A Virginia circuit court judge has overturned part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order that shut down indoor gun ranges.
Lynchburg Circuit Judge F. Patrick Yeatts decided on Monday that Second Amendment protections could not be trumped by the governor’s emergency authority. Yeatts’ injunction exempts only SafeSide from Northam’s order, and permits them to open immediately.
“Even though the emergency powers provision contemplates the spreading of a communicable disease like COVID-19, § 44-146.15(3) carves out a protection or the right to keep and bear arms in order to ensure the force of this right during an emergency,” Yeatts wrote in his decision.
The law Yeatts referenced forbids any governing authority in Virginia from limiting or prohibiting citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms in any way, “including the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms” except facilities used by the government as an emergency shelter.
“The Court does not see how disregarding the statute would benefit the public interest and the rule of law,” Yeatts noted, adding that Gov. Northam overstepped his legal authority.
“The Governor appears to argue that, when he declares a state of emergency, he can ignore any law that limits his power, even laws designed to limit his powers in a state of emergency,” Yeatts wrote.
The SafeSide Lynchburg gun range had filed the lawsuit along with Gun Owners of America (GOA), Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), and the Association of Virginia Gun Ranges.
“Gov. Northam has little regard for the rights of gun owners, and his closure of indoor gun ranges is no different. GOA will keep opposing Northam and stand up for the rights of Virginians in the commonwealth,” Erich Pratt, Senior Vice President for GOA, said in a statement.
Other indoor gun ranges in Virginia remain closed, and the VCDL said it’s exploring legal options to change that.
“Our goal is to get all indoor ranges the option of reopening as soon as possible,” VCDL said.
Northam had issued the order on March 23, which listed indoor shooting ranges with “recreation and entertainment businesses [that] are considered non-essential and must close to the public.”
Attorney General Mark Herring had defended the order, saying, “Governor Northam’s efforts to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19 are necessary and proving to be effective, but unfortunately, the gun lobby believes the ability to shoot a gun indoors during this pandemic is worth risking further spread of the virus and making Virginia communities and families less safe,” the Associated Press reported.
This article was updated to include a statement from GOA.