PA Gov Ends Confusion, Declares Gun Stores Can Remain Open

In a major victory for the Second Amendment rights of Pennsylvanians, Gov. Tom Wolf ended the confusion over whether or not gun stores were considered essential businesses and now says that gun stores can open for business, provided they take some specific steps to ensure social distancing to mitigate spread of the coronavirus.

In new guidance to Pennsylvania businesses issued Tuesday afternoon, the governor declared that sporting goods stores must remain closed, with one big exception.

“Except that firearms dealers may operate physical businesses on a limited basis to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law, subject to the following restrictions: 1) all such sale/transfers will be conducted by individual appointment during limited hours only so as to minimize social interactions and congregating of persons; 2) the dealer will comply with social distancing, sanitization of applicable area between appointments, and other mitigation measures to protect its employees and the public.”

So, it appears at the very least that prospective gun buyers can order online and make an appointment to pick up their firearm, but I think this could reasonably be read to allow for in-person perusal of the firearm selection and purchase. My biggest issue is the “limited hours,” because gun stores simply aren’t going to be able to serve a large volume of customers. It would be good if they could at least try to make up for it by extending hours if need be.

Wolf’s move came hours after the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court rejected a bid by the Firearms Policy Coalition to overturn Wolf’s entire emergency order, and in fact basically follows a formula laid out by one of three justices who dissented from the majority opinion.

Justice David N. Wecht described the legal limbo in which gun store owners find themselves. Unlike most other businesses, they can’t simply move their operations online, given the strict regulatory measures in place around firearms sales, Wecht wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Christine Donohue and Kevin M. Dougherty.

In Pennsylvania, licensed firearms dealers must perform background checks, and state law requires that they conduct their business only on licensed premises or at lawfully sanctioned gun shows.

“Quite simply, if firearm dealers are not able to conduct any business in person at their licensed premises, then no transfers of firearms can be completed,” Wecht wrote. “This amounts to an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this commonwealth — a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and) the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

Wecht urged the governor to modify his order to allow gun store operators to continue in some form. But instead of a general waiver that would designate gun shops an “essential” or “life-sustaining” business, the dissenting justices suggested that some accommodation be made for gun stores similar to those implemented for restaurants.

For gun stores, the justices suggested, in-person business could be limited to only the portion of the sale that must be conducted face-to-face and on a licensed property.

I’m sure I’m going to have many more disagreements over gun control with Gov. Wolf, but I want to sincerely thank him for making this move and following the advice of Justice Wecht.  Hopefully the issue of store hours is something that can be worked on as Gov. Wolf continues to adjust his emergency orders for businesses across the state. The important takeaway, for me anyway, is that another Democrat governor has stepped back from the idea of mandating the closure of gun stores during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the moment, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is the exception, not the rule, in ordering gun stores to close and gun sales to stop. That’s a very good thing, and gun owners should be lobbying their own governor right now to politely and respectfully remind them that the right to keep and bear arms is never more essential than in times of uncertainty, and that it is essential not only to the security of a free state, but to the people’s peace of mind to ensure that their most fundamental of rights isn’t infringed on during this current emergency.