Are Gun Stores ‘Essential’ Businesses?

A customer inspects a handgun at a store in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2012. (Ralph D. Freso/Reuters)
Yes, especially when jails and prisons are releasing inmates early.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE L aw-abiding citizens want the right to buy a gun, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Police have stopped responding to many 911 calls, and massive numbers of inmates are being released early from prison. If shortages become more severe or if lots of police fall ill, chaos may very will ensue. People would rather be safe than sorry.

If the police can’t be there to provide protection, people are far safer if they have a gun when confronted by a criminal. That is particularly true for the most vulnerable citizens, such as women and the elderly.

But many state governments across the country, from California to New York, are classifying gun shops as “non-essential” and ordering them to close. Some express a deep concern with gun sales at this time. Senator Chris Murphy (D., Ct.) tweeted that it is “so sickening” that people want to “to stockpile assault weapons, instead of food, to get ready for the coming Coronavirus civil war.”

A surprising exception is Illinois, where on Friday Democratic governor J. B. Pritzker included firearm and ammunition suppliers on the list of “essential businesses and operations.”

The danger of the coronavirus for cops is understandable. Telecommuting isn’t an option for them, and their jobs were already dangerous. Police departments in Michigan, Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania are ordering their officers not to respond to certain calls. Despite this policy, officers across the country in such cities as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles have already contracted the virus.

Even masks, goggles, and gloves might not be enough to protect police in the rough-and-tumble process of making arrests.

Citizens are being asked to avoid coming to police stations in order to limit their interactions with officers. Instead, they are supposed to visit department websites. Police departments refer to this as “coronavirus exposure mitigation.”

The risk of contagion is particularly great within the close quarters of prisons, so police are limiting the number of new arrests in order to avoid bringing infected individuals into them. But state governments are going a step further and even releasing prisoners that they deem to be at high risk of infection.

On Sunday the New York City jail system announced that 46 individuals (including 17 staff members) had tested positive for the coronavirus. To stop the spread, 56 Rikers Island nonviolent offenders have already been let go. Dozens more releases were announced on Sunday.

The Los Angeles County jail system, despite having no confirmed cases, reduced the number of inmates by over 1,000 in the last two weeks. Ohio’s Cuyahoga County jail, which includes Cleveland, also released several hundred prisoners.

There may not be any zombie apocalypse in store for us, but many people are anticipating they might have to fend for themselves. In the 21 days from February 23 to March 15, Ammo.com saw a 309 percent increase in ammunition-sales revenue compared with the preceding three-week period. The greatest sales growth occurred in states with the most reported coronavirus cases. Bordering states also experienced dramatic increases, perhaps because people knew that the virus was on their doorstep.

The resulting run on gun stores has overwhelmed the gun background-check system. Gun sales would be even higher, but licensed dealers have told me that they are getting busy signals when they try to contact the relevant federal and state agencies and they are having an “impossible” time completing background checks.

While police are normally extremely important in stopping crime, officers realize that they virtually always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has occurred. Even in better times, there is rarely more than one on-duty officer for every thousand Americans. PoliceOne, a 450,000-member private organization of police (380,000 full-time active and 70,000 retired officers), surveyed its members and found that 77 percent believed that legally armed citizens are extremely or very important in reducing crime rates.

With police cutting back their efforts and inmates are being released from prison, it is prudent for Americans to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and their families. Hopefully, people won’t need guns any more than they do in ordinary times. But in these precarious times, even some of the most anti-self-defense Democrats realize that closing gun stores isn’t going to do anything to reassure people.

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