Virginia Gun Show Promoter Sues Over COVID Closure

The Nation’s Gun Show is held a few times each year at the Dulles Expo Center in northern Virginia, and it always draws a big crowd. That’s the problem, according to the state of Virginia, where anti-gun Attorney General Mark Herring has declared the gun show, scheduled to take place this coming weekend, has the potential to be a “superspreader” and if held, would be in violation of Gov. Ralph Northam’s new COVID-related restrictions barring “entertainment and amusement businesses” of more than 250 people.

Attorneys for the show’s promoter, along with vendor Sonny’s Guns and gun owner John Crump (also the Virginia state director for GOA) are due in court on Thursday morning, where they’ll be asking a judge for an emergency injunction against Northam’s latest executive order that would allow the gun show to kick off on Friday as originally planned.

The show’s organizers say they stand to lose between $600-700,000 in gross sales if they must cancel the event.

They also argue that the gun show is the largest event held at the Dulles Expo Center and was handled successfully under less restrictive Phase 3 COVID-19 restrictions this August with more than 12,500 attending.

In his reply brief, Attorney General Mark Herring said the gun show has the potential to become a “super spreader” event and argues that the “plaintiff’s filingsbetray a callous disregard for the public-health consequences.”

Because the event is scheduled for this weekend, a hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in front of Judge Brett A. Kassabian.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys are set to argue that the gun show should be seen as a “Brick and Mortar Retail Business” not subject to the 250-person limit. If the judge doesn’t agree, attorneys have a backup argument: Northam doesn’t have the authority to shut down the gun show.
The Governor is expressly barred from closing down The Nation’s Gun Show under the Virginia “Emergency Services and Disaster Law.” But even more importantly, his closure order infringes on rights recognized and protected by Article I, §§ 12 and 13 of the Virginia Constitution.
It does not matter that the Governor has issued an emergency declaration or declared a state of emergency, or that the Commissioner declared a public health emergency, as no elected official has the discretionary authority to suspend the protections the People wrote into their Constitution which also created the office in which the Governor serves, and under which the Commissioner serves.
As the plaintiffs’ attorneys point out, Virginia law is clear: governors don’t have the power to limit the right to keep and bear arms, even in a declared emergency. In fact, back in 2012 Mark Herring and Ralph Northam (then in the state legislature), voted to change state law to block the very actions that Northam now wants to impose on gun owners. Here’s what the statute says:
Nothing in this chapter is to be construed to: (3) Empower the Governor, any political subdivision, or any other governmental authority to in any way limit or prohibit the rights of the people to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution of Virginia or the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, including the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms except to the extent necessary to ensure public safety in any place or facility designated or used by the Governor, any political subdivision of the Commonwealth, or any other governmental entity as an emergency shelter or for the purpose of sheltering persons;
That’s pretty explicit. The governor does not have the authority to limit in any way the lawful sale or transfer of firearms, except in emergency shelters. That designation doesn’t apply to the Dulles Expo Center, which should make this a slam dunk decision for the courts in favor of the Nation’s Gun Show. We could see a decision from the judge as early as this afternoon, but I expect the losing side will quickly appeal. Can the courts resolve this before the doors are set to open on Friday? It’s going to be close, but my hope is that the show will be able to take place as scheduled this weekend.
**UPDATE**
Virginia Attorney Mark Herring is crowing on Twitter about convincing the judge during this morning’s emergency hearing to block the Nation’s Gun Show from operating at full capacity this weekend.

Putting hundreds or even thousands of Virginians at risk for the sole purpose of selling guns is just not worth it and I’m pleased that the Judge agreed with me.

I haven’t seen the written opinion from the judge in today’s hearing for an emergency injunction, but I expect this decision to be quickly appealed. Time is tight, and it’s unclear whether or not the appellate court and the state Supreme Court will be able to hear the appeal before the gun show’s planned opening on Friday.

**UPDATE 2**

Looks like the appellate courts won’t be getting involved after all. The promoters of the Nation’s Gun Show say the event has been cancelled.

The organizers said, “much later [Wednesday] the Governor and the Virginia Attorney General stepped in to close all the similar venues in the state of Virginia as well as ours inflicting incredible hardships in the entire state. We fought back and went to court at great expense and lost. We respectfully disagree with the judge’s opinion.”

They added, “We will follow up with more later. We are very sorry for the incredible financial burden and terrible inconvenience this is inflicting on all involved.

As I said on Twitter, this decision by the judge isn’t just disappointing, it’s troubling given the clear letter of the law that prohibits governmental authorities from blocking the lawful sale and transfer of firearms during a state of emergency.