Do Gun Dealers Count As 'Essential' Businesses That Can Stay Open Under COVID-19 Lockdowns?

Or is the Second Amendment suspended for the duration of the epidemic?


As local and state governments began to shut down "nonessential" businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last week, firearm purchases soared. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group, reported that the number of FBI background checks for gun buyers on March 16 was four times as high as on the same date last year.

The anxious surge in firearm sales raises an obvious question: Do gun stores count as "essential" businesses that can continue to operate during lockdowns? Different states have answered that question differently, leading to lawsuits and some backtracking.

At least 10 states and the District of Columbia have issued broad orders shutting down businesses. Their definitions of "essential" businesses that are allowed to remain open vary. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, for example, exempted "firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers for purposes of safety and security," while California Gov. Gavin Newsom initially did not.

Two days ago, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced that his deputies would be visiting local gun stores and ordering them to shut down. "We will be closing them," he told the Fox station in Los Angeles. "They are not an essential function. 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 probably had in mind much-criticized research such as the 1993 New England Journal of Medicine study that reported a threefold increase in the risk of homicide for people who keep guns at home, or the 2009 American Journal of Public Health study that reported a more-than-fourfold increase in the risk of being shot. By leaping from correlation to causation, such studies ignore the ways in which people who keep guns for self-protection may differ from people who do not—in particular, their pre-existing risk of being shot or murdered.

It is odd, to say the least, for a self-proclaimed Second Amendment supporter to declare that it's reckless for anyone (except for police officers like himself) to exercise the constitutional right to armed self-defense. In any case, Villanueva's anti-gun operation has been suspended as Newsom reconsiders whether firearm retailers should be deemed essential.

Like Newsom, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf did not initially classify gun dealers as essential. But he reversed that position after the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) filed a lawsuit arguing that Wolf's closure order exceeded his legal powers and violated various constitutional provisions, including the right to arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment and Article I, Section 21 of Pennsylvania's constitution.

Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the FPC's application for extraordinary relief. But three justices—David Wecht, Christine Donohue, and Kevin Dougherty—strongly dissented.

"In light of the regulatory framework attending the sale and transfer of firearms," Wecht et al. noted, "the inability of licensed firearm dealers to conduct any physical operations amounts to a complete prohibition upon the retail sale of firearms—an activity in which the citizens of this Commonwealth recently have been engaging on a large scale, and one guaranteed by both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of this Commonwealth." Wolf's order, the dissenting justices said, "amounts to an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this Commonwealth." They added that "it is incumbent upon the Governor to make some manner of allowance for our citizens to continue to exercise this constitutional right."

Wolf responded by amending his list of "life-sustaining businesses" to include gun stores. The governor's office now says "firearms dealers may operate physical businesses on a limited basis to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law," provided the sales are arranged by appointment and comply with social distancing and sanitization requirements. 

"We appreciate that the governor heard the voices of Justices Wecht, Donohue, and Dougherty and will now allow gun stores to remain open and serve the public," said Adam Kraut, the FPC's director of legal strategy. "The right and ability to protect yourself and your family, particularly in times of crisis, is the very definition of 'life-sustaining' and unquestionably protected by both the Second Amendment and the State's constitution."

Kraut's group is also challenging New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's business closure order, which includes gun stores and prompted the New Jersey State Police to shut down its background check website. "Defendants' acts of prohibiting the operation of retail firearms businesses without regard to their manner of operation and of foreclosing any ability to access the background check portal prohibit law-abiding individuals from purchasing firearms for the purpose of protecting themselves and their families (or for any other purpose)," says the FPC's federal lawsuit, which argues that Murphy is depriving New Jersey residents of their constitutional rights under color of law. "Independently and collectively, these acts stand as a perpetual bar on firearms ownership….State and local governments do not have the power to prohibit the keeping and bearing of arms, nor to close the channels of distribution by which people obtain firearms."

Among the other states that have imposed broad business closure orders, Ohio and Michigan have exempted gun dealers. New York, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have not. Minnesota's list of "critical businesses" says sales of "sporting goods" are not exempt; it does not mention firearms or ammunition specifically. Maryland has three lists of exempted businesses (here, here, and here). Gun dealers do not appear on any of them.

NEXT: As Tourism Craters, Airbnb and Hotels Offer Shelter to Coronavirus Responders

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  1. The whole thing is pointless.

