If you live in Pennsylvania and are worried about Captain Trips, er… I mean the coronavirus leading to hoards of looters heading for your homes, I hope you stocked up on ammunition and purchased all the firearms you expect to need in advance. Governor Tom Wolf recently imposed his own version of a stay at home, shelter in place order and it included the mandatory closure of nonessential businesses. And he specifically determined that gun stores are “nonessential” during these trying times. The decision was challenged in court, but now the state supreme court has weighed in and said that mandatory closure order can go forward. (Free Beacon)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Sunday night denied an emergency request that would have blocked a gubernatorial order mandating the closure of gun retailers in response to the novel coronavirus.
The order to shut down gun stores was part of a larger plan set forth by the state’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, mandating the closure of businesses not deemed “life-sustaining.” Gun-rights advocates asked the state’s Supreme Court to block the order as it applied to gun retailers, but the seven-member court denied the request.
The court’s decision comes as Pennsylvanians and Americans more broadly have flooded gun stores. Industry officials said sales had spiked as much as 300 percent last week due to concerns of relaxed law enforcement during the outbreak and some retailers even reported running out of stock—at least temporarily. While the first states to implement aggressive shutdown measures have split on whether they would include gun stores, the country’s top gun-rights groups have threatened more legal action.
With plenty of states issuing emergency orders closing all manner of “nonessential” businesses, this is starting to sound like a case where an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States might be in order. The reason I say this is that we have different courts ruling in opposite directions on the subject. New Jersey and now Pennsylvania have closed their gun shops while Illinois declared them essential services and allowed them to remain open. New York’s gun stores are also closed. As the coronavirus spreads into more red states, we’ll no doubt see more exceptions being made.
This is a complicated question because it entails issues on a couple of different levels. First of all, what criteria are involved in determining if a particular type of store is essential? In New York, for example, liquor stores are still open because they are essential services, but the gun shops are closed. (Wolf is at least consistent in that regard because he also closed the state liquor stores.) I would have imagined that retaining the ability to defend yourself and your family in your home would be considered not only essential but vital when facing the possibility of widespread unrest.
Beyond that, there’s a pretty big difference between booze, which you do not have a constitutional right to (though you should!) and firearms, which are protected for law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment. The court split 4-3 on this question and in the dissent, one of the justices described the order to close the gun shops as an “impermissible intrusion upon a fundamental constitutional right.”
I’m not sure if the situation would change even on appeal, however. As I’ve noted here before, the sweeping powers granted to the executive branch at every level during a declared state of emergency are troubling at a minimum. But the courts have historically backed them up. It’s conceivable that even our more conservative SCOTUS of 2020 might go along with Wolf here, making the situation all the more depressing.
If this is nothing more than a question of keeping people safe from any possible transmission of the virus, we’ve worked those issues out already for other types of stores. The same could easily be done for gun shops. Of course, we might be dealing with politics more than public safety. Wolf is a Democrat and he’s getting to make this call all by himself. I don’t know that we can entirely rule out the possibility that this is yet another example of a politician not wanting to let a perfectly good crisis go to waste.