What do gun shops and grocery stores have in common? According to Gov. Henry McMaster’s “home or work” order this week, both are permitted to stay open during the current public health crisis. The order, announced at a press conference on Monday, requires residents to limit non-work travel unless venturing out to exercise, visit family, or obtain essential goods and services.
Among those essential services, which include health care facilities and animal services, the executive order specifically states that its provisions cannot be used to restrict the sale of firearms.
Despite the opportunity, several gun retailers in the Lowcountry, including Palmetto State Armory, have closed their doors or restricted their hours to help flatten the curve. Carolina Rod and Gun in West Ashley wrote on Wednesday that they are temporarily closing and will reopen with limited hours in the coming weeks.
Palmetto State Armory continues to sell weapons online, which has moved at an increased rate lately, according to their website. Other reports indicate gun sales have increased around the country, with some people panic-buying their first firearm.
McMaster dismissed questions about the decision, pointing to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at Monday’s press conference.
“It’s a constitutional right to have and bear arms,” he said. The majority of states in the U.S, along with the Trump administration have shared this line of thinking.
On March 28, a Department of Homeland Security guidance on “essential critical workforce infrastructure” also recognized employers related to the manufacture or sale of firearms and ammo as a public safety interest.
Lawyers and experts have raised questions about limiting of civil liberties during the pandemic. In New Hampshire, a Manchester lawyer challenged their governor’s ability to limit groups of 50 or more, saying it violated First Amendment rights to assembly, speech, and religion. A state judge upheld the governor’s decision in that state, finding it was an “extraordinary public health crisis.”
This week, a federal judge in California denied a request from the National Rifle Association to overrule an order from the Los Angeles County sheriff which ordered gun shops closed. The county reversed course in late March, allowing the stores to reopen, but the court ruled on the substance of the NRA’s request, also recognizing the “public health interest” in taking “extraordinary measures.”
Charleston-area state Rep. Wendell Gilliard says the situation presents a “perfect storm” in South Carolina.
“You’ve got your alcohol sales going through the roof, you’ve got your gun sales going through the roof,” he tell the City Paper. “Somebody’s going to have to tell me what the heck that has to do with putting a stop to this situation we’re in with this coronavirus.”
“I would think you would keep the food stores open a little longer and shut the gun stores down completely.”