Issues

Pennsylvania Governor Revokes Emergency Gun Store Ban

Wolf backtracks from closing down all gun stores

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf / Getty Images

Pennsylvania gun stores will remain open on a limited basis after Democratic governor Tom Wolf reversed course on his emergency coronavirus shut-down order on Tuesday.

The governor will allow gun dealers to reopen their stores, but his order still severely restricts what they are allowed to do. The updated order says gun stores may only operate "to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law," likely referring to the completion of a background check, which must be done in person.

The move comes as demand for firearms has surged in the wake of the pandemic, as a number of police departments, including Philadelphia's, have announced they will no longer arrest people committing certain crimes. The Democrat amended the order just two days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied an emergency request from Second Amendment activists challenging the gun store shutdown. Other states and localities are issuing orders similar to Wolf's, but there has been no clear consensus among them on whether gun stores should be among the exempted businesses.

The order requires that stores must operate on an "individual appointment" basis and only "during limited hours." Dealers must also "comply with social distancing, sanitization of applicable area between appointments, and other mitigation measures to protect its employees and the public," according to the updated order.

The updated order echoed recommendations made by three dissenting Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices on Sunday night. Justice David Wecht, writing for the dissent while in self-quarantine, said the order was an "impermissible intrusion upon a fundamental constitutional right" and urged the governor to find a way to allow gun dealers to operate even on a limited basis.

Adam Kraut, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case and director of legal strategy for the Firearms Policy Coalition, told the Washington Free Beacon his group was reviewing the language of the updated order and considering whether further legal action was necessary. Still, he welcomed the decision to allow gun stores to reopen.

"We are happy to see that it appears the governor has taken people's access to arms seriously and has provided a manner in which they can still obtain them during this unprecedented time," he said.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy has not only banned gun stores from operating but also shut down the state's background check system, which effectively eliminates all legal sales of guns there. The Second Amendment Foundation and the New Jersey Second Amendment Society have filed a federal lawsuit against Murphy's ban and are hoping to expedite it through the courts.

"In order for New Jersey residents to purchase firearms they must go through a licensed firearms retailer and pass a background check," Alan Gottlieb, the Second Amendment Foundation's founder, said in a statement. "However, [Democratic governor Phil] Murphy's order was subsequently followed by a notice posted on the State Police website that the agency is no longer conducting background checks. Gov. Murphy cannot simply suspend the Second Amendment."

Similar suits may be filed in the near future with both the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation threatening legal action over gun-store closures.