As America scrambles to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many states have ordered a halt to “nonessential” business. For firearms and ammunition retailers, who are in the midst of an unprecedented sales surge, the result is a patchwork of new policies, some clear-cut and others with room for interpretation.
A number of states, including Connecticut, Illinois, and West Virginia, have deemed gun sellers to be “essential” businesses, granting them explicit permission to remain open. Others, like New York and New Mexico, have ordered them closed.
On March 28, the Department of Homeland Security updated its “essential critical infrastructure workforce” list to include “workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges.” While the federal list is not binding, many states have relied on it when crafting their own policies. Already, the updated guidance has prompted New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to reverse the state’s order to shutter gun stores. We’re watching to see whether any other states change their policies regarding gun stores in response to the revised list.
In states that have ordered gun stores to close, enforcement of the orders is proving messy — and litigious. In Pennsylvania, gun-rights advocates immediately filed a lawsuit challenging Governor Tom Wolf’s order to close dealers. The state Supreme Court swiftly rejected the suit, but hours later Wolf’s office quietly updated its policy to allow gun dealers to operate on a limited basis. On the other side of the country, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he was leaving the decision to let gun stores continue operating in the hands of county sheriffs. And New Jersey’s unprecedented decision to eliminate access to its background check system drew multiple lawsuits.
We’re tracking the rapidly changing situation on the map below. In states without any lockdown orders or business restrictions in place, gun retailers are presumed to be operating as normal.
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Status of Firearms Dealers By State
Additional reporting by Champe Barton.