Gun Stores Ruled Essential Businesses During Coronavirus Shutdowns

The federal government is now advising states that gun stores, gun makers and shooting ranges are critical businesses that shouldn’t be closed during shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The addition of firearms-industry workers over the weekend to a federal list of essential workforces such as doctors, police officers and energy workers, came after gun-industry groups lobbied the Department of Homeland Security and the White House.

Gun sales have surged during the pandemic with long lines at gun stores around the U.S.

Though advisory in nature, the list of essential workers is being used by many states to decide which businesses to close and which to let stay open during lockdowns. Most states with shutdown orders are allowing gun stores to remain open in some capacity, though legal fights have erupted in New Jersey and California over gun stores being shut down by local officials as “nonessential.”

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy reversed course on gun stores because of the new federal guidance, saying that they would be allowed to operate by appointment during limited hours.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is now allowing gun stores to operate with new social-distancing rules even after the state Supreme Court backed his initial decision to shut them down. In Texas, the state attorney general said Friday that gun stores can remain open after local officials in Austin tried to shut them down.

“We are deeply appreciative to the Trump Administration and Department of Homeland Security for recognizing the vital role our industry fulfills in our nation,” said Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which led the lobbying effort.

Gun-control advocates said firearms shouldn’t be listed as essential goods during a pandemic lockdown alongside food, health care and electricity.

“This is a contemptible and exploitative move by the gun lobby to put industry profits over public safety,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign. “There is no constitutional right to immediately buy or sell guns and there is certainly no right to spread coronavirus while buying or selling guns.”

The updated list that includes the firearms industry reflects the “demands of current events as well as supply chain complexities,” said Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS.

Mr. Krebs said that an increasing number of local governments, including 20 states, are now using the list as the basis for what industries should be exempted from stay-at-home orders.

The White House extends social-distancing guidelines to April 30, bills are due this week for millions of Americans, and while China gradually reopens, India sees a mass exodus of workers leaving cities. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday has the latest on the pandemic. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Write to Zusha Elinson at zusha.elinson@wsj.com

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