    1. Unless the point is to flex some authority.

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  2. If a lot of the first-time buyers are liberals, it’s an interesting commentary on the shallowness of their faith in Big Government.

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  3. Here in Colorado the gun stores are put on the essential list for our shut down. Which surprised me.

    1. Huh, that is a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

      1. Hello there.

    2. That is surprising. CO is rapidly shifting left.

      1. Polis was probably realistic enough to understand that the Western Slope would tell him to fuck off if he had tried that.

        1. But why would he care about the Western Slope? Or, indeed Western Kansas (rural CO East of I-25). They didn’t vote for him. Won’t next time either. Last I knew most of the 63 counties had declared themselves 2nd Amdt sanctuary counties. Doesn’t matter. The Front Range controls the state, and they put him in office. Third generation Coloradoan here, but I baiiled to MT, with much of central CO now having been overrun by liberals fleeing from CA, NY, IL, etc.

  4. Not surprisingly, for gun stores in Oregon, it’s business as usual, or probably, better business than usual. At least for now.

    1. I’m surprised. Portland and Eugene have their noses so far up CAs butt I gave up on the state long ago. Could their still be hope for OR?

      1. Sure, just like in all states anywhere more than 50 miles from the nearest Whole Foods (or a similar clone).

      2. Oh, the folks in Portland definitely DO have their noses so-placed. The difference is that the large urban centers in CA (read home of the lefties) account for about 60% of the population, whereas in OR it’s only about 30% or so. And even then, one could describe OR as a place where most of the Democrats are packing.

  5. Every store is essential to it’s employees; that is where their paycheck comes from.
    And, oh by the way, the constitution was suspended decades ago.

    1. The thing about these Lefties suspending the Constitution is that their power of office is derived from the Supreme Law that is the US Constitution.

      Without the US Constitution, government officials have zero authority under US Law because there is no US Law.

      1. “The Constitution is a limitation of the government, not on private individuals–that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government–that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government.”
        -Ayn Rand

        Government has unlimited power and authority because they have the last word in violence. The constitution is supposed to constrain them, but that’s only when the courts give a shit, and when the guys with guns give a shit about what the courts say.

        You can blither and blather about the constitution, but the fact is that nobody cares. Government’s gonna do whatever it wants, and you can’t do a damn thing about it.

        1. That is part of why we have the 2nd Amdt – to forcibly reject non consensual, autocratic rule, if necessary. We have a government whose moral legitimacy is through consent of the governed. Remove that, and the government has no moral legitimacy.

      2. Poor sarcasmic. unreason is so desperate.

        It is funny that Americans are arming up and not cooperating with government tyrants.

        I guess some of us are doing something about it.

  6. Yeah, Fuck Sheriff Villanueva.

    Guy is a traitor to the US Constitution and his oath. He admitted that his reason for forcing gun stores to close is because of what MIGHT HAPPEN.

    Get your pitchforks!

    1. And woodchippers!

      1. “Preet! Preet! Preet!”

        The mating call of woodchippers.

    2. What Might Happen is South Central Los Angeles blows up yet again and there is multi-day rioting.
      Memo to Villaneueva and every other Politician With A Badge.:
      The guns you will be facing on the streets of South Central aren’t coming from Local Gun Stores. They are the Black Market Arms, some of them full military grade, distributed by the International Gangs that you refuse to Put Away for long enough and Put Down when they go violent on the street level officers.

      1. California is riddled with COVID19. They just dont know it.

        Evidently many hospitals in that state are only testing patients in ICU that need respirators. Most other ER patients or people who call their doctors are not being tested.

  7. While we worry about the economic impact of this thing on gun stores, spare a little sympathy for others even worse off. I just saw where, with the suspension of the baseball season and the cancellation of the traditional opening day, Ticketmaster is estimated to have lost nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in ticket fees.

    1. Fortunately for them, the taxpayers pay for their stadiums.

      I feel sorry for the other workers, but can’t find a tear to spare for the league, the owners or the players.

  8. Indiana has exempted gun stores/ranges from being shut down. My closest/favorite gun store is still open with reduced hours, but they shut the indoor range down.

  9. Missouri man plotting hospital bombing killed in shooting, FBI says. What are you willing to bet that this was a typical case of some troubled soul recruited and radicalized by the FBI, who likely never would have hatched such a cockamany plan had it not been for the efforts of the Bureau agents themselves?

    1. That’s their m.o.

      Do all the work, motivation, encouragement, maybe threaten them if they’re showing signs of wanting to bail – push, push, push then… bam! Terrorist attack prevented!

