Coronavirus

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva Says Gun Dealers Are 'Nonessential.' The Department of Homeland Security Disagrees.

The county's ban on firearm sales is inconsistent with a new federal advisory as well as the Second Amendment.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has joined other gun rights groups in challenging COVID-19 control measures that ban the sale of firearms. In a federal lawsuit filed on Friday, the NRA argues that California Gov. Gavin Newsom's March 19 business closure order, which Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has interpreted as covering gun dealers, violates the Second Amendment and the right to due process.

Villanueva's interpretation is not only constitutionally questionable but seemingly untenable in light of new guidance from the federal Department of Homeland Security. In an advisory issued on Saturday, the department added firearm retailers to its definition of the "essential critical infrastructure workforce." The order by Newsom (D) specifically exempted "federal critical infrastructure sectors."

In California, the NRA's complaint notes, "individuals are required to purchase and transfer firearms and ammunition through state and federally licensed dealers" so required background checks can be completed. Newsom's order, as interpreted by Villanueva, therefore prevents Californians from lawfully acquiring firearms or ammunition until the edict is relaxed or rescinded. "Such a de facto prohibition on the right to keep and bear arms is categorically unconstitutional under the Second Amendment," says the NRA, which was joined in the lawsuit by the Second Amendment Foundation, the Firearms Policy Coalition, the California Gun Rights Foundation, a Los Angeles County resident, and a Burbank gun dealer.

While "the circumstances posed by the [COVID-19] outbreak are noteworthy," the  complaint says, they "do not excuse unlawful government infringements upon freedom." In fact, the NRA argues, "the need for enhanced safety during uncertain times is precisely [why] Plaintiffs and their members must be able to exercise their fundamental rights to keep and bear arms."

In addition to exempting "federal critical infrastructure sectors," Newsom's order said he "may designate additional sectors" but did not suggest any or list criteria for choosing them. The order also said "Californians must have access to such necessities as food, prescriptions, and health care," items they may leave their homes to obtain. But it did not say what other goods or services might count as "necessities."

That same day, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued an order requiring the immediate closure of all "non-essential businesses." It allowed continued operation of "essential businesses," including "establishments engaged in the retail sale of…household consumer products" and "products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences."

Last Tuesday, Villanueva declared that gun dealers are "non-essential" and announced that his deputies would be forcing them to close. The next day, the sheriff said he was suspending that anti-gun operation pending Newsom's determination of whether firearm sales should be allowed to continue. But on Thursday, after Newsom said he would let local sheriffs decide that issue, Villanueva reiterated that gun stores are "non-essential" and "must close to the general public" to comply with the orders from the governor and the county. Violating the state and county orders is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months and up to 90 days in jail, respectively.

San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore, by contrast, has said gun stores perform a "valuable public service" and may continue to operate in his jurisdiction. In Gore's view, gun dealers enhance public safety by allowing enforcement of background checks and California's 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases. He worried that Californians might turn to the "black market" if they cannot legally buy guns for self-protection.

In addition to running afoul of the Second Amendment, the NRA says, the business closure orders are so vague that they violate the right to due process: "The subject Orders do not define critical terms; they encompass protected and non-protected actions; they omit definitions of key terms; they operate as complete bans; they do not require specific intent to commit an unlawful act; and they permit and encourage arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions with too much discretion committed to law enforcement. This breadth and built-in vagueness run afoul of the due process clause because the subject Orders fail to give adequate guidance to those who would be law-abiding, to advise them of the nature of the offense with which they may be charged, or to guide courts in trying those who are accused of violating such Orders."

The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), one of the plaintiffs in the California lawsuit, recently persuaded Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) to reverse a policy that required gun stores in that state to close. Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the FPC's application for extraordinary relief, three justices strongly dissented, saying "it is incumbent upon the Governor to make some manner of allowance for our citizens to continue to exercise this constitutional right."

The FPC also challenged the closure of gun stores under a COVID-19 order issued by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D). On Monday, Murphy announced that gun dealers will henceforth be considered "essential" businesses, citing the new guidance from the  Department of Homeland Security.

"I am pleased that Gov. Murphy is finally recognizing and honoring our constitutional right to bear arms, especially amid this State of Emergency," said state Sen. Michael Testa (R–Cumberland). "The Second Amendment is essential to all law-abiding citizens, particularly for increased safety, security, and self-protection. New Jerseyans' rights to purchase a firearm should have never been infringed upon in the first place."

Update: Villanueva has rescinded his ban on gun sales, citing the revised federal guidelines.

NEXT: Texas Federal Court Blocks Restrictions on "Non-Essential" Abortion Procedures, Texas Asks Fifth Circuit to Reverse

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  1. Lots of power grabs going on in states and D.C. Not a surprise . Never let a crisis go to waste. Wait till you see Nancy’s next emergency bill. It’ll be a wish list.

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  2. Where are the cops gonna buy bullets? This is LA after all. Cops kill people there all the time.

  3. I would hate to be in Villanueva’s shoes when he’s convicted of violating the supreme law of the land.

    1. I doubt he sought the job of sheriff because he has a big… er I mean big feet. Yeah, big feet. So his shoes are probably too small to fit you.

