NRA sues California officials for closing gun stores amid outbreak

A man walks in front of a gun shop in Culver City, California. (AP pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: The National Rifle Association accused California’s governor and the sheriff of Los Angeles County in a lawsuit of taking away constitutional rights to firearms by shutting gun stores during the coronavirus outbreak.

“The circumstances posed by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak are noteworthy, but do not excuse unlawful government infringements upon freedom,” the NRA said in a complaint it filed Friday in Los Angeles federal court along with two individuals, a retail shop and three other firearms advocacy groups.

Guns have been flying off store shelves in recent weeks in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic even as states are divided over whether gun stores should stay open like pharmacies and gas stations, according to a recent New York Times report.

Ohio, Illinois and Michigan have deemed firearms retailers “essential”, while New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have not, the Times reported. New Jersey was sued this week for closing stores.

Firearms and ammunition retailers help Californians defend themselves, their loved ones and their property from potential dangers during the crisis, according to Friday’s complaint.

Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, on March 25 gave county sheriffs discretion to decide whether gun stores qualify as essential businesses while residents remain under a statewide stay-at-home order.

The governor and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva have sown confusion, the gun-rights groups allege. Villanueva first ordered the stores shut Tuesday, then allowed them to stay open and then reversed his decision on Thursday and ordered them closed.

Gun World, a Burbank retailer, would “have been forced to shut down, reopen, and shut down again due to the extremely vague nature of Governor Newsom’s executive order and the flip-flopping nature of Sheriff Villanueva’s position on the essential nature of firearms retailers”, according to the complaint.

The sheriff’s office declined to comment and Newsom’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The NRA asked the court to declare the store closures illegal because they violate rights to bear firearms under the US Constitution’s Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.