Though the severity of the restrictions differs depending upon locality, countless jurisdictions within the United States have trampled all over the civil liberties of American citizens during the response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
One of the most egregious examples is the handful of jurisdictions that have deemed gun stores and manufacturers to be “nonessential” and thus ordered to close as part of broader “stay-at-home” orders intended to reduce the spread of the viral contagion.
The state of California is one such place where gun stores and firearms manufacturers, at least initially, were deemed nonessential. Thankfully, swift public backlash has compelled some officials to back off and allow the gun stores to remain open.
Amid the backlash, a coalition of concerned Second Amendment activists filed a lawsuit seeking to ensure that California (and Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles in particular) would be unable to order gun shops and manufacturers closed a second time.
A federal judge, however, ruled against those plaintiffs on Monday and denied a request for a temporary restraining order against the city and state, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
District Judge André Birotte Jr., appointed by then-President Barack Obama in 2014, rejected most of the arguments put forward by the coalition of gun rights advocates, which included the Firearms Policy Coalition, the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation.
Birotte noted in his ruling that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, in declaring a state of emergency and then issuing an executive order for most businesses to close and people to remain home, had declined to address the question of gun stores and manufacturers and instead left that up to local sheriffs to decide.
Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles had issued similar orders, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva decreed that gun stores needed to be closed. Eventually, however, the sheriff reversed course and allowed the stores to reopen.
Birotte ruled that the plaintiffs had no grounds for a suit against the governor, though he did acknowledge that a case could be made against the county.
He also ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success for their claim that the orders violated the Second Amendment, as well as their claim that due process rights had been violated, and ruled in favor of the defendants.
“The City’s and County’s stated objective — reducing the spread of COVID-19, a highly dangerous and infectious disease — undoubtedly constitutes an important government objective,” the judge wrote. “Moreover … the closure of non-essential businesses, including firearms and ammunition retailers, reasonably fits the City’s and County’s stated objectives of reducing the spread of this disease.”
In a statement provided to the Free Beacon following the ruling, the coalition of Second Amendment advocates said, “[t]he Court’s awful ruling in this matter is far from the end of this lawsuit.”
“We will continue to seek a preliminary injunction in this matter and are prepared to seek relief from the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court should doing so be necessary to end these unconstitutional bans, defend liberty, and fight for the rights of our members and the public.”
How this case fares on appeal remains to be seen, but there is reason for hope for gun rights activists.
Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security recently published a memorandum designating gun stores and firearms manufacturers as businesses “essential” to maintaining “critical infrastructure” around the country.
While that designation isn’t binding — even though most states voluntarily adhere to the federal guidelines in that regard — it is worth noting that Newsom’s executive order, per the judge’s ruling, had exempted “critical infrastructure sectors” from the ordered closures.
It will be interesting to see how this case plays out in the appeals process. Meanwhile, despite the judge’s ruling, it is also unclear if gun stores in Los Angeles County, or anywhere else in the state, will be forcibly closed now.
As noted, Villanueva had already backed off his effort to shut down gun shops and announced on March 31 that gun stores would be allowed to remain open. Public pressure campaigns by gun rights supporters have seemingly been successful.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only legal battle over gun rights in the midst of the pandemic, as there are lawsuits pending in other states and jurisdictions that will eventually be ruled on, and those fights will undoubtedly be appealed to the higher courts.
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