March 23, 2020

To combat the spread of COVID-19, multiple states enacted broad restrictions requiring most businesses to close and ordering Americans to stay at home and ensure they wear an n95-mask if they do need to go outside. To date, the states that enacted these restrictive orders include California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Delaware. Reuters estimates that approximately one in three Americans are being asked to stay home as a result of these restrictions. Each state ordered that “essential businesses” may stay open, but the states differ regarding which businesses are essential. In addition, businesses that are classed as “essential” must enforce social distancing measures. Where appropriate this can involve floor stickers, one-way systems, and sneeze guard style protective screens. As a result, firearms and ammunitions retailers are permitted to stay open in some states but are being forced to close in others. Some of these businesses have had to apply for a loan from the government to keep going during this tenuous time, however, there are businesses that may be worried about how they will pay it back when retail, etc. go back to normal. It may be best for them to check out information on PPP forgiveable loans and see how they might be helped in that respect.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (“NSSF”) is addressing this discrepancy by asking the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) to include the firearms industry in the “defense industrial base” and “emergency services sector” list of 16 Critical Infrastructures Vital to the Country. Including the firearms industry within this list will ensure that states define firearms and ammunitions related businesses as essential. In a letter to DHS, Senior Vice President of NSSF, Lawrence Keane, argued that the firearms industry should be included within the list of critical infrastructures because it is “a critical component of our nation’s security, public safety, and economic well-being.” You can find a copy of Keane’s letter here.

Although Illinois explicitly designated firearms and ammunitions shops as “essential” businesses, other states have designated firearms and ammunitions shops as “non-essential” (New Jersey) or have not designated these businesses as “essential” or “non-essential”. Given the novelty of these restrictive orders, it is reasonable that there will be some level of uncertainty. Nonetheless, some groups are taking proactive measures to prevent closure of firearms related businesses, whether it be by implementing some ideas to help keep employees and customers safe, or by taking more heavy measures. For example, in addition to the NSSF’s effort, the Firearms Policy Coalition filed a case in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to affirmatively block Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf from including firearms retailers in Pennsylvania’s designation of “non-essential” businesses.

As more American businesses are forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipate that states will provide continuing guidance regarding which businesses are “essential.” Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the firearms industry, including any new developments concerning the designation of firearms and ammunitions retailers as “essential” or “non-essential” businesses. If you have any questions concerning the above decision, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.