Throughout the entire Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, local and state officials have continually worked to derail Americans' Second Amendment rights. We have seen mayors and governors force gun stores and ranges to close because they're not deemed "essential businesses." Pro-gun groups have worked both together and independently to ensure that Americans have the right to defend themselves, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), National Rifle Association (NRA), Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Gun Owners of American (GOA) and Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) all had one goal: getting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to declare firearm manufacturers, distributors, ranges and retail stores as "essential businesses" that should remain open during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
The NSSF penned a letter to Christopher Krebs, the Director of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS on March 20, making the case that federal firearms licensees (FFLs) should be considered essential:
The United States military acquires virtually all its small arms from domestic commercial firearm manufacturers. All handgun ammunition used by the U.S. military is sourced from commercial ammunition manufacturers. The Department of Defense arsenal located in Lake City, Missouri, is operated by a commercial ammunition manufacturer under a DOD contact. Most of the rifle ammunition used by the U.S. military is produced in Lake City. The U.S. military also purchases rifle ammunition directly from domestic commercial ammunition manufacturers. The federal government recognizes the importance of ammunition and firearm manufacturing in times of crisis.
We believe federally licensed firearm and ammunition manufacturers, and their employees, are clearly part of the Defense Industrial Base.
Manufacturers cannot remain operational if they are unable to secure necessary raw material and component parts in order to produce finished products for the military, law enforcement and commercial market. Therefore, it is vital that the supply chain upon which our industry relies, including the ability to transport materials, parts and finished products, must also be designated as critical infrastructure industry.
GOA sent a similar letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on March 27, but made the argument that these closures infringe on Americans' Second Amendment rights:
We understand that CISA’s guidance is not binding on states and is advisory in nature. However, we have seen that several states, which have issued stay-at-home orders, rely on CISA’s guidance in the creation of a state’s list of workers who are exempted from such orders because they assist in essential critical infrastructure.2 At least 11 state orders mention the CISA Guidance. At least two of those states, Hawaii and California, expressly incorporate CISA’s guidance for those states’ determination of those workers who are deemed essential and are thus exempted from the requirement to stay at home.3 Hawaii expressly protects firearms dealers, but California does not.
The language in the CISA Guidance protecting the Defense Industry does not clearly protect the Firearms Industry. The Firearms Industry is a central component of the munitions industry and has served an essential role in the founding of the nation, and the preservation of freedom here and around the world. Moreover, it is an industry which operates to help the People exercise their pre-existing and inherent right to self-defense, recognized by our nation’s founders in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As a number of courts have held, having the ability to purchase firearms is a necessary corollary to the ability to exercise those rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
Although the NRA didn't send a letter directly to the DHS, the organization actively worked with the Trump administration on the issue.
On March 29, the DHS edited its memo about critical infrastructure, which serves as a guide for state governors and local leaders. It added the following two lines, making the firearms industry an essential business:
- Workers supporting the manufacturing of safety equipment and uniforms for law enforcement, public safety personnel, and first responder.
- Workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges.
Before that designation was made, Second Amendment groups filed lawsuits in a number of cities and states. The message was simple: the 2A doesn't magically disappear because the United States is facing a national emergency.
"All over the country, anti-gun lawmakers are trying to exploit the pandemic to shut down gun stores and push gun control," Amy Hunter, the NRA's Director of Media Relations, told Townhall. "We’re fighting them every step of the way, legislatively and in court. We’re watching jurisdictions nationwide to ensure Second Amendment rights remain protected at the local, state and federal level."
The SAF and the New Jersey Second Amendment Society filed a lawsuit against Gov. Philip Murphy and State Police Supt. Patrick Callahan for shutting down gun dealers in the Garden State under an emergency order declaration.
“In order for New Jersey residents to purchase firearms, they must go through a licensed firearms retailer and pass a background check. 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," SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said in a statement. “Gov. Murphy cannot simply suspend the Second Amendment, and neither can Supt. Callahan. Yet, under this emergency order, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The Constitution, and federal law, don’t allow that. New Jersey may have been the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, but they’re the last state to recognize it.”
Murphy ended up rescinding his order for firearms stores to close after DHS made its delegation.
The SAF, the NRA, FPC, the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association and three private citizens sued New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel for mandating the closure of lawful retail firearms businesses.
“The government has no duty to protect you and coronavirus-related impacts to law enforcement could be significant, so times like now are precisely when people must be able to acquire self-defense tools to defend their lives and homes," FPC President Brandon Combs said in a statement. "We are proud to participate in this important case to defend the People’s right to keep and bear arms against government abuses in New Mexico.”
The NRA filed a similar lawsuit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Economic Development, and New York State Department of Economic Development Acting Commissioner, President, and CEO Eric Gertler.
“There isn’t a single person who has ever used a gun for self-defense who would consider it nonessential,” Wayne LaPierre, NRA CEO and Executive Vice President, said in a statement. “This is clearly another assault by Gov. Cuomo on the NRA, on the rights of New Yorkers to defend themselves and their families, and on our Second Amendment freedoms. The NRA will continue to fight all such attacks until Gov. Cuomo recognizes that constitutional rights are for every New Yorker and every American – and not just for politicians and their privileged friends.”
The Golden State was slapped with two different lawsuits.
The SAF, the NRA, FPC, the California Gun Rights Foundation (CGF) and a handful of individuals and retailers sued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva for closing down gun stores in the county after deeming them as non-essential businesses during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
The groups claim the state is violating Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights:
"In California, individuals are required to purchase and transfer firearms and ammunition through state and federally licensed dealers or face serious criminal penalties. Subjective political opinions are irrelevant to this truth: State and federal firearms licensees are essential businesses that provide access to constitutionally protected rights. Full stop. Californians cannot exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms without such businesses. Shuttering access to arms necessarily shutters the Constitutional right to those arms. By forcing California’s duly licensed, essential businesses to close or eliminate key services for the general public, California authorities are foreclosing the only lawful means to buy, sell, and transfer firearms and ammunition available to typical, law-abiding Californians. Such a de facto prohibition on the right to keep and bear arms is categorically unconstitutional under the Second Amendment."
After DHS changed its guidelines, Villanueva rescinded his order for gun stores to close.
The pro-gun groups then slapped a second lawsuit against:
- Santa Clara County
- Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith
- Santa Clara County DA Jeffrey Rosen
- Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody
- San Jose Mayor Edgardo Garcia
- Mountain View Chief of Police Max Bosel
- Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern
- Alameda County Health Officer Erica Pan
- San Mateo County
- San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos
- San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow
- City of Pacifica
- Pacifica Chief of Police Dan Steidle
- Contra Costa County
- Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston
- Contra Costa Health Officer Chris Farnitano
- City of Pleasant Hills
- Pleasant Hills Chief of Police Bryan Hill
This lawsuit challenged "local policies and enforcement practices that violate Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights."
FPC filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf, challenging his emergency declaration that shut down firearms-related businesses because they were not deemed "life-sustaining businesses."
SAF, FPC and Grass Roots North Carolina filed a lawsuit against Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker for enforcing an emergency declaration that barred "any operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges."
FPC, SAF, Troy City Tactical LLC, Precision Point Firearms LLC, Shooting Supply LLC, Downrange INC. d/b/a Cape Cod Gun Works, Commonwealth Second Amendment and a host of individuals sued the following officials for mandating the closure of all businesses that sell firearms and ammunition to the consumer public:
- Gov. Charles Baker
- Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel
- Department of Criminal Justice Information Services Jamison Gagnon
- Fall River Police Chief Albert Dupre
- Woburn Police Chief Robert Rufo
- Westport Police Department Chief Keith A. Pelletier
- Barnstable Police Chief Matthew Sonnabend
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