    2. It’s the Federal Bureau of Instigation after all, what did you expect their job to be?

    3. He was picking up what he thought was a bomb when agents tried to arrest him Tuesday. The FBI said the bomb wasn’t real, but did not provide further details.

      So, at the very least, he didn’t make a bomb, he acquired a “bomb” from the FBI. Not sure how cockamamie his scheme was, but the FBI seemed to be extremely accommodating of him. Some might even say coddling him.

  10. A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed unless a bunch of people get a respiratory infection and politicians use it to their advantage.

    See? It’s right there in the original text!

    1. I do believe you’ve got what it takes to put on a black robe and act like a god.

  11. A friend of mine works at Blackwing Shooting in Delaware Ohio and their doing gang buster business. I’m happy to here it.

    1. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Massachusetts declares liquor stores to be essential businesses for Covid-19 purposes.

      1. I thought they all went to NH for that …

  12. Was at the gun shop in my town the other day, after that dumbass Evers declared the nonessential shutdown, and he said that he would be open one way or another, and that all his distributors had letters they sent him declaring that they were (and, I guess, by extension that he is) essential. I am a little surprised that states haven’t tried to back door this by just shutting down the background check system, but I suppose just like closing the stores themselves, they could expect pretty quick legal challenges to taking an action that makes it impossible to exercise a constitutional right.

    1. Most states don’t have a state background check system to shut down. Their FFLs call/email directly to NICS.

      1. TN does, it’s being overworked right now (I was getting ammo the other day and the system was down). If they shut down the State govt, the stores here will have to shut down since they can’t afford to stay open off ammo sales alone.

        1. In California if the state does not respond in 10 days then they have to give you your gun i think that is the case with all back ground checks everywhere but maybe not. so if so if the state does not do their job you get your guns.

      2. Yeah, I’m not overly familiar with how that works on a state by state basis. Whoever does do them is getting hammered these days, though. A girl was asking about how to go about getting her CCW license, and he told her that right now it would probably be a bit after she submitted the application, since the same people that do background checks for firearm sales in WI handle CCW background checks, and they are swamped.

  13. In Georgia Gov. Kemp said that he couldn’t close gun shops, because 2A. Case closed.

    1. +1000

    2. What Would Gap-Tooth Stacey Do?

  14. “As the interned American citizens of Japanese descent learned, the Bill of Rights provided them with little protection when it was needed.” ~ Glenn Harlan Reynolds
    Keep on thinking that you need to be governed/ruled, children.

  15. Oh, for the love of God! If your local gun dealer is forced to shut down it does not mean in any way, shape, or form that your 2nd Amendment rights have been curtailed. Under the SCOTUS D.C. case ruling, you have an inalienable individual right to own whatever guns you want.

    If a physical brick and mortar shop must shut down due to an unprecedented public health crisis, you are still not “barred” from purchasing firearms. Perhaps you might have to look elsewhere.

    Or, perhaps, you just wait until your favorite gunshop re-opens. Just like your favorite bookstore (your 1st Amendment rights).

    1. Thank you for displaying your complete and utter ignorance on the subject.

      In many states, there is no other “elsewhere” — all transactions must be done at licensed dealers, and background checks must be done (hard to do when the government bureaucrats who are paid to do them are instead paid to stay at home).

    2. Really, John?
      “you have an inalienable individual right to own whatever guns you want.”

      The ignorance is strong. Perhaps you would tell me where I can legally buy a H&K MP-5 SDK?

      1. Liberia

  16. The ultimate irony: Democratic governors in Democratic states responding to a Democratic-fellating media-created crisis causes millions of Americans to seriously consider if they need to be armed to protect their families.

    1. This is mainly affecting sanctuary cities and states who want to destroy America as we know it.

      This will al work out for the rest of America.

  17. 2A also covers SDI and other ABM systems that totally interfered with effort to surrender to the Soviet Union before it collapsed.

  18. One thing I’ve learned in life is whenever someone says “I’m not racist,BUT…” you know a racist comment is coming. It’s no different with “I support the (insert any constitutional right), BUT”. If you support the 2nd, then you support it no matter what. If you support it, BUT… you DON’T support it at all!

  19. This. This is a great test of the Second Amendment. I expect the same level of forceful back-blow on the exercise of the First Amendment, in all of its clauses. I recently saw some article poo-pooing the free exercise of religion during the “pandemic” because the government is restricting the exercise of *all* groups meetings.

