Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued a new executive order allowing some businesses declared to be “non-essential” to resume operations this coming Friday, including indoor ranges around the state that have been closed for the past two months.

According to the governor’s Executive Order 61, indoor ranges, which the governor had declared to be “places of amusement,” can reopen on May 15th, as long as they follow certain social distancing guidelines.

  1. Occupancy must be limited to 50% of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy with at least six feet of physical distancing between individuals at all times. Use every other lane to achieve six feet of physical distancing.
  2. Employees working in customer-facing areas are required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth at all times.
  3. Perform thorough cleaning and disinfection of frequently contacted surfaces every 60 minutes in operation, while disinfecting all equipment between each customer use and prohibiting the use of equipment that cannot be thoroughly disinfected.
  4. Either thoroughly clean shared or borrowed equipment in between uses, or only allow the use of personal equipment at the range.
  5. It is recommended that facilities strongly encourage patrons, members, and guests to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth while in the facility.
  6. If any such indoor shooting range cannot adhere to these requirements, it must close.

Northam’s previous executive order that closed indoor gun ranges in the state was successfully challenged in court by a Lynchburg gun range, but the judge’s decision only impacted Safeside Lynchburg, leaving other indoor ranges across the state dark. So far, the governor hasn’t appealed that decision, even though the judge said that Northam’s executive order overstepped his constitutional bounds and violated the Second Amendment rights of Virginia residents, as well as violating their rights under the Virginia state constitution as well.

Instead of continuing a court fight that Northam was likely to lose, the governor has chosen the option of least resistance by reopening ranges around the state. In fact, all other “places of indoor public amusement,” including bowling alleys, escape rooms, amusement parks, and public and private social clubs will remain closed under Northam’s new executive order. Why did the governor suddenly decide that indoor ranges are different than the other places of amusement? He hasn’t said, but it seems clear that the decision in the Safeside Lynchburg case had an impact on the governor’s thinking.

If Northam had stuck to his guns, indoor ranges wouldn’t be preparing to reopen later this week. Instead, he would have ordered them to remain closed just like museums, zoos, aquariums, and trampoline parks. I think Northam realized that his unconstitutional actions regarding gun ranges would face another court challenge, and this time around a loss might result in a judicial smackdown that would be impossible for him to ignore or downplay.

I have no doubt that Northam’s change of heart is based entirely on politics and not some newfound appreciation for the Second Amendment rights of Virginians. While I’m glad to see his new executive order reopening ranges, the governor’s anti-gun agenda still poses a threat to the Second Amendment rights of every resident in the state.