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Lawmakers urge Gov. Hogan to close Maryland’s gun shops during coronavirus emergency that’s shut down other stores

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is getting pressure to close down the state’s gun stores, which have been allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic when most other retailers have had to shut their doors. In this March 18, 2020, photo, customers visit Gun Connection in White Marsh.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is getting pressure to close down the state’s gun stores, which have been allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic when most other retailers have had to shut their doors. In this March 18, 2020, photo, customers visit Gun Connection in White Marsh. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is getting pressure to close down the state’s gun stores, which have been allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic when most other retailers have had to shut their doors.

Under a series of executive orders — including a stay-at-home order issued Monday — Hogan has gradually closed schools, sit-down restaurants, malls, theaters, gyms, casinos and businesses deemed “nonessential” in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.

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Gun shops and shooting ranges, however, made the cut as an “essential” business.

“The ability of gun stores to remain open during this pandemic is worrisome for many Marylanders ... It is alarming to see Marylanders stockpiling weapons in such a state of emergency,” dozens of Democratic state lawmakers wrote Thursday in a letter to the Republican governor.

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Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat who is vice chairwoman of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, spearheaded the letter. It was signed by 58 delegates and senators, all Democrats.

According to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, gun shops remain open in most states. They’re closed in Massachusetts, New Mexico and New York. The institute lists the situation in the states of California, Michigan, Vermont and Washington as “inconsistent” or “developing.”

Lawsuits over gun store closure orders are pending in multiple states.

Governors are consulting a list of essential businesses circulated by the federal government in developing emergency orders. The most recent guidance from the federal government, issued Saturday, includes on the essential list: “Workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges.”

Hogan’s orders cite the federal list, which is produced by the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. His chief spokesman indicated the governor is sticking with the federal guidelines.

“Federal guidelines expressly designate gun stores as essential, and the governor’s orders adhere to the federal guidelines," Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in a statement. “We appreciate these legislators providing their input as we work together right now to slow the spread of this virus.”

If Hogan won’t order gun stores to close, the legislators suggested he restrict their operations to appointments with customers only during limited hours.

Some firearm retailers have reported an uptick in sales with the pandemic. And licensed dealers in Maryland conducted more than 29,000 federal background checks for buyers in March — almost twice as many as in February, another indicator of strong sales.

An NRA spokeswoman confirmed that the group has advocated to keep stores open, but declined to discuss its strategies.

Firearms cannot be sold and delivered through the mail or delivery services.

“Our constitution protects our right to possess firearms for self-defense,” NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said in a statement. “A government cannot simultaneously guarantee the right to possess firearms and then eliminate the only means people have to acquire them.”

Hunter said that Americans “need and want the means to protect themselves and their families during these unprecedented times.”

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Gun control and gun safety groups have raised concerns that in these times, with families largely inside their homes together, there could be an increase in suicides, gun violence and gun accidents.

“As Americans are asked to stay home, many might be in closer proximity to guns for longer periods of time. This is a concern because even under normal circumstances, guns in the home are dangerous,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the national Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The legal arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group co-funded by former Democrat presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, argues in a memo that gun shops are not being singled out for closure. Due to public health concerns, other places where people practice their constitutional rights — such as houses of worship, bookstores and performing arts centers — also are closed, Everytown points out.

“They are, instead, examples of the sorts of generally applicable rules that courts have held do not violate a constitutional right, despite placing burdens on that right,” the memo argues.

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