Gun stores in Massachusetts reopened Saturday after a federal judge ruled on Thursday that the shutdown of firearm sales obstructed citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms.
All physical businesses deemed nonessential, including gun stores, had closed on March 24 as part of the state’s attempt to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
In response to this order, several firearm retailers and would-be firearm purchasers sued Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration for violation of the Second Amendment. The plaintiffs argued for a reversal of the state’s determination of gun stores as nonessential.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said during a videoconference hearing that individuals whose constitutional rights have been infringed upon must be heard in court.
Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League, said he was pleased with the court’s decision, despite the state’s attempts to block it.
“We’re very happy with the way the court worked this situation,” Wallace said. “These stores, because it’s a civil right, should be allowed to be opened as soon as possible.”
Baker said during a press briefing Thursday, the day of the court decision, that he was not in a position to comment on the ruling.
“Obviously, we would discuss any decision like that with the Attorney General because they basically represent us in those cases,” Baker said during his briefing. “We will certainly comply with any kind of judicial ruling on anything, including that.”
Precision Point Firearms, a firearm retailer in Woburn, was one of the plaintiffs that sued Baker’s administration. Owner Chris Kielty said his store should be considered essential because of the Second Amendment.
“People have the constitutional right to protect themselves, the right to firearms,” Kielty said. “If that’s being denied, it needs to be protected.”
Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said she was concerned about the implications of a firearms store being considered an essential business, especially during a time of increased stress.
“Deeming them to be an essential service in my mind plays into that narrative that’s really quite dangerous,” Zakarin said. “To see that this decision was made, it’s just frustrating.”
However, Wallace said the recent release of prison convicts in response to the coronavirus creates an increased need for protective gun ownership.
“We’ve had a lot of women talking about, ‘wait a minute, you just released my abuser and now you’re limiting my ability to defend myself against that person?’” Wallace said. “So if those people truly believe that things are going to get more violent, then they should be supporting these stores being open so that innocent people can defend themselves.”
Gun dealers must conduct sales under proper social distancing and safety measures, according to the injunction order. This includes limiting hours of operation and the number of appointments per hour, as well as ensuring usage of face coverings and access to hand-washing facilities within the store.
Wallace said firearm retailing will operate similarly to grocery shopping as it requires the same kind of cautionary measures: physical distancing from others, hand-sanitizing and wiping down purchases — whether it’s a bag of groceries or a gun.
“I think in the grand scheme of things, and the judge pointed this out, the state hasn’t really shown me why it thinks this is a bigger threat to the coronavirus expansion than anything else that’s open,” Wallace said.
However, Zakarin said a grocery store and the gun store are not comparable. She said food is a necessity for health and security, while a firearm is not.
“I think that there’s been this narrative perpetuated about safety equals access to a gun, so folks may feel that they need a gun to feel safe,” Zakarin said. “Guns, in fact, don’t keep you safer. But you do need food in order to survive.”
Her disapproval of firearm stores reopening stems from concern over the threat to public health, Zakarin said, not from a desire to strip citizens of their access to guns.
“Hopefully things are starting to get better with COVID-19, but we are going through a rough stretch as a state,” Zakarin said. “I would rather the store stay closed, just until we get past the worst of the crisis.”
Gun violence and stress-inducing situations, like the coronavirus, are also inexplicably linked, Zakarin said.
“We’re not trying to take anyone’s rights away,” Zakarin said. “It’s about decreasing the number of guns in our communities, in our households to keep more people safer.”
Access to a gun triples the risk of fatal suicide and quintuples the risk of fatal domestic abuse, Zakarin said.
“Given that we have higher risk of mental health crisis because of the pandemic and survivors of domestic violence are most often stuck at home with their abusers and not as much access to supports,” Zakarin said, “adding more guns to the mix is just going to result in more injury and more deaths.”
Though social distancing protocols may limit the number of sales after reopening, Wallace said he believes gun stores across the state will be active nonetheless.
“It may not be the influx or big expansion of sales that would normally happen under these circumstances,” Wallace said. “But I truly believe they’re going to be busy. That’s for sure.”