanie Miller of Atlanta places a shotgun in her shopping cart as she checks out at Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Georgia. Several governors have backed down from declarations of gun shops as “nonessential” stores that should shutter. John Bazemore/ The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

Gun shops are clashing with governors and other civic leaders around the country — from Pennsylvania to California — over whether they are “essential” and can remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. Under pressure from gun rights groups, officials in several states have reversed course and allowed gun stores to remain open.

“California gun stores provide the only access to people accessing their constitutional rights,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, which successfully urged Los Angeles County to reverse course and leave gun shops open. “Constitutional rights don’t go away in a crisis; that’s when they are most important.”

The Los Angeles County sheriff reversed his own decision to close gun shops after the county’s top lawyer said the shops could be open, the Associated Press reported. Sheriff Alex Villanueva initially said gun stores were not essential businesses and must close.

But an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, did not specifically mention the gun stores, and the Los Angeles County counsel’s office said in a statement to the AP that they did qualify as essential.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, initially closed gun shops along with most other small businesses in an executive order, but after a lawsuit challenged the order, he relented and issued a new list of “life sustaining” businesses that can remain open, which included firearm shops.

The order specified that gun shops could remain open because state laws require firearm purchases to be made in person. The governor called for the shops to limit the number of buyers in them at one time.

That directive has become more important as gun shops in many states are reporting a big uptick in gun sales.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed the executive order that closed nonessential businesses, with some exemptions including groceries and pharmacies. Gun shops did not make the list, prompting a federal lawsuit from a man who recently decided to buy a gun because of worries about the coronavirus pandemic, but who was shut out when the shops closed.

“Plaintiff Robert Kashinsky does not own any firearms. When the novel coronavirus began to spread in the United States, he became concerned about his ability to protect himself and his wife in the event that the situation developed such that emergency services were unavailable or were not reliably available,” the lawsuit said. “He decided that it had now become an appropriate time to purchase a firearm.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.