Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun news outlet The Trace has partnered up with USA Today for a story about gun stores remaining open during the coronavirus pandemic, and as you can imagine, the reporters take a dim view of gun stores that have continued to serve customers, even in states that have declared them to be “non-essential” businesses. The Trace‘s Champe Barton and Daniel Nass, along with USA Today’s Kevin Johnson, found that in some states that had ordered gun stores closed, April’s NICS background check figures were higher than April of 2019.
In Washington state, for instance, checks increased 45% over April 2019; in New Mexico, they increased 15%.
Checks increased by 112% in Michigan, where at least part of the surge may be attributed to a March 3 ruling by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a spokesperson for the Michigan State Police. That ruling said that firearms dealers cannot accept a Michigan-issued concealed carry permit in lieu of conducting a background check, adding gun transfers to permit holders – previously not counted –– to the FBI data.
Of course the reporters found plenty of gun control advocates who are clutching their pearls over this development.
Anthony Coulson, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who is an expert on the background check system, said the increased gun sales rendered the stay-at-home orders “meaningless.”
“What’s the motivation for implementing a nonessential order if it’s not going to be enforced and has no impact?” Coulson asked.
Good question. Here’s another: How does a state fully enforce stay-at-home measures without turning into an authoritarian police state? Coulson’s wrong, by the way, that there’s been no enforcement taken against gun stores. It’s just that the enforcement has been largely arbitrary and capricious. In Grants, New Mexico, Papas Pawn and Guns has been fined $60,000 for remaining open in defiance of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s emergency order, and The Trace spoke to another New Mexico gun owner who’s remained open despite fines because he says he has “two little girls at home to feed.”
Christian Heyne, the vice president of policy for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence called gun stores’ disobedience deeply concerning.
The United States relies on gun stores, as federally licensed businesses, to follow state and federal guidelines to ensure the safety of communities across the country, he said, “so it is incredibly alarming to think that there are a number of gun dealers that are essentially going rogue.”
No, they’re not going rogue. They’re still conducting business by the books, including background checks on every sale. These stores are basically declaring themselves essential, and in many cases, they’re doing so with the support of local law enforcement.
In Michigan, for example, a spokesperson for the state’s Attorney General’s office told the Detroit Free Press that nonessential businesses could face forced closures and up to 90 days in jail for refusing to comply with the governor’s order. The Michigan State Police recently cited an Owosso barber shop for noncompliance, asking it to close or face harsher penalties.
But several of the Michigan gun retailers interviewed for this story said that local authorities were aware of their operations and had taken no action.
When provided background check data suggesting noncompliance among gun stores in the state, a spokesperson for the Michigan attorney general’s office said that enforcement was being handled at the local level. He added: “There has been nothing in Governor Whitmer’s executive orders that has specifically referenced firearm retailers.”
The Trace and USA Today also accuse gun stores of exploiting “loopholes” to remain open, which is another way of saying that some retailers have found a way to continue operating their business without violating a state’s emergency order.
Ryan Blake, who runs High Plains Gun Shop six hours east of Burnett’s store, in Clovis, New Mexico, said his store had been approved to stay open by local authorities.
“We’re essentially a department of an essential business since we’re located in a hardware store,” he said. “So we’ve fallen under a gray area.”
Likewise, Paul Smith, who runs S&S Gun Sales in Auburn, New York, said he found a loophole in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order.
“We were not originally on the list of essential businesses, but being a single proprietor gun store owner, I realized I could be open when I choose to,” he said.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, which has the authority to issue exemptions to New Mexico’s stay-at-home order, did not respond to requests for comment. In New York, a spokesperson for the Empire State Development Corporation, which determines which businesses are considered essential under Cuomo’s order, said that gun stores, like all non-essential retail, were permitted to have one person in the shop to fulfill online orders.
If The Trace‘s billionaire backer had his way, every gun store in the country would be shut down on general principle, not because of a stay-at-home order. Gun control groups can’t stand the fact that Americans are purchasing firearms in record numbers, and it drives them crazy to know that many of the folks coming in to these retail establishments have never owned a gun in their life until now.