SAN DIEGO — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweeping stay-home order to curb the spread of coronavirus has sparked debate for local governments around the state about what exactly constitutes an “essential” business, which is allowed to continue operating despite the shutdown.
One polarizing issue not specifically outlined in the governor’s order: gun stores.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore provided some clarity on the local approach to firearm sales, saying gun stores will be allowed to remain open in the region as long as operators introduce practices that allow for social distancing.
“The Sheriff’s Department recognizes the importance of licensed firearm retailers given the heightened concern for public security. Licensed firearm retailers provide a valuable public service by conducting registrations, backgrounds, and ensuring waiting periods are complied with,” Gore wrote.
“We do not want to drive lawful sales of firearms to an underground or off the books black market during these difficult times.”
The decision strikes a contrast with Los Angeles County to the north, where Sheriff Alex Villanueva declared that gun stores were not an essential business and sent deputies to ensure they were remaining closed during the stay-home order. That’s spurred a conflict with L.A. County’s top lawyer, who has said the shops should be allowed to stay open.
The governor’s March 19 order outlines 16 critical industries which will be allowed to keep operating while most other business shutters around the state. In his announcement, Gore noted that gun stores were not specifically outlined as “essential businesses” in the order.
“We are awaiting further guidance from the Governor on how his order affects retail firearm establishments,” he said.
In the meantime, gun stores will be allowed to operate but must follow the statewide order to institute social distancing measures inside businesses that stay open, including limiting the number of people inside the store at once to allow for 6 feet between customers.
“We encourage them to find alternative ways to conduct business while complying with these orders,” Gore said, noting that some stores are already making sales by appointment only.