State and local governments from coast to coast are using the coronavirus pandemic as cover to deprive citizens of their 2nd Amendment rights.
Shortly after a stay-at-home order was issued citizens and "non-essential" businesses were ordered to close in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney published a list of businesses deemed essential—gun stores and ranges were not on the list, but dry cleaners were. Statewide, Gov. Tom Wolfe ordered gun shops to close indefinitely, a lawsuit challenging the order was dismissed by the state's supreme court (but with a couple of fiery dissents), and the governor relented a couple days later.
Over the weekend, President Trump's Department of Homeland Security added gun stores, shooting ranges, firearms manufacturers, and distributors to their list of essential businesses. While the list is only advisory and does not carry the force of law, the designation provided some encouragement to retailers under siege in communities where elected officials barely tolerate 2nd Amendment rights.
That designation appears to have prompted New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to announce this morning that gun retailers would be considered essential businesses and would be allowed to reopen.
Murphy, who supports stricter gun control legislation, made it clear that he was reluctant to make the decision.
“It wouldn’t have been my definition, but that’s the definition at the federal level. I didn’t get a vote on that,” he said.
New Jersey's gun laws are draconian and worries of panic-buying of firearms in that state are either dishonest or demonstrate willful ignorance of the state's gun laws.
In California, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who falsely claimed to be a 2nd Amendment supporter, ordered all gun shops in communities served by the department to close. Hours later, the Los Angeles County counsel's office reversed the decision and said they could reopen. Days later, after notorious gun rights foe Gov. Gavin Newsom said the decision on whether gun shops should be allowed to continue to operate should be left up to local sheriffs', Villanueva re-issued the shutdown order. Gun shops in Los Angeles city proper and Pasadena have also been closed down by their city governments.
In response, the National Rifle Association, Firearms Policy Coalition, the Second Amendment Foundation and the California Gun Rights Foundation have all sued various state and local officials who have forced the shutdown of firearms and ammunition retailers.
Businesses/government functions that support constitutional rights are 'essential' during coronavirus pandemic
I will be appearing on the Dave Congalton Hometown Radio Show tonight starting at 6:05 p.m. for an hour to talk about whether gun retailers are an essential business during a societal shutdown due to a pandemic. (You can listen live here.) My short answer is that anything that is necessary to support a constitutional right is an essential function in a crisis. That means that gun manufacturers and gun retailers are protected by the 2nd Amendment. Newspapers, TV and radio are protected by the First Amendment.
The only Bill of Rights-protected right that arguably might have to be suspended during a pandemic where infection of the pathogen is easily transferred via airborne means is the right to peaceably assemble. It's clear that during a public health crisis the government is at the height of its police powers, but that does not mean the suspension of constitutional rights, especially those that can still be exercised safely by prudent use of the necessary social distancing advisories.