Issues

Gun-Rights Group Files Suit Challenging Coronavirus Shutdown

Second Amendment advocates exploring legal options amid coronavirus shutdowns

Various rifles on display at Clark Brothers gun store in Warrenton, Virginia, on January 16, 2020 / Getty Images

A top gun-rights group is challenging the state-ordered shutdown of "non-essential" businesses because of the coronavirus outbreak, and leading Second Amendment advocates say more could be in store.

Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, said his group filed a case on Friday asking the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to block Democratic governor Tom Wolf from including gun stores in a statewide shutdown of "non-essential" businesses. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has told Gov. Wolf he has until 8 p.m. on Friday to respond to the arguments in the case.

"Weapons and ammunition retailers are one of the most essential business types in the United States," Combs told the Washington Free Beacon. "There is no ‘except in emergencies’ clause in the Constitution and the government cannot shut down the people’s right to keep and bear arms."

Government mandates shuttering businesses in several states have raised the prospect that more gun retailers could be ordered to shut their doors. California and Pennsylvania have already started shutting down businesses other than grocery stores, gas stations, and other "life-sustaining" industries, as Wolf described them. At least one gun store near San Jose has been forced to close in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, according to a Mercury News report.

But gun-rights advocates say Americans' access to firearms and ammunition should not be prohibited despite the threat of the virus.

"They [retailers] are required by the government to be a point of access to the exercise of fundamental human rights," Combs said.

As fears of the pandemic increase and police in major cities announce they will no longer make arrests over certain crimes, Americans have flooded gun stores and online ammunition dealers in recent weeks. A shutdown of gun stores would drastically limit their ability to purchase firearms for self-defense. It would also raise significant constitutional questions that gun-rights groups say they will challenge in court if lawmakers attempt to curb gun sales.

"We are monitoring and working to resolve all these issues in a timely manner. All options—legal, legislative, and otherwise—are on the table," Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the NRA, told the Free Beacon. "Law-abiding Americans must not be deprived of the right to defend themselves and their loved ones at any time."

"Gun prohibitionists want to close down every gun store they can and will use any means necessary," said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF). "They do not believe that the means for self-defense is essential or a protected constitutional right. Our legal team is monitoring the situation very closely."

Gottlieb said even if shutdowns do occur, it could take time to find a case that's likely to succeed in court for a number of reasons. He acknowledged there are several challenges for Second Amendment supporters in the courts.

"Before SAF can sue we need to wait and see how long forced closures of gun stores will last," he said. "We are up against a compelling government interest in stopping a deadly virus from spreading. We also need to find the right plaintiffs to have standing and a compelling need to buy a gun and ammunition."

The gun industry's trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said it is also monitoring the situation and ready to intervene.

"We're monitoring how our businesses are going to be affected as governors start to say we're going to shut down non-essential businesses," said Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the group. "We believe our businesses are essential. We're starting to get ready to defend that if we have to."

Wolf's order is expected to take effect on Saturday.