Gun stores are an essential business in a COVID-19 lockdown, says governor of ... Illinois?

Gun stores are an essential business in a COVID-19 lockdown, says governor of ... Illinois?

Over the next few weeks we’ll see some oddities and ironies in government response to the coronavirus pandemic, but perhaps none quite so odd and ironic as this. The state of Illinois has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the nation, and this crisis might have been seen by some as an opportunity to shut down the firearm trade. Instead, the shelter-in-place executive order issued by Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker specifically allows for gun stores to remain open and protected (via Instapundit):

Supplies for Essential Businesses and Operations. Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply other Essential Businesses and Operations with the support or materials necessary to operate, including computers, audio and video electronics, household appliances; IT and telecommunication equipment; hardware, paint, flat glass; electrical, plumbing and heating material; sanitary equipment; personal hygiene products; food, food additives, ingredients and components; medical and orthopedic equipment; optics and photography equipment; diagnostics, food and beverages, chemicals, soaps and detergent; and firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers for purposes of safety and security;

Emphasis mine. Breitbart’s AWR Hawkins first noted this late last night, the day before the order went into effect. At 5 pm CT today, any business outside of the list provided by Pritzker will be required to close until further notice. Pritzker’s order will keep firearms retailers and suppliers open and operating in the shutdown, helping them survive the crisis while arming and supplying citizens during the crisis “for the purposes of safety and security” — in Pritzker’s own words.

The irony of this can be found on Pritzker’s own campaign website. He ran on a robust gun control agenda, declaring that “Gun violence is a public health epidemic. … Our plan centers on recognizing violence as the health epidemic that it is, interrupting it, reducing the risk, and changing community norms so that everyone can feel safe in their own homes.” Tossing around terms like “health epidemic” was cheap before the COVID-19 pandemic reminded everyone what a real epidemic is. Gun violence is not an epidemic — it’s a crime, and the solution to it is not to strip law-abiding citizens of their right to defend themselves against it.

Pritzker’s order tacitly concedes this point in the face of an actual epidemic. Hawkins quotes a statement from the Second Amendment Foundation driving this point home:

The Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb reacted to Pritzker’s recognition of the “essential” nature of firearms to the American life by saying, “When an anti-gun Democrat Governor declares that essential businesses includes firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers for purposes of safety and security, that is really a big deal. Every Governor should copy the Illinois example when issuing stay in place and business closure orders in the face of the Corona Virus.”

Indeed, although consumers seem to be way ahead of that curve. Journal Courier reporter Marco Cartolano reports that the demand for firearms began arcing upward a month ago and has accelerated even more this month. Cartolano wrote this before Pritzker’s order was published:

Nationally, firearms and ammunition sales have risen drastically amid news of the new coronavirus. The FBI reported that background checks through their system totalled 2.8 million in February, a 36 percent increase compared to the same month last year, The New York Times reported. Alex Horsman, marketing manager for, told USA Today that the online retailer alone has reported a 68% jump in sales; economic and political instability tends to bring increases in the sale of guns and ammunition, he said.

In Illinois, some feared municipalities would clamp down on sales of firearms and ammunition. The National Rifle Association of Illinois sent out an alert about Champaign’s emergency declaration, saying that it would allow the mayor to ban the sale of guns. On March 13, the city of Champaign issued a statement clarifying that it did not intend to ban the sale of firearms. Access to gun shops may be limited by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order — under which businesses deemed “non-essential” must stop operating until April 7.

That’s no longer a worry, but it makes a more subtle point clear. By declaring firearms and ammunition sales an essential business, Pritzker has overruled any local efforts to shut down gun stores as a part of the epidemic response. Champaign’s mayor has no choice but to follow Pritzker’s executive order allowing those stores to stay open as “essential … for purposes of safety and security.”

It might take a while before customers can find anything to buy, however. Yesterday I realized that I was out of ammunition for one of my pistols, and found that almost all of it (a common caliber) was gone, especially in smaller amounts. I ended up purchasing a thousand rounds, which was the lowest amount available. Suffice it to say that I will be heading to the target range when the peak of this epidemic passes, and I might set up a cot in my lane and stay a while. For now, though, I am passing the time by ensuring that my firearms are clean, lubricated, in good working order, and ready in the extremely unlikely case that they’ll be needed. It’s been very calm and orderly here in suburban Minnesota, and there’s no reason to think that a few weeks of Netflix and chill will change that. When everyone else realizes that, supply will rebound and demand will decline back to normal.

Perhaps after this, though, we can get back to normal in another way — by putting aside the idea that a public-safety policy failure such as violence in Chicago should be called an “epidemic.” Let’s see if Pritzker really learned a lesson from this.

Addendum: Speaking of unnecessary panic, it’s important to actually read through Pritzker’s order to understand just how little seems to be shut down. The EO lists a number of businesses and operations deemed essential by the state of Illinois, allowing them to remain in operation and people to leave their homes to access them. These include the obvious choices — grocery stores and pharmacies, gas stations, financial institutions, and so on — but “cannabis” is included in the second category of twenty-three categories of “essential” businesses and operations. Those are the private-sector categories, by the way; governmental operations are protected in a separate part of the EO.

Here are a few of the other “essentials” open for business operations :

  • Charitable and social services
  • The media
  • Mechanics and bicycle shops
  • Hardware and houseware stores
  • Almost all trades
  • Booze! (Unlike Pennsylvania)
  • Laundry services
  • Take-out service from restaurants
  • Home-office supplies and services
  • Uber, Lyft, rental cars, taxis, etc
  • Real estate, insurance, and other professional services
  • “Critical labor union functions,” natch
  • Hotels and motels
  • Funeral services

Read the order for the full listing of essential businesses and services. The list makes this look less like a lockdown and more of a narrowing down. Outside of entertainment venues and schools, most people will likely find that they still have access to most of their normal contacts … to the extent they want to exercise them.

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