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Massachusetts gun stores, owners sue Baker administration over non-essential business restrictions

Wall of rifles at a gun store. (Michael Saechang/Flickr)

A coalition of gun store owners and customers filed a suit Thursday against the Baker administration, calling on a judge to reverse the state’s restrictions on gun sales during the state of emergency.

Four store operators and six would-be gun owners, along with a handful of nonprofits, filed the suit in U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, requesting an order that blocks the state from banning gun sales, arguing it violates the Second Amendment. They also seek an unspecified amount of damages.

“The need for personal self-defense is most acute during times of uncertainty and crisis — when law enforcement services may not be available or may not be reliably available, and when (as now) criminal offenders may be released from custody or may be less likely to be taken into custody in the first place,” the complaint states. “It is precisely times like these that the Plaintiffs and the Plaintiffs’ members need to be able to exercise their fundamental rights to keep and bear arms.”

The plaintiffs include the operators of Troy City Tactical LLC in Fall River, Precision Point Firearms in Woburn, Shooting Supply LLC in Westport and Cape Gun Works in Hyannis. Michael McCarthy of Boston, William R. Biewenga of Wellfleet, Timothy Galligan of Easton, Jim Simmons of New Bedford, David Lantagne of Dunstable and Alfred Morin of Brewster joined the lawsuit as prospective gun buyers.

Other plaintiffs include the California-based Firearms Policy Coalition, Washington state-based Second Amendment Inc. and Commonwealth Second Amendment Inc. in Natick.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s first executive order making non-essential businesses close their shops did not exempt gun shops, raising complaints from Second Amendment advocates and trade associations.

The Baker administration’s updated order and list of exempt businesses included gun retailers and shooting ranges, sparking outrage from gun control advocates who argue that the exemption would lead to more suicides, domestic violence incidents and unintentional shootings hurting children.

Gun retailers and shooting ranges were removed from the exempted business list hours later.

Toby Leary, co-owner of Cape Gun Works in Hyannis, told MassLive on April 1 he was not aware the Baker administration had removed gun retailers from the exempt businesses list. Leary said he believed he could remain open because the business manufacturers and distributes firearms in addition to selling them, fulfilling orders for local law enforcement and federal agencies.

“I feel we fit the guidelines in more than one way, but I’m talking more for the other retailers who have closed their doors in other parts of the state,” Leary told MassLive. “I think other states are recognizing that gun stores are an essential service.

Later that day, the Barnstable Board of Health called the business owners telling them they could not continue selling guns to the public, according to the complaint.

On April 3, Cape Cod Gun Works received a copy of a notice drafted by the Jamison Gagnon, commissioner of the Department of Justice Information Services. It said that by “noon on April 1, 2020 gun dealers must remain closed for all business transactions” under the non-essential businesses executive order.

According to the complaint, Cape Cod Gun Works and other gun stores implemented sanitization guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic spread across Massachusetts. The store owners routinely cleaned doorknobs and countertops, implemented “social distancing” measures and limited the number of people in the store at once. Some businesses sold guns by appointment only.

Biewenga contacted Cape Cod Gun Works in hopes of buying a gun but was turned away, according to the complaint. He and Laurie Warner, who hold valid licenses to carry firearms but do not have guns, live close to the Cape Cod National Seashore and often see trespassers. They claim they would not be able to protect themselves otherwise because they can’t rely on emergency services.

Cape Cod Gun Works told Biewenga that the state had “shut (them) down at this time” and that they couldn’t transfer a gun to him or Warner.

Other prospective gun owners expressed similar frustrations with trying to obtain firearms, according to the complaint.

McCarthy, who is licensed to carry but has no firearm or ammunition, claimed he wanted a gun to protect his family in Boston. When he asked Precision Point Firearms, the operator said the store could not sell guns or ammunition because of the governor’s executive order.

Galligan, a single father who is licensed to carry, claimed he wanted a gun to protect himself and his teenage son but could not get one. He contacted Troy City Firearms in Fall River but was turned away.

Other states have clashed with gun owners and Second Amendment advocates during the pandemic. New Jersey initially closed gun stores but reopened them after the federal guidance listed gun retailers as essential. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf reopened gun stores after a group of gun owners sued the state, even though the lawsuit was narrowly rejected.


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