At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, a dozen vehicles are parked in front of an enterprise conspicuously open for business in the veritable ghost town that is Deereco Road in Timonium. One of those vehicles is a Baltimore County police car with an on-duty officer inside. He’s not there by chance. The department has ordered him to be in that parking lot when the opportunity arises — when he’s filling out paperwork, for example. Why? Because the business in question has been deemed not just “essential” but “critical” under U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines and he’s there to provide some level of security at taxpayer expense.
What is this business that’s so important to deserve such treatment? What is worth the risk to public health? It’s not a hotel or restaurant. It’s not a church or temple or other house of worship. Police are actually enforcing government orders to keep the faithful from gathering. And it’s not one of the local businesses from barber shops to bowling alleys that are closed, the owners silently suffering, many of their workers struggling without a paycheck, as they continue to stay shuttered to keep the coronavirus outbreak from worsening and overwhelming health care providers.
Who is this vital merchant? A grocer? A pharmacist? An emergency care center? No, it’s Continental Arms, a gun store and indoor firing range where seven days a week and for as little as $8 for a half-hour, shooters age 21 or over can fire away at targets to their heart’s content. Although, the firing range is not currently open, a Continental employee advises, the gun shop remains available to the public and, at least as of Wednesday afternoon, appears to be doing a thriving business that tests the no-more-than-10 people should be gathered together at a time restriction.
This is among the most peculiar twists of the government’s effort to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. The critical status was assigned gun shops and ranges as well as manufacturers and importers over the weekend by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within DHS. Technically, the list is advisory, but most states, including Maryland, have followed the federal lead on this. Governor Hogan’s last executive order, issued March 30, specifically recognizes (in Section IV), the CISA findings.
In a word, this is a crock. It’s kowtowing to the gun lobby, plain and simple. In a public health crisis — and an outbreak where a forecast of 200,000 Americans dead is considered a best-case scenario deserves that label — there can be no justification for this kind of blatant political favoritism. Never mind that gun sales are reportedly robust. So are toilet paper sales, but we aren’t giving the Charmin bears a police escort. Is there some argument that guns are especially vital now for self-protection? Crime rates are falling during the days of stay-in-place. The nearby Cockeysville precinct, for example, notes there hasn’t been an armed robbery since March 14 when a pizza delivery had his food and money stolen. There simply aren’t as many opportunities for criminals to commit crimes.
Or perhaps the NRA will trot out its Second Amendment rights. That rings a bit hollow when so many of us are sacrificing so many of our basic civil liberties, the freedom to assemble and to practice our religion (two biggies, as they say) included. Once we accept that government can confine people to their homes, the rest is cherry-picking. But as medical experts have repeatedly pointed out, the stay-in-place restriction might be the most effective weapon in the public health arsenal. When we loosen that mandate, we are potentially sacrificing lives. Not just those of the patrons of places like Continental Arms but from the broader community that will inevitably interact with them. Is it worth a higher fatality rate so people can buy a collectible Springfield 1873 “Trapdoor” rifle for $2,500, as Continental currently advertises on its web site?
Maryland already has 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and, as Governor Hogan has observed, it’s only going to get worse. Please put gun shops in the nonessential category, Mr. Hogan, for the sake of public well-being. If the vast majority of retailers have to close down until the emergency is past, there’s no good reason why Continental Arms, or any other gun store, should receive this special treatment — including the police detail.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.