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Trump administration deems gun stores 'essential' during coronavirus pandemic

The categorization puts gun shops in the same category of essential businesses as grocery stores, pharmacies and health care facilities.
Credit: AP
Semi-Automatic handguns are displayed at Duke's Sport Shop, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in New Castle, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The Department of Homeland Security changed its guidance on essential and critical businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, and gun shops are now one of them.

The categorization puts firearms dealers in the same category of essential businesses as grocery stores, pharmacies and health care facilities. The designation falls under the public safety and law enforcement category as "workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges."

In the same category are 911 dispatchers, emergency management employees, medical professionals and law enforcement officers.

The guidance comes as cities, counties and states around the country implement stay-at-home orders and enforce social distancing guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These orders greatly limit where most Americans can go in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

These orders can differ depending on where they are implemented, including what businesses are deemed essential in that area. The DHS said its guidance is not a federal directive or standard.

The change to the guidance came after the National Rifle Association lobbied for gun stores to be included as essential businesses. In a March 21 tweet, the NRA said Americans "know the only reliable self-defense during a crisis is the #2A (Second Amendment)."

As some states and cities were requiring non-essential businesses to close, the NRA said it was fighting to keep gun shops open, arguing that "firearms and ammo retailers are 'critical infrastructure.'"

The NRA even sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Retailers, gun rights groups and other people were also part of the lawsuit that argued California's policies violated the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

"Municipalities who target lawful gun stores for closure aren't promoting safety -- by weaponizing their politics to disarm you and your loved ones, these shameless partisans are recklessly promoting a gun-control agenda that suffocates your self-defense rights when you need them most," NRA-ILA Executive Director Jason Ouimet said.

According to CBS News, the DHS changed its guidance and California reversed its decision, saying gun stores will now be able to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

New Jersey also changed its policy, allowing gun retailers to operate by appointment only during limited hours, CBS reported. Gov. Phil Murphy also added car dealerships to the list of essential businesses in the state.

In response to the change in guidance, some gun control groups have called for more transparency on how the Trump administration reached its decision. The Brady organization filed a Freedom of Information request with DHS for any emails and documents related to the change in the guidance to see if the department consulted with public health experts.

"The American people deserve answers as to whether our federal government has put industry interest and profits ahead of our public safety," Brady President Kris Brown said.

According to the Associated Press, gun sales have skyrocketed and background checks were up 300 percent on March 16. Gun shops around the country have also reported long lines for shopping and shooting ranges.

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