DHS Revises Guidance On Essential Workers To Include Firearms Industry

Gun stores and ranges, as well as firearms and ammunition manufacturers, are critical components of the nation’s workforce and should be allowed to continue to operate, according to new guidance released by the Department of Homeland Security on Saturday evening.

As Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, noted in the new Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, the designation is not a mandate for any businesses to remain open, and the decision ultimately continues to rest at the state and local level.

This list is advisory in nature. It is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard. Additionally, this advisory list is not intended to be the exclusive list of critical infrastructure sectors, workers, and functions that should continue during the COVID-19 response across all jurisdictions. Individual jurisdictions should add or subtract essential workforce categories based on their own requirements and discretion.  

The advisory list identifies workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions, among others. It also includes workers who support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure. The industries they support represent, but are not limited to, medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works.

Even though the new memo isn’t an order for gun stores to remain open, it’s now clear that the federal government considers the firearms industry to be essential. The new memo specifically states that “Workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges” are considered essential components for law enforcement, public safety, and other first responders, which makes sense.

The biggest question now is whether or not this will make a difference in places like New Jersey and California. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered all gun stores to shut down, and the state police are no longer conducting firearm background checks. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has allowed counties to make the decision about gun stores staying open, and in San Jose, Alameda County, and Los Angeles County, law enforcement has ordered those businesses to close.

This new guidance could cause a re-evaluation of those orders, but if nothing else the DHS advisory provides some hefty legal ammunition to the lawsuits that have been filed in those states seeking to re-open gun stores and restore the ability of residents to acquire firearms and ammunition for self-defense. If the federal government and a majority of states are in favor of keeping firearms retailers, ranges, and manufacturing facilities open, it makes it much harder for politicians like Murphy or Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to argue that guns are a luxury or non-essential item.

The Second Amendment Foundation, for example, is pointing out that 700 New Jersey police officers have tested positive for the coronavirus and are currently quarantined.

“This is exactly why the Foundation lawsuit to force New Jersey to re-open gun stores during this emergency is so important,” said SAF founder Alan Gottlieb in a Sunday news release.

“People need to be able to obtain the means of self-defense in times such as these. This is why the right to keep and bear arms is essential.”

Authorities in New Jersey are trying to assure residents that law enforcement won’t be impacted by the number of infected officers, but at this point that sounds more like a hopeful prognostication rather than a promise based on data.

There are about 36,000 full-time officers in the state, according to recent State Police data, and experts said the public should not be concerned about a looming officer shortage.

“If you have the right officers and you have the right supervisors … we are good,” said Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Crime has also dropped in the state, officials have said, which could help departments cope with any short-staffing, according to Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who teaches at John Jay.

“We don’t need as many police officers to respond if the work isn’t there,” he said.

While smaller agencies would be more affected by sick officers, he said, even a steep decline in cops could be offset by help from neighboring departments, state troopers and “special officers,” which are sometimes retired cops at schools.

I’m glad to see that crime is down at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that it will continue to be below normal, especially if the stay-in-place orders last for another month or more. As we reported yesterday, some in law enforcement are already expressing concern about civil unrest in areas of the country hit hard by the coronavirus in coming weeks. It’s perfectly reasonable for Americans, including New Jersey residents, to want a firearm for self-defense at the moment. It’s unconscionable and unconstitutional for Gov. Phil Murphy to deny them their right to acquire a gun in these uncertain times.