Judge says Virginia gun range can open despite stay-at-home order
A gun range in Virginia will be able to remain open amid the COVID-19 pandemic after a circuit court judge ruled the constitutional right to bear arms meant the state did not have the authority to order the business to close, The Associated Press reported.
The ruling by Lynchburg Circuit Judge F. Patrick Yeatts comes in a case the SafeSide gun range and a handful of gun rights groups brought against the state over Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) stay-at-home order.
Northam ordered residents to temporarily avoid unnecessary travel and large gatherings as well as the closure of nonessential businesses, including shooting ranges.
SafeSide, Gun Owners of America, the Association of Virginia Gun Ranges and the Virginia Citizens Defense League accused the state of violating the rights of residents afforded by the Second Amendment.
“The Governor has no such power. He is barred from closing shooting ranges under the Virginia ‘Emergency Services and Disaster Law,'” the groups said in the suit. “But even more importantly, his closure order infringes on rights recognized and protected by Article I, 13 of the Virginia Constitution and the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
“It does not matter that the Governor has issued an emergency declaration or declared a state of emergency, as no elected official has the discretionary authority to suspend the protections the People wrote into their Constitution which also created the office in which the Governor serves,” the suit continued.
Attorney General Mark Herring (D), in a motion filed last week, argued the governor did possess the “constitutional authority to protect the Commonwealth by taking decisive action in a crisis.”
Herring also reportedly argued in the response that the Constitution did not afford a right to “operate an indoor shooting range.”
However, Yeatts said otherwise in his order on Monday. In his ruling siding with the gun range in the case, Yeatts said the Second Amendment superseded the governor’s emergency authority, according to the AP.
The ruling comes several days after protesters gathered for a demonstration led by conservative group ReOpen Virginia calling on the governor to lift stay-at-home orders issued in the state despite the pandemic.