Two California counties violated the Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms when they shut down gun and ammunition stores in 2020 as nonessential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. Los Angeles and Ventura counties had won lower court decisions saying gun stores were not exempt from broader shutdown orders aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus early in the pandemic, the Associated Press reports. The appeals panel rejected both lower court rulings. The Second Amendment “means nothing if the government can prohibit all persons from acquiring any firearm or ammunition,” Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote. “But that’s what happened in this case.”
Because buyers can obtain guns only by personally going to gun stores in California, Ventura County’s 48-day closure of gun shops, ammunition shops and firing ranges “wholly prevented law-abiding citizens in the County from realizing their right to keep and bear arms,” VanDyke wrote, adding that bike shops were among those allowed to remain open as essential businesses. The court said governments “cannot use a crisis to trample on the Constitutional rights of citizens,” said Michael Jean of the National Rifle Association. Similar restrictions were imposed in 10 other states, according to the Firearms Policy Coalition, another gun owners’ rights groups that sued: Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.