Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Tuesday said gun shops are nonessential businesses and if they don’t close their doors, they will be cited and face the loss of their business licenses.
“Gun shops, strip clubs, night clubs are nonessential businesses. We are trying to get them to close their doors," he said. “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.
The department is informing any gun businesses to shut down immediately. To ensure the message is delivered, deputies will talk to owners at any businesses still in operation.
As the numbers of cases in Los Angeles County soared to more than 660 on Tuesday, the sheriff said it was time to "double-down" on the need to enforce social distancing.
Many store owners were already complying with the new order. At Bell’s Western Firearms Inc., the store operator said the business had already been closed for two weeks because of the coronavirus. At Red Rifle in Carson, buyers whose transactions are already being processed are allowed to pick up their weapons by appointment only.
At Cap Tactical Firearms in Lawndale, only those who made purchases before Thursday will be allowed to pick up firearms and those buyers will be contacted, according to a telephone recording.
This is not a unique decision, the sheriff said, noting that some Northern California counties deemed gun stores nonessential last week and called for their closures.
Villanueva, a gun owner, noted that he supports the 2nd Amendment but said given the spread of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, which has more than 500 confirmed cases, only essential businesses should be open.
The move comes after county officials strengthened rules ordering all nonessential businesses to cease in-person operations and close to the public. There are exceptions, including food and medical services, transportation, social services and a host of other facilities.
The new order requires nonessential businesses to close their physical premises — specifically, nonessential businesses that are not retail stores. People can still work from home.
Villanueva later on Tuesday blamed the confusion of whether gun stores should be open with unclear language in state and county orders that created a potential loophole.
“We have received complaints from particular businesses that have not been adhering to the social distancing. Chief among them gunshops nightclubs, bars and strip clubs so we have fanned out and are making sure these business are complying.”
The sheriff said "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 health officer. That had created some what of a conflict with order 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 — California, New York and Washington. But there’s also been an uptick in less-affected areas, with some first-time gun buyers fearing an unraveling of the social order and some gun owners worried that the government might use its emergency powers to restrict gun purchases.
Federal background checks jumped 34% in February as gun sales skyrocketed. Many people have ordered weapons and are awaiting delivery.