Update (3/25, 11:45AM CT): In a surprising turn of events, Governor Wolf has revised his “stay at home” order to allow gun shops to conduct firearm transfers.
The new provision allows gun shops to “operate physical businesses on a limited basis to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law, subject to the following restrictions: 1) all such sale/transfers will be conducted by individual appointment during limited hours only so as to minimize social interactions and congregating of persons; 2) the dealer will comply with social distancing, sanitization of applicable area between appointments, and other mitigation measures to protect its employees and the public.”
“Gov. Wolf’s change of heart is a welcome display of good sense and constitutional adherence,” said Second Amendment Foundation founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “Perhaps some other state governors could take a lesson from Wolf as they issue so-called ‘stay-at-home’ orders. SAF currently has a federal lawsuit against New Jersey, and we are working on lawsuits against Washington, Massachusetts and jurisdictions in California and North Carolina, among others.
“We are witnessing what amounts to an epiphany for many Americans during this crisis, as they remember what the Second Amendment is about,” Gottlieb continued. “Those who think suspending a constitutional right is acceptable because a virus is a health threat are truly mixing the proverbial apples and oranges to suit their own agendas.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused on Sunday to review the governor’s “stay at home” order, effectively upholding a ban on gun shops and curtailing Pennsylvania citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Governor Tom Wolf’s order took effect on Monday and directed citizens to shelter in place while closing all businesses not deemed to aid in “sustaining life.” The Firearms Policy Coalition joined several other plaintiffs to challenge the order in the state supreme court on the grounds that it infringes on the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The court denied the challenge without addressing the plaintiff’s Second Amendment arguments, but Justices David Wecht, Kevin Dougherty, and Christine Donohue filed a Concurring and Dissenting Statement disagreeing with the decision.
They argue that since federal law prohibits gun shops from transferring firearms without meeting the prospective buyer in-person, the governor’s order amounts to an “absolute and indefinite” suspension of constitutional rights.
“Quite simply, if firearm dealers are not able to conduct any business in-person at their licensed premises, then no transfers of firearms can be completed,” they note. “This amounts to an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this Commonwealth—a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution …it is incumbent upon the Governor to make some manner of allowance for our citizens to continue to exercise this constitutional right.”
Pennsylvania isn’t alone in its disregard for the Second Amendment. New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy issued his own shelter in place order that included a specific provision to close the state’s background check system. Not only are gun shops not permitted to be open, but even if they disregarded the order, they wouldn’t be able to conduct lawful firearms transfers.
Some states have tried to balance slowing the spread of COVID-19 with a respect for constitutional rights. Illinois (believe it or not) included “firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers for purposes of safety and security” in its list of essential businesses and is allowing gun shops to remain open.
Justice Wecht noted that Gov. Wolf could easily balance safety with constitutional rights by allowing gun shops to remain open only for the purpose of completing the portion of a transfer that must be conducted in-person. Just like restaurants are allowed to keep their drive-through and takeout services open, so too could gun shops be allowed to continue completing background checks and firearm transfers.
“Such an accommodation may be effectuated while preserving sensible restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but nonetheless provide a legal avenue for the purchase and sale of firearms, thus avoiding an impermissible intrusion upon a fundamental constitutional right,” he concluded.