Massachusetts Shuts Down Gun Stores After Declaring Them 'Essential'

Gun-rights advocates vow to sue

Getty Images
April 1, 2020

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R.) reversed course and shut down gun dealers in the state on Wednesday after previously labeling them "essential."

The reversal effectively shuts down gun sales in Massachusetts as the governor attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Baker's declaration came days after the federal government declared the gun industry "essential." Other jurisdictions have backed away from mandatory closures following the federal revision. Second Amendment activists are now exploring legal action to challenge the policy. 

"Massachusetts is one of the states on our list to file suit against," Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, which has joined with other leading gun-rights organizations to sue jurisdictions across the country over shutdowns, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Our attorneys are working on it."

Baker's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision. The latest update to his coronavirus "essential services" list allows "workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, importers, and distributors" to continue working but not those at gun stores or ranges.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry's trade group, said the governor's previous shutdown order had included gun retailers among those listed as "essential." The group called Baker's amended order "alarming." Other states in the region, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have reopened gun stores and background check systems despite previous statewide closures.

"This antipathy for the respect of the right of Massachusetts citizens to protect themselves is alarming," NSSF general counsel Lawrence G. Keane said in a statement. "Every other governor in New England is permitting their citizens the right to acquire a firearm. Even the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania have now recognized the limits of their authority to infringe on fundamental American rights and reversed course."

Keane accused the governor of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to pursue an unrelated gun-control agenda.

"Gov. Baker's using a health crisis to further an anti-gun agenda that denies Americans their rights is inexcusable," he said.

Gun-rights groups and industry officials have argued that access to firearms is a constitutionally protected right that must be allowed. They have thus far been able to convince federal and state officials to allow gun businesses to remain open through a combination of lobbying and legal action. Gun-control groups, including Everytown for Gun Safety and Brady United, have launched lobbying campaigns asking state officials to close stores.