One day after announcing that gun shops were nonessential businesses that needed to close their doors amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has shelved efforts to shut them down.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed the development on Twitter early Wednesday morning, writing that department “efforts to close nonessential businesses have been suspended” and that Gov. Gavin Newsom would “determine what qualifies” as one.
Villanueva didn’t explain the rationale for the about-face in his post but linked to a Fox 11 news segment in which reporter Bill Melugin said the sheriff told him in a phone call that “the county’s top lawyer put out a legal opinion that she believes gun stores are essential businesses and should remain open.”
The sheriff on Wednesday morning blamed the confusion on unclear language in the state and county orders.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 600 people in Los Angeles County, officials have strengthened rules ordering all businesses considered nonessential to cease in-person operations and close to the public. Exceptions include food and medical services, transportation, social services and a number of other facilities.
“We have received complaints from particular businesses that have not been adhering to the social distancing. Chief among them [are] gun shops, nightclubs, bars and strip clubs, so we have fanned out and are making sure these business are complying,” Villanueva said Tuesday in explaining the department’s original thinking. “We are trying to get them to close their doors. If they don’t close their doors, they will be cited,” which could mean the loss of a business license.
“We aren’t going to haul people off to jail,” he added, saying that the department had begun asking gun stores to close Tuesday and some owners had already closed their doors or were making accommodations for scheduled appointments.
Villanueva, a gun owner, noted that he supported the 2nd Amendment but said, given the spread of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, only essential businesses should be open.
“It’s not an issue of banning the sales of guns, which the 2nd Amendment is about ... the problem is there was a little bit of lack of inclusive planning process in the development of the local order from [the] health officer,” he said. “That had created somewhat of a conflict with order[s] coming from the governor’s office that were more broad-stroked. We have identified a loophole that needs to be addressed.”
Gun sales are surging in many U.S. states, especially in those hit hardest by the coronavirus, such as California. Among the factors fueling the increase are concerns from first-time gun buyers who fear an unraveling of the social order and those who worry that the government might use its emergency powers to restrict gun purchases.