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PA gov allows gun stores to reopen; adds them to ‘life-sustaining’ businesses list

A gun store. (Andrew/Flickr)
March 26, 2020

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf expanded his list of “life-sustaining” businesses on Tuesday to include gun stores after other states began facing lawsuits for doing so.

Wolf’s office did not announce the policy change. Instead, it was quietly added to an updated list of businesses that are subject to his order to close their physical locations because they are considered “non-life-sustaining.”

“Firearms dealers may operate physical businesses on a limited basis to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law, subject to the following restrictions: 1) all such sale/transfers will be conducted by individual appointment during limited hours only so as to minimize social interactions and congregating of persons; 2) the dealer will comply with social distancing, sanitization of applicable area between appointments, and other mitigation measures to protect its employees and the public.”

The deadly coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has caused several states to issue “stay at home” orders that require or encourage people to stay in their homes and self-quarantine to help slow the spread of the virus. As such, many of those states have ordered on-essential stores to close. Typically those include places like restaurants and movie theaters, but grocery stores are allowed to stay open.

Democratic-controlled states and cities have used the coronavirus pandemic to label gun stores as non-essential, sparking a backlash from gun rights advocates.

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Wolf initially did not include gun stores in his initial list and other states that have done the same have faced lawsuits about the restriction of gun sales, arguing that closing the stores is infringing on Second Amendment rights.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had narrowly dismissed a lawsuit by Joshua Prince, who had filed the suit on behalf of a gun shop and a would-be gun purchaser. His suit challenged Wolf’s authority to close businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.”

“I am extremely pleased that Governor Wolf has acknowledged that he may not eviscerate citizens’ inviolate rights, regardless of any states of emergency that may exist,” Prince said, according to NBC Philadelphia.

Alan Gottlieb, the founder and executive vice president of the gun-rights group Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), praised Wolf’s reversal in a statement, saying his “change of heart is a welcome display of good sense and constitutional adherence.”

“Perhaps some other state governors could take a lesson from Wolf as they issue so-called ‘stay-at-home’ orders… We are witnessing what amounts to an epiphany for many Americans during this crisis, as they remember what the Second Amendment is about,” Gottlieb continued. “Those who think suspending a constitutional right is acceptable because a virus is a health threat are truly mixing the proverbial apples and oranges to suit their own agendas.”

SAF had filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) for requiring gun stores statewide to close. SAF has more suits planned for states that follow Murphy’s decision.

“Gun dealers and their customers will do the right thing,” Gottlieb said. “Nobody is looking to make this situation worse, while at the same time, citizens must be allowed to exercise their rights, especially during a national emergency.”

According to Johns Hopkins’ latest tracking data on Thursday morning, there are more than 474,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 21,000 deaths, while more than 115,000 people have recovered from the virus across the globe. In the United States, there are more than 69,000 confirmed cases, 1,046 deaths, and 619 recoveries from the coronavirus. Those figures are suspected to be much greater due to the lack of available test kits.