Should Gun Shops Be Designated as Essential Services During an Emergency?


New York, Michigan and Delaware have ordered gun shops to close during the coronavirus emergency. Other States like California have left such a decision to local Sheriffs while still others like Connecticut, Ohio and Illinois have exempted businesses selling firearms from mandatory closure. Still others have fudged the issue but enacted measures such as, in New Jersey, closing down the background check system, effectively preventing gun sales in the state.


The usual suspects are arguing the relative merits: the NRA pointing out that such closures infringe Constitutional rights and the Brady Campaign arguing vehemently that gun control measures are legal and necessary. Meanwhile DHS has just issued guidelines advising states to allow gun retailers to remain open.


This latest emergence of the gun control debate arises in large part due to another surge in firearms sales across the nation. In some areas sales have surged by more than 50% year-on-year and ammunition is reportedly “flying off the shelves”. As the national understanding and fear of the coronavirus have spread, buying a gun is seen by some as a panic move, by some as a sensible security precaution and by yet others as either a threat or a political opportunity.


But why are so many buying guns now? The answers are many and complex, but certain key factors are emerging: the possibility of Law Enforcement being overwhelmed by both attrition as officers are infected with Covid-19 and by diversion from crime deterrence, detection and investigation to virus assistance duties. Combine this with decisions by some States to release prisoners during the health emergency and also with recent policies such as New York’s bail reform and California’s over $950 limit on shoplifting. It is unsurprising that many law-abiding citizens are buying guns as their faith in the ability of government agencies to protect them is diminished.


So is this surge in gun buying a bad thing? Yes if you are afraid of guns (certainly understandable for those with little or bad experiences). Not if you generally have faith in your fellow citizens – as a number of solid facts attest you should:


By the latest realistic estimates there are well over 400 million privately owned firearms in nearly 100 million households across the nation. According to the CDC, guns may be used to stop, prevent or deter crime anywhere from 500,000 to more than 3,000,000 times each year. It is also well known that less than half of all law enforcement will fire their guns other than for training in their entire careers.


Consider too that law enforcement spend their careers interacting with criminals, that most violent crime occurs in very limited regions, mostly of big cities and that personal experience of being involved in a shooting incident is rare. There are also estimates of anywhere from 10 to 50 million additional illegal guns in the US. Yet it is a very small minority who even experience gunfire other than while hunting or at a range.


Add these factors together with the important detail that most gun owners are even more law-abiding than the average citizen, with permit holders committing felonies at less than 1/5th the rate of police officers, and it is unsurprising that the Second Amendment enjoys broad support.


Furthermore no amount of gun control will get criminals to give up their guns or stop their felonious behavior, and certainly will not stop or even slow their access to firearms . Now return to the events decreasing public trust in governments ability to respond to crime and add in the very American trait of self-reliance and it is no wonder there is a surge in gun buying.


So will this increase in legal gun ownership help or hurt in a crisis? This is the key question for politicians who legislate on the matter and who decide if gun shops should remain open in a crisis. Based on history, data and common sense the answer is clearly being answered by law-abiding citizens right now. They help and gun shops should stay open, allowing the businesses to enact their own restrictions to slow or prevent the spread of disease rather than imposing big brother restrictions on Constitutionally protected rights.


One final factor for the politicians who might read this: consider how the voters are reacting! Hard-working ordinary Americans are voting with their dollars at a time of real national emergency and with the prospect of real economic hardship. They are spending their dollars on firearms and if you believe at all in democracy and free markets, core American values, stop trying to impose your values on citizens by closing businesses you don’t like and get the gun retailers and manufacturers onto your lists of essential services.