Gun stores in Ventura County, California, and gun ranges in the state of Massachusetts are reopening following legal pressure from gun-rights advocates.
Ventura County relented on its closure of gun stores and clarified to a federal judge on May 13 that retailers are included in phase one reopenings. Massachusetts announced gun ranges could also open on Monday, after a federal judge ruled against the governor's coronavirus shutdown order. The businesses must adopt social distancing guidelines but gun-rights advocates celebrated the developments as clear victories.
"The county choosing to reopen firearm and ammunition transactions rather than face our motion in court is a victory for gun owners and the Second Amendment," Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which filed suit against Ventura County, said of the reopening.
"Not only is it essential to be able to acquire firearms in times of uncertainty, it’s equally important to have the ability to train with those firearms," Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, a plaintiff in the Massachusetts case, said in a statement. "That is why GOA relentlessly fought to reopen not only gun stores, but also shooting ranges as well."
Second Amendment groups have launched aggressive lobbying and legal campaigns to ensure gun businesses remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. The effort has faced some setbacks, but the combination of legal and political pressure has produced a series of legal victories and shutdown reversals. Retailers and ranges remained open as "essential" businesses in the vast majority of states, but a handful of states that did force gun businesses to close have included them in the early stages of phased reopening plans.
The successes came despite public opposition from some of the country's most influential gun-control groups. Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady United both issued memos in April arguing that gun stores and ranges are not "essential" and should not be exempted from coronavirus shutdowns. Brady called for shutdowns not only to deal with the deadly virus, but to curb the record-setting number of gun sales since February.
Gun-rights advocates appear to have accomplished their goal of reopening gun businesses in nearly every state.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Mexico, as well as a number of counties in California and New York, all reversed course on gun-store closures after they were sued by gun advocates. The industry also successfully petitioned the federal government to include gun businesses on its "essential" business guidance—a decision which officials in New Jersey and several California counties cited in modifying shutdown orders.
Many gun-rights advocates said that they are still pursuing legal action in the wake of reopenings. Adam Kraut, director of legal strategy for the Firearms Policy Coalition, which is a plaintiff in the Ventura County case, said the organization wants to establish a precedent against closures to head off similar restrictions if the coronavirus spikes again in the coming months.
"Ultimately, they have already admitted in court that they violated constitutionally enumerated rights," he said in a statement. "Especially because there may be a second or third wave of COVID-19, we will seek an injunction so that they cannot do this again, should cases spike."