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Essential or non-essential: NRA sues states closing gun stores during the pandemic

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As states across the country enforce stay-at-home orders to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Rifle Association has now sued both New York and California for deeming gun stores as non-essential businesses and forcing their closure.

The NRA’s opposition comes after they lobbied for gun shops to be considered essential, which led the Department of Homeland Security to list the firearm industry as an essential service among grocery stores and pharmacies. 

“Please join us in thanking President @realDonaldTrump and his administration for once again keeping his promise to protect the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Americans,” the NRA said in a tweet on March 29. 

According to an article by CBS News, California reversed its decision to close gun stores after the NRA sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

New Jersey also initially had plans to close gun stores under their stay-at-home order, but decided to allow the firearm and ammunition businesses to remain open when the DHS said they were essential. 

However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still enforcing firearm and ammunition retailers in the state to be closed, despite backlash from the NRA.

The federal government’s guidelines that deem gun stores as essential are “advisory,” according to CNN, so states can “add or subtract essential workforce categories based on their own requirements and discretion.”

“The current public health emergency does not justify impeding the exercise of Second Amendment rights,” the NRA’s lawsuit said. “Especially during a time when many New Yorkers have valid concerns about the ability of the government to maintain order — and criminals are being prematurely released from jails.”

The statement in the NRA’s lawsuit referred to efforts to release certain inmates from Rikers Island jail in New York because of the coronavirus. 

Kris Brown, the president of the pro-gun-control group Brady, told CNN that Cuomo is “well within his authority” to close gun stores amid the virus’ spread.

“The Second Amendment, like all amendments in the Bill of Rights, is balanced by concerns of public safety and health,” Brown said. “Right now, those concerns necessitate the closure of many businesses, including the need to forbid large gatherings, which are rights otherwise protected by the First Amendment. The Second Amendment does not supersede the First, nor does it override the need to stop the spread of coronavirus.”

According to the New York Times, Americans purchased about two million guns in March. 

March 2020 was the second-busiest month ever for gun sales with the first-busiest being January 2013, which was just after President Barack Obama’s re-election and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University, told the New York Times that gun sales have been skyrocketing because people are afraid that the pandemic could lead to civil unrest.

“People are nervous that there’s a certain amount of civil disorder that might come if huge numbers of people are sick and a huge number of institutions are not operating normally,” Lytton said. “They may have an anxiety about protecting themselves if the organs of state are starting to erode.”

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected].