(CN) — The National Rifle Association and other gun advocate organizations sued Los Angeles County and other officials, claiming the shutdown of gun shops in the county as nonessential businesses during the coronavirus outbreak violates the Constitution.
“Shuttering access to arms necessarily shutters the constitutional right to those arms,” the plaintiffs say in the complaint. “By forcing California’s duly licensed, essential businesses to close or eliminate key services for the general public, California authorities are foreclosing the only lawful means to buy, sell, and transfer firearms and ammunition available to typical, law-abiding Californians.”
The suit pits individual constitutional rights against the authority of public health officials to open and shut various businesses for the health and safety of the community.
The suit also named Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles County Public Health Officer Barbara Ferrer and California Public Health Officer Sonia Angell.
Villanueva has closed gun shops in his county twice in the last week, doing so both times in direct contravention of the advice of county counsel.
The sheriff’s decision to shutter the gun shops on Tuesday set off a wave of panic buying, inducing long lines at all the area gun shops that did not conform to the type of social distancing local and state officials are attempting to promote.
Soon after, attorneys for Los Angeles County said firearms businesses qualified as essential. But Villanueva once again ordered the shops closed Thursday, prompting Friday’s lawsuit.
In Villanueva’s statement announcing the closure of the shops, with some exceptions related to ammunition and arms for security guards, he cited Governor Newsom’s executive order demanding the closure of nonessential businesses.
The order did not explicitly refer to gun stores as nonessential.
Newsom was asked Wednesday during a press conference whether he considered gun stores essential businesses. He declined to provide a definitive answer.
“I’ll defer to sheriffs in their respective jurisdictions,” he said.
LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she personally thought guns were nonessential but also noted that the dispute between the sheriff and the county administration is best solved by a third party.
“Let them go to court about it,” she told The Associated Press.
The NRA intervened Friday to make sure the matter does end up in court.
Villanueva’s order only applies to unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, as the city councils retain jurisdiction in California’s most populous county.
Alex Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation and part of the plaintiff coalition, said Friday’s suit is just one that will be filed around the country should other states and local jurisdictions seek to close gun stores.
“The lawsuits we are filing across the country are making a large number of other states, counties, and cities think twice before closing down essential gun stores.”
Los Angeles, like most parts of the United States, has seen a surge in coronavirus cases during the latter part of March.
The county reported an additional 257 cases Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 1,481. As of Friday, 26 Angelenos had died of the virus.
Los Angeles County has the most confirmed cases of any county in California, which had more than 4,400 confirmed cases as of press time Friday.
The number of Covid-19 cases has surged in the past weeks. At the beginning of March, there were only 70 cases in the United States, with nearly all of them tied to international travel. On Friday, the United States passed the 100,000-case mark with the disease widespread throughout all 50 states.