If there are essential businesses, gun stores have to be among them

John R. Lott Jr. writes for National Review:

Law-abiding citizens want the right to buy a gun, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Police have stopped responding to many 911 calls, and massive numbers of inmates are being released early from prison. If shortages become more severe or if lots of police fall ill, chaos may very will ensue. People would rather be safe than sorry.

If the police can’t be there to provide protection, people are far safer if they have a gun when confronted by a criminal. That is particularly true for the most vulnerable citizens, such as women and the elderly.

But many state governments across the country, from California to New Yorkare classifying gun shops as “non-essential” and ordering them to close. … A surprising exception is Illinois, where on Friday Democratic governor J. B. Pritzker included firearm and ammunition suppliers on the list of “essential businesses and operations.”

Are they essential in North Carolina?

North Carolina law stipulates that even under a declared state of emergency, municipalities and counties are not authorized to level “prohibitions or restrictions on lawfully possessed firearms or ammunition” even as they can prohibit “the possession, transportation, sale, purchase, storage, and use of gasoline, and dangerous weapons and substances.”

That stipulation came about after the U.S. District Court Case of Bateman v. Perdue (2012), which held that state emergency restrictions against firearms as included among other restricted “dangerous weapon[s]” violated the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights. Of note in this discussion is that the judge, Malcolm Howard, was troubled by this fact:

Acting pursuant to these statutes, government officials may outright ban the possession, transportation, sale, purchase, storage or use of dangerous firearms and ammunition during a declared state of emergency even within one’s home “where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute.”

His quoted portion is from the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008).

The State of North Carolina didn’t appeal this decision. The effect of the decision and the change in law is to be very suspicious of any closing of gun stores or restricting of gun and ammunition sales. As the University of North Carolina’s School of Government explanation puts it,

Cities and counties cannot close gun stores or limit their hours of operation unless those same restrictions are applied equally to other businesses and retail establishments (in other words, gun stores cannot be singled out).

But as we’ve seen, restrictions aren’t applied equally to business and retail establishments. “Essential” businesses aren’t shut down; others are. Judge Howard’s rationale here is convincing, that prohibiting even the sales of firearms and ammunition during an emergency violates the very core of an individual’s right to self-defense.

All signs point to gun and ammunition stores as essential businesses, alongside such things as hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, long-term care facilities, banks, gas stations, hardware stores, construction trades, mail and shipping, etc.

But we have just witnessed Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker suspend all pistol permit and concealed-carry services, in part due to his office receiving so many applications to process.

Baker does not have the statutory or constitutional authority to make that decision, but the decision was said to have been made after consultation with his office’s legal staff.

That being the case, and in the interest of tamping down people’s worries about the future availability of firearms for purchase, it’s best for a fundamental civil right not merely to be strongly implied in the law.

Make it explicit and remove a lot of uncertainty. It’s an essential service; say so.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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