Gov. Gavin Newsom is letting California’s 58 counties each decide if gun stores can stay open during the coronavirus shutdown as people line up to panic-buy firearms

  • Gun sales across the country have surged as customers panic-buy firearms in addition to essential supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In California and the Bay Area specifically, firearm retailers have seen long lines and spikes in sales as shelter-in-place orders go into effect.
  • But whether or not gun shops qualify as essential businesses that are allowed to remain open during a shelter-in-place order has been unclear.
  • However, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday that it’s up to each of California’s 58 counties to decide if gun shops within county borders are allowed to stay open.
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Gun stores across the US have seen surging sales as customers panic-buy firearms amid shelter-in-place orders to contain the coronavirus disease.

Retailers in California have also seen spikes, as first the San Francisco Bay Area entered a shelter-in-place order, and now the state has as well. As The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week, shaken customers turned to retailers in locales like Novato, Sunnyvale, and Pacifica for guns and for some peace of mind.

“The government is trying to do everything it can to keep society intact,” 36-year-old Andrew Dominguez told the Chronicle outside Pacifica’s City Arms store. “But if society is unraveling, it’s up to us to protect ourselves.”

Some firearm buyers cited a potential increase in crime rates as one motive for purchasing a gun, though reports have indicated that crime is actually down as stay-at-home orders are issued across the Bay Area. California retailers have also seen an influx of Asian-American customers looking for a means of protection against potential attacks fueled by xenophobia and racism that many are experiencing as the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, continues to spread. 

There was some uncertainty about whether or not firearm stores qualify as essential businesses and could thus remain open through shelter-in-place orders. Regardless, some gun stores did indeed stay open the day that the Bay Area order went into effect. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom shed more light on the future of firearm retailers in the state. Instead of designating them as essential or nonessential businesses, he announced that each of the state’s 58 counties would be able to decide for themselves.

“I believe in people’s right to bear arms, but I’ll defer to the sheriff in this instance, the sheriffs in their respective jurisdictions,” said Newsom during a press conference according to Mercury News. 

Second Amendment advocates argue that people have the right to bear arms now, just as they do when a global pandemic isn’t occurring. But some local officials have expressed concern that leaving gun stores open could lead to a public safety issue as residents stock up on guns.

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, for example, said Wednesday that gun stores in the county would be closed. Alameda County, another Bay Area county currently under the regionwide shelter-in-place order, closed down a gun shop last week that had stayed open after the order went into effect, according to Mercury News. A spokesperson for the county said that it’s also up to individual cities to enforce county orders.

Gun stores that do end up remaining open are still enforcing social distancing practices, with some directing staff to wear gloves and masks and allowing only 10 people to enter the shop at a time.

Essential businesses that have typically remained open during shelter-in-place orders are grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and hardware stores. 

The San Francisco Bay Area is in the second week of the three-week shelter-in-place order, though that could be extended. Newsom said last week that the statewide stay-at-home order would last for at least eight weeks.

There are currently 1,887 confirmed cases of the virus in California, including 798 in the Bay Area.

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