NBC News' Story On Gun Store Closures Misses One Important Point

A new report from NBC News claims that states are “buckling to pressure” and allowing gun stores to remain open as essential businesses, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of states have simply declared that gun stores are essential businesses with little to no pressure from anyone.

Reporter Adam Edelman seems intent on creating a narrative that Second Amendment organizations are somehow bullying states into keeping gun stores open for business, pointing to multiple lawsuits that have been filed by the National Rifle Association, Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Council, and other groups against the handful of states that have refused to declare gun stores essential businesses.

“It wouldn’t have been my definition but that is the definition at the federal level, and I didn’t get a vote on that,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said during a recent media briefing announcing that he would reverse a decision not to include guns stores on the state’s list of essential businesses.

Murphy, who faced multiple lawsuits from gun groups after his initial order, cited new federal guidance as reason for declaring gun shops essential.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf, also Democrat, issued an order on March 19 mandating the closure of the physical locations of “all nonlife sustaining business,” including gun shops.

But Wolf backed down after a gun rights group, the Firearms Policy Coalition, and a civil rights law firm sued, alleging that he had “overstepped his statutory and constitutional authority” by seeking “to impose criminal and civil penalties upon those” who do not comply. Wolf revised his list to exempt gun stores, allowing them to operate under certain circumstances, including proper social distancing measures. The revised order made clear that gun stores would be exempt from closing because, under state law, gun sales must be made in person.

Edelman’s correct in pointing out the lawsuits that have been filed, but he barely mentions the Department of Homeland Security’s revised guidance on identifying “critical infrastructure workforce”, which recommended that the firearms industry, from manufacturers down to retailers, be deemed essential in states.

The NBC reporter also ignores what actually happened in Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court rejected the argument by the FPC and the Prince Law firm and upheld Wolf’s order. Three justices on the court dissented, however, and presented a plan to allow stores to re-open with limited hours, by appointment, and with social distancing measures in place. The governor adopted those ideas the day after the decision was handed down and the recommendations were made, but Edelman doesn’t even acknowledge that any pressure, in this case, came from the state’s highest court in addition to Second Amendment organizations.

Edelman also fails to report the whole story when he brings up the case of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his back-and-forth on closing gun stores. Here’s how the NBC reporter tells it.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, for example, said he would begin closing firearms retailers, while the sheriff of San Diego County said he would not close them because they provide a “valuable public service.”

Los Angeles’ decision was met with a lawsuit from gun groups, including the National Rifle Association.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles federal court, cited the Second Amendment in arguing that the government may not engage in “deprivation of constitutional liberties during a time of crisis.” The 30-page filing also argued it was illegal to “use a public health crisis as political cover to impose bans and restrictions on rights they do not like.”

Villanueva quickly reversed his initial decision after guidance from the top lawyer in Los Angeles County that said the shops could stay open.

Edelman gets the timeline all wrong, for one thing. Villanueva reversed his initial decision before the NRA lawsuit was filed, and then reversed himself again the following day, once again ordering gun stores to close. It was only then that the coalition of Second Amendment organizations filed their lawsuit, and Villanueva once again reversed himself after the DHS guidance was released on March 28th. Edelman also inexplicably doesn’t mention the fact that an Obama-appointed judge ruled on Monday afternoon that Villanueva could shut down gun stores if he chooses to do, rejecting a request for a temporary injunction sought by the gun rights groups.

I suspect the reason Edelman has crafted this narrative that’s focused exclusively on the lawsuits by Second Amendment organizations is to set up the second half of his report, in which he gives gun control groups plenty of time to attack the NRA and other pro-2A groups.

Meanwhile, gun control groups have strongly criticized the decisions to allow gun stores to remain open.

“Instead of listening to the gun lobby’s argument that they deserve special treatment during a pandemic that has nothing to do with guns, our leaders should heed the advice of public health experts, who are in the best position to evaluate the risks of virus transmission at gun stores and any other business,” said Hannah Shearer, the litigation director at Giffords, a leading gun-safety group co-founded by shooting victim and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control advocacy group, pointed to the fact that experts have expressed concerns about domestic violence and mental health problems, including an increased risk of suicide, that the isolation of stay-at-home orders will cause — and made clear that access to guns is likely to exacerbate both issues.

The group also ripped the legal reasoning behind the NRA’s suits, concluding in a legal analysis that the Second Amendment does not require that gun stores be considered essential businesses during a public health crisis.

“As broad laws that apply to thousands of businesses, these closure orders are clearly designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, not undermine anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Eric Tirschwell, the managing director of the group’s legal arm said in a statement. “The courts have made clear that broad, generally applicable laws like these are constitutional.”

And that’s where Edelman ends his story, with a Bloomberg-bought anti-gun attorney declaring that of course it’s perfectly okay to prevent Americans from acquiring a firearm or ammunition during a state of emergency.

The fact is that the vast majority of states haven’t declared gun stores to be non-essential, and only a few governors like Washington’s Jay Inslee, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham are still maintaining their orders that are keeping gun stores closed. Democrat governors like Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker, Colorado’s Jared Polis, and Connecticut’s Ned Lamont have all kept gun stores open and declared them critical businesses. Honestly, that’s at least as big a story as Cuomo ordering gun stores to close, but Edelman doesn’t even mention that in his story, perhaps because it undercuts the gun control groups’ narrative that it’s only the nefarious gun lobby keeping stores open.

I don’t expect a fair shake from the national media when it comes to our right to keep and bear arms, but I do want to correct their record whenever possible. Yes, the lawsuits by Second Amendment organizations have put pressure on lawmakers who’ve tried to shut down gun stores (as well as sheriffs who quit accepting pistol purchase permits), but that’s not the whole story. The DHS guidance has played a big role in states like New Jersey allowing stores to re-open, while in the case of Pennsylvania it was a dissenting group of three justices that gave Gov. Wolf the necessary push to reclassify gun stores. But in most states, keeping gun stores open hasn’t been an issue at all, because most governors recognize what a bad idea it would be to order gun stores closed during a state of emergency, either (or in hopefully most cases, both) from a constitutional and a political perspective.

That means that most governors aren’t listening to the gun control lobby, and by ignoring that fact, Edelman’s reporting on states keeping gun stores open becomes a convenient fiction; one where the gun control lobby wears the white hat and the dastardly gun lobby seeks to profit off of Americans misplaced and misguided fears for their personal safety.