    How I beg to differ. That’s like saying that because of the virus and some rule three tiers below the Constitution, that I can no longer voice my opinion of the government’s actions. This event does not magically revoke our rights because there is something higher than them.

    It may be time to look into Habeas Corpus and other legal ways to force these rogue governors to learn some restraint. But not even the state courts seem to have the gumption to rule against the Governor.

    1. They have restricted the right to assemble, so it would seem to follow that everything else will fall in line… When it comes to the 2A I would recommend always stockpile ammo as it has an incredibly long validity date. Someone asked me last week just how many guns did I need and response was “as many as it takes” I don’t think she appreciated the answer. I guess the point is just be prepared and don’t wait for the next crisis to make your firearm purchase since this right has been under assault for decades and is just one bad election away from disappearing altogether. Whether that be by limiting sales or restricting ammo the progressives want confiscation it is clear.

      1. The difference though is that a very temporary limitation on the right to assemble can easily be seen as a compelling state interest, since its purpose is to temporarily enforce a partial quarantine, in order to break the back of the pandemic. Quarantines have been effectively used against epidemics for many centuries.

        On the other hand, suspending the 2nd Amdt cannot be a compelling state interest, given the facts at hand, because proponents cannot show empirically that it would be both useful and necessary. Rather, suspensions are inevitably couched as predictions and surmises. The politicians believe that they will solve some some societal problem. Not that they can be empirically shown to help, but that they are believed to be helpful. That sort of wishful thinking is sufficient for Rational Basis analysis applied to most laws and government actions, but more is required for suspension of fundamental rights, such as this one. Much more. This is called Heightened Scrutiny (and ultimately, we hope, Strict Scrutiny).

        There are real, pragmatic, reasons why the need to be armed is more important, and not less important, in situations like we face today. The police are less able to respond and protect the citizenry in these citizens, while often the level of lawlessness is increased.

        Finally, restrictions of gun rights, as proposed, is not narrowly targeted. It mostly affects the law abiding, who are most in need of protection, and not the lawless, who rarely acquire their firearms legally, through proper channels.

  20. Texas has shut down abortion clinics as “non-essential” the way that certain Blue-State governors have shut down gun shops.

    It’s interesting to see the parallels between the anti-abortion and anti-gun types. Both are convinced that they oppose an inherently criminal act disguised as a Constitutional right. Both are zealots who will act in cheerful bad faith for the sake of furthering their righteous cause. Neither are to be trusted an inch, even in cases where you think that they have a point.

    (Disclosure: I’m a pro-gun extremist, but a moderate on the abortion issue. I’d cheerfully go along with, say, European-style limits on abortion – except that I’ve seen the chortling by anti-abortion types as they contemplate using such limits as a lever to ultimately achieve a complete abortion ban.)

    1. Anti-gun nuts are using unconstitutional gun control laws to prevent Americans protecting themselves against Communists who live in America (Bernie Bros for example).

      Anti-Abortion types simply consider abortion murder of a tiny human.

      I agree that anti-abortion people are a bit on the zealot side but these two issues have very different people and reasons why they are against the issues.

    2. You miss the point on the abortion issue. We have closed all outpatient clinics in Harris county and most of Texas as they are directing resources to the Hospitals. So it follows that procedures carried out in out-patient clinics including abortions will have to wait. It is not a morality play here. You are falling victim to the progressive misinformation campaign along with that B-list Hollywood ditz Alyssa Milano…

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  23. Any Democrat who says they support the 2nd Amendment is full of shit.

  24. How can the 2A be ‘suspended’?

    If that be the case, The Constitution is the biggest fraud in human history.

  25. Do Gun Dealers Count As ‘Essential’ Businesses That Can Stay Open Under COVID-19 Lockdowns?

    Do Newspapers Count As “Essential” Businesses That Can Stay Open Under COVID-19 Lockdowns?

    Do Churches Count As “Essential” Businesses That Can Stay Open Under COVID-19 Lockdowns?

    Do Pharmacies Count As “Essential” Businesses That Can Stay Open Under COVID-19 Lockdowns?

    Fucking magazine. The BOR wasn’t written to protect gun dealers. It was written to protect private citizens largely without regard for occupation. Ceding that the government can close down a movie theater but not a pharmacy or a gun shop starts the fist fight by handing your opponent a shotgun.

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  27. I would love to see a governor close down social media and “news” outlets as non-essential.

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