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Texas gun stores may stay open for business during pandemic, attorney general rules

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday that an emergency order issued Sunday by Gov. Greg Abbott bars most abortions in the state. [NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN/TNS)

Gun stores in Texas must be allowed to stay open for business during the coronavirus pandemic, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled Friday.

Counties had different interpretations during stay-at-home emergency orders about whether gun stores are essential businesses.

Paxton’s nonbinding ruling states that city and county officials may not use emergency orders to regulate or restrict the sale of firearms.

“State law provides several emergency powers to local governments to control movement within their region during a disaster, which serves our communities well during public health events like the one we’re fighting now,” Paxton said in a statement. “However, local regulation of the sale, possession and ownership of firearms is specifically prohibited under Texas law.

“Under our laws, every Texan retains their right to purchase and possess firearms.”

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Tarrant County and Fort Worth leaders recently closed nonessential retail and other businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Grocery stores and pharmacies are among the businesses remaining open, along with, for instance, restaurants that provide food for carry out, drive-through or delivery.

That was soon followed by an executive order calling on residents to stay at home until April 7 except for critical work and errands.

In Tarrant County, the essential business summary didn’t include gun shops, but County Judge Glen Whitley said the stores could keep selling guns as long as they processed orders for them offsite — and if customers only showed up to pick up their purchase.

Other counties, such as Dallas, allowed the stores to remain open as an essential business.

“What we were trying to do is protect the health of our citizens and try to practice social distancing,” Whitley said Friday after the ruling came out. “I don’t feel we were prohibiting guns. We were asking people, at this point with this virus, to keep people from congregating in stores.”

Whitley said he plans to talk to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office to see what impact the ruling has locally.

A worker there said Friday’s ruling was good news.

“We don’t have to close down, so we aren’t going to lose business,” said Parker Geisel, a sales associate at the Fort Worth store.

About a week and a half ago, he said business was brisk.

“Some people were normal customers who wanted to look around and see what we had,” he said. “Quite a few were first-time gun buyers and were panic buying.”

He said business “has definitely slowed down” over the past week.

Paxton’s ruling Friday came in response to a request from Republican state Rep. Dustin Burrows.

“I appreciate Attorney General Ken Paxton’s quick action on his opinion. Having access to firearms and ammunition for self defense and hunting, in times like these, is clearly essential,” Burrows said in a statement. “Municipalities and Counties eyeing emergency powers to temporarily prohibit weapons and ammunition sales, as well as closing gun ranges, would expose Texans to serious and perhaps fatal vulnerabilities.

“All Texans are grateful for General Paxton’s opinion.”

The Texas Gun Sense group disagrees.

“Easy access to firearms is a problem in Texas and will only be exacerbated by a flood of guns into the market,” the group said in a statement. “The results of this opinion are dangerous for Texans.

“Personal protection is commonly cited for owning a gun; however, research shows that firearm ownership confers significant risks to loved ones, as they are more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the household.”

But the Texas State Rifle Association Political Action Committee was quick to praise the ruling.

“Thanks go out to Representative Burrows for his timely request and to General Paxton for issuing this critical opinion affirming that the state firearms preemption statute overrides these local orders and protecting the exercise of your Second Amendment rights in the Lone Star State,” Mike Cox, the group’s legislative director, wrote in an email.

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© 2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.