Coronavirus: LA Sheriff faces backlash over order to shut gun shops, activists threaten to move court
As the number of confirmed cases for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise in the United States, authorities have decided to keep only essential services open. Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva said earlier this week that gun shops are not considered as essential and will be shut down.
The county order and an executive order from Governor Gavin Newsom did not specifically mention gun shops, prompting the Los Angeles County counsel's office to issue a statement later saying it has “opined that gun stores qualify as essential businesses.”
Sheriff Villanueva said that a loophole had allowed gun shops to stay open and many attracted long lines of customers. Villanueva said the order was meant to keep open gun and ammunition businesses that support police departments and other security organizations but still considers it to be a non-essential for the public.
Los Angeles County Counsel Mary Wickham has not yet clarified the confusion and the sheriff’s department did not have further information on Villanueva’s orders in light of the new information. Before the order from Gov. Newson, the Sheriff’s statement did not sit well with the gun rights activists after Sheriff Villanueva said that it will create a nuisance and it deviates from the whole point of social distancing as people rush to buy guns and ammo. This enraged the Second Amendment advocates, who planned to challenge it in court.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, told AP that his organization is looking at legal action to overturn Villanueva’s decision.
“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,” Paredes 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.’”
As people are panic-buying guns in the midst of crises, Caroline Light, a Harvard professor whose field of study includes ‘America’s love affair with armed self-defense,’ spoke to ‘The Trace' about the efforts by the gun industry and its lobbying groups to sell firearms as essential to personal safety, despite the hazards they introduce for owners. “There’s so much money to be made in making the population fearful of its individual security,” she says.
“However, that is not a license, then, for everyone to do a panic gun buy and rushing to stores, which is now what we're seeing," said LA Sheriff Villanueva to NPR.
However, gun rights advocates have a different perspective and think that closing down gun shops is a violation of their constitutional rights. Even if it is to close down for social distancing precautions.
"Our priorities remain constant, as we believe our right to keep and bear arms is essential to protecting the ones we love. In these times of uncertainty, our rights are more critical than ever," Paredes said through their statement.
“We are experiencing a massive rush to buy guns and ammunition as people feel the need to protect themselves and their families.” said Larry Hyatt, owner of one of the country’s largest gun shops, Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, North Carolina, to ‘The Guardian.’
Deputies around the LA county have been deployed to ensure the lockdown of non-essential business, Villanueva said no citations have been issued to businesses yet, saying he is hopeful most will cooperate voluntarily.