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San Diego County sheriff won’t force gun stores to close — at least for now

Guns for sale at a store. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/TNS)

Should gun stores be open under a statewide order that forces nonessential business to close?

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore for now will not force gun stores in county jurisdiction to close, he said Tuesday.

Calling their service valuable, Gore asked stores to follow social distancing rules and find alternative ways to sell guns and ammunition, such as online or by appointment. The key, he said, is to restrict clusters of customers at storefronts.

Gore said he had contacted a top law enforcement aide to Gov. Gavin Newsom and was awaiting for guidance on “how (Newsom’s) order affects retail firearm sales.”

The sheriff’s remarks came hours after Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva labeled gun stores nonessential and said they will be cited unless they close.

In explaining his stance, Gore said he was concerned that forcing gun stores to close would lead to illegal sales in the black market. He said gun stores ensure legal and prudent sales by carrying out state-mandated measures such as background checks.

The subject has led to a debate that positioned San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher against the county’s largest gun owners association and El Cajon’s mayor. The issue boils down to whether gun stores offer an essential service.

During a news conference Sunday, Fletcher said county lawyers had been consulted.

“It is not our belief that gun stores are essential businesses based on the governor’s executive order and, so, therefore, they should not be open in the County of San Diego,” he said.

In response, San Diego County Gun Owners’ executive director, Michael Schwartz, characterized Fletcher’s remarks as ludicrous.

Schwartz pointed to the federal government’s list of 16 sectors considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, he highlighted the Defense Industrial Base Sector, described as the industry that “enables research and development, as well as design, production, delivery, and maintenance of military weapons systems, subsystems, and components or parts, to meet U.S. military requirements.”

“This means gun shops are federally protected,” Schwartz said Monday in a statement.

Yet, gun stores are not explicitly listed under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s list or Newsom’s order.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells also weighed in, calling Fletcher’s remarks problematic. He, too, pointed to the defense industrial base sector outlined by the Department of Homeland Security.

“Here in El Cajon we would not cite or close a gun store or any store unless they were blatantly violating the social distancing standards,” he said. “We will not be closing any legal business because of the politics of what that business does.”

Across San Diego County, most notably in the days before Newsom’s order on Thursday, gun stores reported a massive uptick in sales. They said fist-time buyers were driving the demand.


© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune