When we learned that the Governor of Pennsylvania had caved and agreed to allow the gun shops in his state to reopen, I noted that the next goal on this front would involve New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Unlike his neighbor to the west, Murphy had declared gun shops nonessential businesses, closing them all down. He even went so far as to shut down the background check system, ensuring that nobody could complete a legal purchase of a firearm.

With the courts seeming all too willing to allow executive authority to vastly expand under a state of emergency, it looked as if Murphy could have his way for the duration of the pandemic unless the Supreme Court stepped in. But something changed in a relatively short period of time. Yesterday, Murphy did his own version of an about-face maneuver and declared that the gun shops were essential services after all. (NJ.com)

Gun retailers in New Jersey can now open as an essential business during the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday in a reversal of his previous position on this issue.

Murphy’s decision to deem firearm dealers an essential business follows guidelines issued by the federal Department of Homeland Security, which added gun dealers, ranges and manufacturers to its essential business guide for its coronavirus response on Saturday.

“It wouldn’t be my definition but that’s the definition at the federal level and I didn’t get a vote on that,” Murphy said at his press briefing on Monday.

So Murphy is crediting this weekend’s decision by Homeland Security to add firearms dealers to their CISA Guidance on the Critical Infrastructure Workforce list. That makes for a fairly compelling argument on the governor’s part since he can basically pass the decision off to the feds.

But it’s also worth noting that the CICA guidance very specifically states that the state governments have the final say. One caveat reads, “This list is advisory in nature. It is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard.” So if the Governor of New Jersey really wanted to stick to his guns (pardon the pun), he could easily have done so.

I’m not doing anything more than reading the tea leaves here, but it seems as if there’s another explanation for what’s going on. Murphy probably saw what happened to Ralph Northam’s gun control initiatives in New Jersey and then saw Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor also cave to the Second Amendment rights and needs of his voters. Perhaps he saw an uprising of New Jersey gun owners coming his way during the panic this virus is causing and started to doubt how solid his position was. With that in mind, having Homeland Security take this action over the weekend gave him cover to shrug his shoulders, walk away from the battle and simply claim that he was accepting the opinion of the experts at a higher level.

Just as a side note, there are plenty of examples of differences between state directives and the CISA guidelines leading to issues around the country. In New York State, Governor Cuomo has declared real estate businesses nonessential entities, effectively putting a ton of people (including one of my neighbors) out of work. But the CISA guidelines specifically list “Residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services” as essential functions under the section named “Other Community or Government-Based Operations or Essential Functions.”

Seems to me that a lot more businesses around the country should be studying this list to see if their governors are being too heavy-handed in which sectors of the free market they are shutting down.