Gun dealers provide ‘essential’ service, Washington Republicans tell Inslee

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Gun dealers provide an “essential” service and Gov. Jay Inslee should modify his March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Safe” to include shops that sell guns and ammunition, were the words of a letter sent Friday to the governor from 46 Republican and Republican-aligned state legislators and a separate letter from 15 law enforcement officers.

Washington is at the cusp of a nationwide debate over whether gun shops should stay open. They were doing a land office business around the country in early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, along with Washington, have opted not to include gun dealers. Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, along with such conservative states as Mississippi and Idaho, have opted for essential (along with department stores and real estate offices in Mississippi). In California, gun dealers have been ordered shut down in Los Angeles County, while they continue to do a brisk business in Riverside County.

“Some things don’t stop because of C-19 and unfortunately one of those is crime: Gov. Inslee can’t assume criminals will honor his stay-at-home order,” State Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said in an e-mail.

Wilson, an architect of the letter, added: “He (Inslee) is aware a state trooper gave his life on Tuesday while trying to apprehend a suspected criminal who obviously wasn’t staying home.”

Washington State Patrol Trooper Justin R. Schaffer died after a suspect hit him with a car while Schaffer was laying down spike strips.

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which has sponsored three successful gun safety initiatives, said it is safe to leave gun dealers off the list of critical infrastructure workers.

“We’re already seeing reports from around the country of an increase in domestic violence calls: We also know that in times of high stress and job loss, suicide rates also increase,” The Alliance’s executive director Renee Hopkins said in a statement. “In Washington, domestic violence and suicide often intersect with gun violence.

“Adding more guns to tense, violent situations puts lives at risk and would do so at a time when hospitals and first responders are already stretched thin.”

The Republicans’ letter argues that gun shops are an essential resource for local law enforcement, and that criminal background checks help with apprehension of criminals. Many of us are responsible for the safety of large rural areas of our state, where local law enforcement cannot appear instantly in response to every threat faced by our citizens.”

Washington has seen an urban-rural divide on gun safety legislation. Several county sheriffs, including signers of the latest letter, have said they will refuse to enforce Initiative 1639, which tightened background checks and raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age for purchase of a semi-automatic assault rifle (along with a 10 day waiting period for purchasers of the weapons).

Washington has experienced a succession of gun massacres in recent years — the killing of young people in Mukilteo, the Cafe Racer assasinations, the Burlington Mall shootings, and an attempted mass killing at Seattle Pacific University that left one dead, but was thwarted. by a student.

Second Amendment lawsuits have been filed in Massachusetts, and in Pennsylvania challenging the scope of their governors’ orders shutting down non-essential businesses. The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom for “targeting” of gun stores amidst the COVID-19 lockdown.

“NRA members recognize these unlawful power grabs for what they are,” the gun lobby group said.

Newsome gave local sheriffs discretion over whether to order shutdowns. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva designated gun and ammo stores “not considered essential businesses” and closed to the public. During the closure, gun shops wilkl be allowed to sell ammunition to security companies.

Initiatve promoter, and candidate for Governor, Tim Eyman has seized on the issue in Washington state. Citing the Trump administration’s posture that gun manufacturers are essential, Eyman tweeted over the weekend: “Gun stores can stay open . . . just not in Washington. “Inslee prefers to vilate the 2nd Amendment. Elect a Governor who supports the Constitution. Support Tim Eyman.”

Across the Idaho border from Spokane, gun shops are doing a brisk business thanks to customers from the Evergreen State, the Spokesman Review reported over the weekend.

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