A federal judge in Massachusetts has issued an injunction blocking enforcement of Gov. Charlie Baker’s order declaring gun stores non-essential businesses that must remain closed while his stay-at-home order is in effect. U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock issued the ruling on Thursday, stating that there was “no justification” for keeping gun shops across the state shuttered and locked, and ordering that stores be allowed to re-open on Saturday, May 9.
The Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, and Commonwealth 2nd Amendment, Inc. brought the challenge along with several gun store owners in the state, and the SAF’s Alan Gottlieb says he is delighted by the judge’s decision.
“Constitutional rights are never put on hold because of an emergency, including the outbreak of a virus. Too many elected officials think otherwise, and we’re having to deal with them one lawsuit a time, same as we’re taking on Governor Baker.”
“When Governor Baker lumped gun shops in with thousands of other businesses deemed ‘non-essential,’ he obviously didn’t consider the exercise of a fundamental right to be essential,” Gottlieb observed. “We can think of nothing that is more essential than exercising a right protected by the Constitution, especially during a declared state of emergency.
In his ruling, Woodlock said that while the governor has certain powers in a state of emergency, individuals still have their rights as well. From Law360.com:
“We don’t surrender our constitutional rights. These plaintiffs have constitutional rights that deserve respect and vindication, and it becomes necessary for a court to do that rather than the executive when the executive declines,” the judge said.
He added: “I don’t have anything like a substantial fit between the goals of the emergency declared by the commonwealth and the burdening of the constitutional rights.”
Under the restrictions outlined in the state’s plan, gun store employees and customers must wear masks, hand-washing and alcohol wipes must be available, and sales must be made only by appointment. Social distancing requirements must also be followed.
Judge Woodlock indicated his order would not apply to shooting ranges because the record of evidence in the case was insufficient to rule on those business’s claims.
The state can appeal Woodlock’s decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, but for now, at least Baker’s ban on the opening of gun stores is on hold while the case continues to be litigated in U.S. District Court.
For Second Amendment legal geeks like me, it’s worth noting that Woodlock didn’t rely on strict scrutiny, or the highest level of judicial review, in reaching his decision. Instead, the judge determined that even under intermediate scrutiny, the state hadn’t proved that the goals of the public health emergency justified the closing of gun stores and keeping Massachusetts residents from exercising their right to obtain a firearm.
It’s also worth noting that while Woodlock, who was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan in 1986, didn’t include gun ranges in his injunction, they could very well be included in his final decision if more evidence is presented that the range closures also abridge and infringe on the rights of gun owners in the state. In Virginia, a state judge recently ruled in favor of a Lynchburg range ordered to close by Gov. Ralph Northam, declaring that the right to keep and bear also includes a right to train and be proficient with arms.
Today’s court victory is a tremendous win for gun owners and firearms retailers in Massachusetts, and congratulations and thanks are in order for the Second Amendment organizations and advocates who brought the case. With the state having the opportunity to appeal the judge’s decision, this may not be the last word on Baker’s emergency order, but it’s a huge step toward restoring the right to keep and bear arms in the state.