COVID-19 Special Coverage
Federal judge denies California gun stores’ request to undo COVID-19 closure
© WikiMedia (Michael McConville)
Federal judge denies California gun stores’ request to undo COVID-19 closure

A federal judge in California ruled Monday against numerous Los Angeles-area gun stores and the National Rifle Association in their case challenging local and statewide orders to close shop during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs, citing the Second Amendment, sought to enjoin the enforcement of various business closure orders in Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti issued in recent weeks in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, as well as an executive order from Governor Gavin Newsom. The stay-at-home orders did “not include firearms or ammunition retailers as essential businesses,” a fact that the plaintiffs asserted made them unconstitutional, but a point on which Judge Andre Birotte projected disagreement.

The state-level executive order, Birotte noted, does not itself require gun stores to close. Instead, the decision “lies with county sheriffs,” which the judge wrote makes the plaintiffs’ “challenge too speculative to present a justiciable controversy.” And at the county level, the Sheriff, Alex Villanueva, changed course and labeled firearms and ammunition retailers “essential,” allowing them to stay open. The county defendants argued that this rendered the case moot, but Birotte continued analyzing the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment arguments given that the “shift in policy could easily be abandoned or altered in the future.”

In scrutinizing the plaintiffs’ arguments that the City and County stay-at-home orders unconstitutionally burdened Second Amendment rights, Birotte concluded that they “fail[ed] to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.” For one thing, the judge wrote, reducing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is “undoubtedly” an “important government objective.” And given the ease with which the disease spreads, the orders’ means of closing non-essential retail locations reasonably fits the objective.

Birotte therefore denied the plaintiffs’ application to temporarily restrain the stay-at-home orders as they might be applied to their retail gun store locations.

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