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US court rules CA county’s gun store COVID shutdown unconstitutional

Guns for sale at a store. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/TNS)
January 21, 2022

A three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of appeals ruled on Thursday that Ventura County, California’s order to close down all gun stores in the county, citing COVID-19 concerns, was unconstitutional.

In its 2-1 decision, the court ruled Ventura County’s 48-day closure for gun and ammo shops and shooting ranges improperly “burdened conduct protected by the Second Amendment.” Because buyers can only purchase guns in California by going directly to a gun store, the court said the county’s COVID-19 policy “wholly prevented law-abiding citizens in the County from realizing their right to keep and bear arms.”

Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote, “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” U.S. Const. amend. II, means nothing if the government can
prohibit all persons from acquiring any firearm or ammunition. But that’s what happened in this case.”

The 2-1 panel reversed a lower decision by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which ruled the pandemic-era closure order did not violate the second amendment.

Judges Andrew Kleinfeld and VanDyke also found that the county’s COVID policy treated gun shops as “non-essential” businesses while other specialty retailers, such as bicycle shops, hardware stores, and golfing ranges were not deemed “non-essential” and were allowed to continue operating.

“It ultimately boils down to the government’s designation of ‘essential’ and
‘non-essential’ businesses—but nowhere has the government here explained why gun stores, ammunition stores, and firing ranges are ‘non-essential’ businesses while bicycle shops, hardware stores, and golfing ranges are ‘essential,'” VanDyke and Kleinfeld wrote.

Judge Ryan Nelson offered the dissenting opinion on the three-judge panel.

Reacting to the decision, Michael Jean, the director of the National Rifle Association’s Office of Litigation Counsel, told the Associated Press this latest 9th Circuit Court decision means the government “cannot use a crisis to trample on the Constitutional rights of citizens.”

The NRA’s Office of Litigation Counsel similarly sued Los Angeles, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties for their pandemic-era policies, which targeted gun shops for closures.

“We are extremely pleased by the court’s decision, you know, a constitutional guarantee that can be eliminated for weeks or months on end at any given time is really no guarantee at all,” Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) communications director Dan Dement said.

Similar pandemic-era restrictions were brought against gun shops in Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Virginia, according to FPC.

Ventura County “believes the case was correctly decided at the District Court level and is disappointed with the three-judge panel’s decision,” county spokeswoman Ashley Bautista told the Associated Press.