      1. So you’re a size 7?

        1. You’re confusing me with your mom.

          1. I didn’t realize you look like a woman too.

                  1. I’m guessing that’s an old photo from Chernobyl?

              1. I saw Jackyl when they opened up for Aerosmith back in the 90’s. Not THAT was a concert! They did the chainsaw solo, his microphone stand was a shotgun, which he fired over the crowd at the end of the set. Good times….

                1. no one cares

                  1. I care. I always enjoy being reminded of the existence of Jackyl.

  4. Blatant abuse of power. Villanueva and his squad should be forced to surrender their duty and personal firearms under the guise of ‘unessential’, as a lesson to others that would try and do the same.

  5. Why is this a decision delegated to the Sheriff?

    Don’t they have a mayor or such that makes such decisions?

    1. Because fuck you, that’s why.

    2. Because it’s a county-level decision?

  6. I was going to get a crowd of protestors together to peaceably assemble, show our displeasure with this infringement of the Second, and petition the government for a redress of grievances, but it turns out they’re infringing the First as well. I can’t wait until the cops start the door-to-door mandatory wellness checks.

    1. Couldn’t you peacefully assemble as long as everyone maintained a six foot distance from each other?

      Hmmmm…

      Doubt it.

      1. Only in groups of 10 or less.
        Not sure yet how to distinguish one group of ten people six feet apart from the adjacent group of ten people six feet apart.

      1. Don’t want to be treated like a thug, don’t celebrate your birthday like a thug.

        1. Hate to say it… but as a parent of 2 young ones… thank god I dont have to go to kids birthday parties for now.

          1. I’ve not one, and I’m declining all invitations (like I get any).

            1. Nobody invites you to parties? That’s surprising.

          2. Amen!
            Sorry darlin, I like, totally would take you, but that dang corona virus…

    2. What if you have a crowd that is all infected?

      Or would that be assault with a bio-weapon?

  7. I hope they win this (and they probably will), and then this can be used as precedent to fight future limitations on other rights in times of “crisis.” Particularly the right to assembly- put the smack down on governors and health departments dictating not only what businesses can and cannot operate but WHAT PEOPLE CAN DO IN THEIR OWN HOMES AND PLACES OF WORSHIP. I simply cannot believe that we ever came close to even having that conversation in this country, but here we are. Unfortunately it seems that no one is willing to stand up to those actions at this point because the populace is so freaked out and “we have to do something.” So it’s probably a lost cause this time around. However, I think a good ruling that the second amendment can’t be suspended just because someone in government decides it’s an “emergency” could be useful groundwork for a legal challenge to suspending the first the next time a governor hears someone sneeze and decides to place everyone on house arrest.

  8. Villanueva declared that gun dealers are “non-essential” and announced that his deputies would be forcing them to close.

    Forcing them at the point of a “non-essential” gun?

  9. How appropriate that he wears a brown shirt – – – – – – – –

    1. Well played. Surprised it took this long to Godwin this thread!

      1. To be fair, they have their brown pants as well.

  10. Do gun nuts recognize that their myopic, anti-social belligerence during a pandemic is likely to accelerate their drift toward political irrelevance in the culture war?

    Just kidding. Self-awareness is not an attribute most clingers possess.

    1. Hi, gecko! Still sticking around?

    2. Actually, to me one of the interesting things about the this panic has been the support for gun rights generally, even when every other right is trampled with impunity. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many places have designated gun-related businesses as “essential” without a fight, and that some who didn’t initially go along with that reversed course without TOO much of a fight. Plus, we know that tons of guns and ammo have been sold, and anecdotally, we hear a lot of that is to new gun owners. I’m going to guess that a significant portion of those are suburban swing voters, who now might be more likely to swing in the direction of maintaining their right to keep and use their new gun. So coming out of this, we have some degree of government and public acknowledgement of the importance of the right to bear arms (and to be able to exercise it even in crisis as opposed to just during hunting season), we have gun and ammo companies/distributors/sellers/suppliers raking in money hand over fist, some of which will likely be used to support pro-2A causes, and a whole bunch of folks who are newly motivated to support gun rights. Plus people have a whole new boogeyman to worry about for a while instead of “mass shootings.”

      1. You realize you’re trying to have a discussion with someone who’s entire world view is based on the daily beatings he received as a child from bigger, stronger boys, right?

        1. True, I did respond to his comment, which probably wasn’t the best place to put it. I realize he is simply trolling, but his troll post did get me thinking that is how some people might actually feel (idiot clingers, even in a crisis all they can worry about are their GUNZ!), and how I think they are mistaken.

          1. Ok, I’ll allow it.

      2. That has been a nice surprise. Hopefully it will continue to play out as you suggest. Nothing like a little shock to normalcy and security to get people to rethink on things like guns.

  11. Fuck Stephen Dorff!

  12. On Monday, Murphy announced that gun dealers will henceforth be considered “essential” businesses, citing the new guidance from the Department of Homeland Security.

    Governor Murphy then kicked a kitten down a flight of stairs, and felt better.

  13. “The Second Amendment is essential to all law-abiding citizens, particularly for increased safety, security, and self-protection. New Jerseyans’ rights to purchase a firearm should have never been infringed upon in the first place.”

    Lots of things should have never happened in New Jersey in the first place.

  14. This whole thing backfiring and causing millions of democrats to seriously consider if they need a gun for protection would be just sweet justice.

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