Pennsylvania governor walks back emergency gun store ban

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf backtracked on his emergency order shutting down gun retailers due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Democrat leader will now allow gun dealers in the state to reopen their stores after his executive order required the closing of all businesses not considered to be “life-sustaining.” The updated order allows the stores to operate on a limited basis and “to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law.”

(Image: PennLive screenshot)

Wolf’s amended order comes just days after Second Amendment activists were denied an emergency request by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Sunday when they challenged the store closures, arguing that weapons retailers should not be included, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

Pennsylvania gun stores will now be allowed to conduct business on an “individual appointment” basis and only “during limited hours.” The updated order also requires the businesses to “comply with social distancing, sanitization of applicable area between appointments, and other mitigation measures to protect its employees and the public.”

Though the state’s Supreme Court sided with Wolf to allow the shutdown, three dissenting Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices issued recommendations that were echoed in the new order.

The initial order was an “impermissible intrusion upon a fundamental constitutional right,” Justice David Wecht, wrote while reportedly in self-quarantine, recommending the governor allow the gun retailers to remain open, at least on a limited basis.

“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,” Adam Kraut, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Many of Pennsylvania’s counties were placed under a “stay-at-home” order this week to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

States that have issued orders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic have had differing stances on whether gun retailers are considered part of the “essential” stores that can remain open as the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation consider whether to file legal action where the stores have been forced to close.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has taken things a step further by shutting down the background check system in the state as well as closing the stores. Without the system in place, legal gun sales cannot take place in New Jersey, a move that has led to a federal lawsuit being filed by the Second Amendment Foundation and the New Jersey Second Amendment Society.

“In order for New Jersey residents to purchase firearms they must go through a licensed firearms retailer and pass a background check,” founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, Alan Gottlieb, said in a statement.

“However, 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,” he added.

An executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t specifically note gun shops which caused confusion when the Los Angeles County sheriff followed the stay-at-home order by directing deputies to make sure gun stores were closed as non-essential businesses. However, the Los Angeles County counsel’s office in a statement said it “opined that gun stores qualify as essential businesses.”

“They don’t just sell guns — they sell camping gear, survival gear, things that people may need,” Chuck Michel, an attorney for the National Rifle Association-affiliated California Rifle and Pistol Association, told Time. “Gun stores have been deemed to be essential in many, many jurisdictions, but unfortunately some of these jurisdictions are allowing politics to creep in.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva blamed a “loophole” for the mix up in whether the gun retailers could stay open, further angering Second Amendment advocates.

“There are far more important things that the sheriff can be doing than sending uniformed officers to gun stores telling them they’re going to be shut down by force,” Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said. “We’ve got lots of stories from people who said, ‘I’d never thought I’d own a firearm, and now I want them more than anything in the world.’”


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