While gun stores in Virginia remain open at the moment, though subject to Gov. Ralph Northam’s order limiting public gatherings to no more than 10 people, indoor ranges across the state have been ordered to close. With thousands of new gun owners across the state who could use some time on the firing line, as well as instruction in how to safely handle their new firearm, the Virginia Citizens Defense League says it is preparing for a legal fight over the closure of ranges.
Northam has declared that indoor ranges in the state are nothing more than “indoor public amusements,” even though the closure of the ranges means it will be difficult, if not impossible, for new gun owners to get live-fire experience with their recently purchased firearms.
On Friday, a law firm out of Vienna representing the VCDL wrote to Northam, saying his executive order violated the Second Amendment.
“Although it is certainly true that there are those who visit ranges to shoot as a sport, it is also true that ranges are where Virginians are instructed to, and practice, their skills to use firearms as part of their inherent right to self-defense,” lawyers for VCDL wrote. “The suspension of constitutionally enumerated rights constitutes an ‘infringement,’ both of the right to ‘keep and bear arms’ and the right to be ‘trained to arms.’”
Then came the memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Released Saturday, it offers guidance for what the department considers “essential critical infrastructure workers,” and people who work at shooting ranges are included.
So the VCDL sent Northam another letter on Monday, asking him to change his executive order based on the Department of Homeland Security’s new guidance. The VCDL hasn’t received an answer yet.
The Virginian-Pilot newspaper has also reached out to Northam’s office to ask about gun ranges, but so far the governor’s office hasn’t responded.
Some range owners say even if the governor modified his orders to allow gun ranges re-open, they simply couldn’t comply with the social distancing mandates currently in effect.
C2 Shooting Center in Virginia Beach closed its public range — which is partially outdoors — four days before the governor’s order went into effect. Its private range remains open for official government, military and law enforcement training.
Owner Kent Mote said that, even if the governor were to allow ranges to reopen provided they follow the 10-patrons-or-less rule, it wouldn’t be feasible for him to keep C2 Shooting Center open.
“It’s a social distancing and a disinfecting and a cleaning regiment that would be too difficult in such a vast area,” he said.
He said he would have to space out patrons so they are more than six feet apart, pause shooting for longer periods to thoroughly clean the porous, rubber surfaces found all over the range as well as the guns, door knobs and any other surfaces, and bring on extra staff to monitor social distancing and explain the new rules to customers.
“What is it worth for my staff that have been with me for nine years or more to be exposed?”
So, even if ranges are allowed to open, some may choose not to do so. Of course, that’s their right, and I won’t begrudge any business that decides on their own to shut down for the health and safety of their employees. At the moment, however, no range in Virginia is allowed to make that decision for themselves. Instead, they’re being dictated to close by the state, even though we know that there are thousands of new gun owners who would appreciate the opportunity to get a couple of hours of range time with their new handguns, rifles, or shotguns.
It would be great if Gov. Northam were to see the light on this issue without the VCDL having to go to court, but that’s probably too much to ask of the anti-gun governor. Hopefully within a matter of days we’ll see litigation brought, and ranges re-opened long before June 10th, when Northam’s current declaration of an emergency is scheduled to end.