Gun Shops are Essential

Young Voices ContributorsEditor’s NoteThis column was written by Matthew Larosiere

By now, most state or local governments have issued a “stay at home” mandate, ordering the shuttering of “non-essential” businesses for the foreseeable future to curb the spread of COVID-19, while those deemed “essential” are allowed to keep their doors open to the public. As first-time gun buyers formed tremendous lines at gun shops recently, some governments saw this as an opportunity to order the shops to close their doors. Naturally, lawsuits challenging these closures started springing up almost immediately—as they should.

After all, gun shops are essential businesses.

Of course, this isn’t to understate the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in any way. Social distancing makes sense as a mechanism to quell the spread. That doesn’t mean that an unprecedented global public health crisis can serve as carte blanche for public officials to effectively eliminate the exercise of a fundamental right for millions upon millions of people.

There’s no reason to dive deep into the way closing gun stores violates our rights. It’s pretty self-evident that closing all avenues to acquire that thing we have the right to “keep and bear” is an infringement. Instead, let’s take a practical angle. Even if we had no rights, would gun shops and associated businesses be “essential?” I think so.

Let’s assume that the government can shut down “non-essential” businesses (although that certainly isn’t settled). What’s our basis for determining what is and isn’t “essential?” Well, certainly we think of those businesses necessary to maintain our physical security. Food, medicine, household goods, and all the hardware and support necessary to keep the various machines that we depend on operational.

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These state mandates list as “essential,” and therefore exempt from forced closure, businesses that sell “products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.”

But the key concept here is our safety. We must be able to secure ourselves from starvation, sickness, injury, and the litany of other threats to the human condition. Many of those threats are unthinkable to a lot of people, especially in our comfortable modern society. It may be uncomfortable to consider but among those horrible threats? Violent people.

As of late March, 15 percent of New York City’s police were out sick as the virus ripped through the Big Apple (and continues to). Police nationwide are severely limiting their interactions with the people. With reduced numbers and reduced interactions, the police are even less likely to come to our aid when we might need them most.

In times of unprecedented crisis, our institutions can’t be totally depended upon. In a pandemic, we’re suddenly responsible for more than we normally are—including our own protection.

Ordinary people are hoarding and fighting over toilet paper. Supplies are running short everywhere, there’s widespread social unrest, and the shutdown orders have blown a 5 trillion dollar hole in the side of our economic ship.

People are scared, and people tend to act up when they’re scared.

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In the event of any catastrophe or public unrest, the already-strained police would be completely unable to answer individual calls, especially for the tens of millions of Americans in middle America. We’re living in a time right now where police might not be minutes, but rather hours or perhaps even days from a call for help.

This situation brings us back to the very thing we’re concerned about: Those things “essential” to our safety. We aren’t concerned about this type of safety on sunny days or when we’re going skeet shooting. People aren’t lining up at the local gun shop because they want to kill whitetail or shoot at ducks. People are lining up to buy guns because, if something horrible were to happen to them, they’d need some way to ensure the safety of themselves and their loved ones. The simple fact is that guns are the most effective tool to protect human life against the unthinkable.

That’s why they’re essential.

Yes, we have a recognized right to keep, bear, and certainly acquire arms in this country. But even if we didn’t, there is no doubt that guns are essential to human preservation in uncertain times. In these dark times, don’t stop people from buying a means to ensure our physical security at the gun shop counter. Just ask that we stand six feet apart.

Matthew Larosiere is the Director of Legal Policy for Firearms Policy Coalition and a Senior Contributor to Young Voices