In Virginia, gun stores remain open, though they’re subject to Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders limiting customers and staff to no more than ten individuals. Indoor gun ranges, however, have been deemed by the governor to be “places of indoor amusement,” and they’ve been forced to close even as tens of thousands of Virginians have likely become new gun owners over the past month.
Now, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America, and Virginia gun store and range SafeSide Tactical have filed suit over Northam’s order, and are asking a judge to grant a temporary injunction that would block the governor’s order as it applies to indoor ranges while the lawsuit makes its way through the legal system.
The lawsuit argues that Northam’s executive order violates the state’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law as well as Article I, Section 13 of the Virginia Constitution, which states:
That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
If the body of the people cannot be trained to arms because indoor ranges have been ordered close, then their rights are being violated, or so goes the argument.
With regard to firearms and shooting ranges in particular, in 2012, the General Assembly also enacted the current version of Va. Code § 44-146.15(3), which provides in relevant part as follows: 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; …
In other words, existing Virginia law specifically notes that the governor isn’t empowered to shut down ranges, or do anything else that might interfere with the right to keep and bear arms during a state of emergency. Even beyond the statute, however, the Virginia constitution would seem to preclude Northam from closing indoor ranges.
Governor Northam has expressly ordered the closure of all public “indoor shooting ranges” — listing them among other businesses that are broadly summarized as “places of indoor public amusement.” EO 53, Section 4. Classifying shooting ranges as places of “public amusement” is entirely arbitrary and capricious, and fails to consider that safety measures, such as social distancing, can be implemented without infringing on Article I, § 13 of the Virginia Constitution. As the Supreme Court said in discussing the federal constitutional provision protecting firearms — “[t]he very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government … the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon.”
The governor could apply the same social distancing measures that gun stores and other retail outlets are operating under, but to close ranges completely is a bridge too far.
The suit makes a very strong case that the governor’s actions have indeed violated state law, but we’ll have to wait and see if a judge agrees and puts a stop to Northam’s closure of ranges in the coming days.