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Sheriff suspends efforts to close LA gun stores amid coronavirus restrictions

Luke Money and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- One day after announcing that gun shops were nonessential businesses that needed to close their doors amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has shelved efforts to shut them down.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva confirmed the development on Twitter early Wednesday morning, writing that department "efforts to close nonessential businesses have been suspended" and that Gov. Gavin Newsom would "determine what qualifies" as one.

Villanueva didn't explain the rationale for the about-face in his post, but linked to a Fox 11 news segment in which reporter Bill Melugin said the sheriff told him in a phone call that "the county's top lawyer put out a legal opinion that she believes gun stores are essential businesses and should remain open."

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 600 people in Los Angeles County, officials have strengthened rules ordering all businesses considered nonessential to cease in-person operations and close to the public. Exceptions include food and medical services, transportation, social services and a number of other facilities.

"Gun shops, strip clubs, night clubs are nonessential businesses," Villanueva said Tuesday in explaining the department's original thinking. "We are trying to get them to close their doors. If they don't close their doors, they will be cited," which could mean the loss of a business license.

"We aren't going to haul people off to jail," he added.

Villanueva, a gun owner, noted that he supports the 2nd Amendment but said, given the spread of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, only essential businesses should be open.

 

"It's not an issue of banning the sales of guns, which the 2nd Amendment is about ... the problem is there was a little bit of lack of inclusive planning process in the development of the local order from (the) health officer," he said. "That had created somewhat of a conflict with order(s) coming from the governor's office that were more broad-stroked. We have identified a loophole that needs to be addressed."

Gun sales are surging in many U.S. states, especially in those hit hardest by the coronavirus, such as California. Among the factors fueling the increase are concerns from first-time gun buyers who fear an unraveling of the social order and those who worry that the government might use its emergency powers to restrict gun purchases.

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