Are retail firearms stores an “essential” or “non-essential” business?
That’s the question at the heart of a battle currently being waged in New Jersey and promising to spread to several other states, and the fight revolves around the individual right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment.
A federal lawsuit filed by the Second Amendment Foundation against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and State Police Supt. Patrick Callahan was amended Thursday to bring aboard more plaintiffs. Murphy has decided gun shops are not an “essential business” and has ordered them closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
A separate lawsuit involving the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs is also in the works.
Veteran firearms retailer Bob Viden, proprietor at Bob’s Little Sport Shop in Glassboro told Liberty Park Press via telephone that the firearms business is literally part of the Constitution.
“We have a right to stay open even in a disaster,” Viden insisted.
He said it’s because the right to bear arms is essential to the people of the United States, and their ability to defend their lives.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf initially wanted gun stores closed, but apparently swayed by a dissenting opinion from state Supreme Court Justice David Wecht in a challenge to the governor, Wolf changed his position.
Here’s what Wecht said: “Quite simply, if firearm dealers are not able to conduct any business in-person at their licensed premises, then no transfers of firearms can be completed. This amounts to an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this Commonwealth—a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
Writing at TheGunMag.com, Tanya Metaksa notes, “In the following states firearms dealers are considered essential services: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.”
But in other states, identified by Metaksa to be Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Washington, that’s not the case.
According to SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb, their federal lawsuit against Murphy and Callahan was amended Thursday to now include California’s Firearms Policy Coalition, the Legacy Indoor Range and Armory LLC, and three private citizens, Gina DiFazio, Jontell Platts and Witold Kwiatkowski. They join SAF, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, Legend Firearms and Robert Kashinsky. They are represented by attorneys David Jensen (New York) and Adam Kraut (Pennsylvania).
Liberty Park Press checked with gun shops in New Jersey and Washington State.
Biden’s Glassboro store, which is closed under Murphy’s order, was busy prior to the shutdown. He said ammunition sales were up sharply.
Out in Bellevue, Washington, the glass handgun display cases were about half-empty leading up to Gov. Jay Inslee’s “stay home” order. His office said earlier in the week that gun shops are not considered “essential” and therefore were supposed to close.
“By requiring that people not leave their homes to legally purchase firearms and ammunition,” SAF’s Gottlieb said in a prepared statement, “even if they follow public health guidance for social distancing, their rights are being denied.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation—the umbrella group for the firearms industry—has been busy working with the White House and Department of Homeland Security “to ensure the firearm industry is included is the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) list of critical infrastructure. We’ve also worked with governors, county officials and mayors to ensure firearm retailers are considered essential services.”
Mark Oliva, NSSF director of public affairs, said via email, “Our rights don’t end during a pandemic. In fact, the need for responsible and law-abiding adults to exercise their rights is magnified.”
Larry Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel had this observation, quoted by The Crime Report, “This is exactly when the Second Amendment right is most important, because people are concerned about the safety of their families, their property and their businesses.”