Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva declared that gun shops were not essential businesses, and directed his deputies to make sure all gun shops in his jurisdiction remained closed during the Coronavirus shutdown. Just hours later, the debate began when the county’s top attorney said gun shops are essential and should remain open.
The presumption that a gun shop is not an essential business presumes that those who would legally buy guns have no right to self-defense. Los Angeles County is the largest county in the nation with more than 10 million people living within its borders. The week of March 16, 2020, LA County officials declared a shelter in place order, which requires all non-essential businesses to close and employees to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus.
The order — and a second one from state Governor Gavin Newsom — made no specific mention of gun shops. It was for this reason that the top LA County lawyer decided to issue a statement declaring that gun shops are, in fact, essential businesses, and should be allowed to stay open.
When gun shop owners first learned of the disagreement, it was unclear how they should proceed. Should they follow the guidance of the city’s top attorney, and defy the sheriff, or should they give in to the order to shut down?
Sheriff Villanueva has commented that a “loophole” made it possible for gun shops to remain open and that many local gun shops had attracted long lines of paying customers. The Sheriff went on to say that there was a special order meant to give police access to ammunition and that it was worded in such a way that permitted civilian gun shops to stay open as well.
Villanueva continued to say that the shelter in place order was not permission “for everyone to be panic gun-buying or rushing to stores, which is now what we’re seeing.”
Comments like this remind us how common it is for public officials to forget that we live in the United States of America, where lawful citizens have the right to own weapons and do not require “permission” to obtain them.
Villanueva said that gun shops have been largely in compliance and that his deputies have not needed to issue citations. The shelter in place order for LA County was written by the city’s health department. Villanueva said that he was currently working with the health department to revise the language used to tighten restrictions on gun shops.
Executive director for Gun Owners of California, Sam Paredes, said, “There are many more important things the sheriff could be doing than sending uniformed officers to gun stores warning them that they’re going to be shut down by force. We have gotten lots of stories from people who said they never thought they would own a firearm, ‘and now I want them more than anything in the world.’”
NRA attorney Chuck Michel said, “These gun shops don’t just sell guns. They sell camping gear, survival gear, things that people may need. Unfortunately, some of these jurisdictions are letting politics creep in.”