By: José Niño
A circuit court judge in Virginia has overturned a section of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order that closed indoor gun ranges. Lynchburg Circuit Judge F. Patrick Yeatts ruled last week that Second Amendment safeguards could not be usurped by Northam’s emergency order.
Yeatts’ injunction no longer subjects the gun range, called SafeSide, from Northam’s shutdown order and allows them to open immediately.
Yeatts declared in his decision:
“Even though the emergency powers provision contemplates the spreading of a communicable disease like COVID-19, § 44-146.15(3) carves out a protection or the right to keep and bear arms in order to ensure the force of this right during an emergency.”
The law that Yeatts referred to bars any public entity in Virginia from curtailing or prohibiting law-abiding citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms in any shape or form, “including the otherwise lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale, or transfer of firearms” with the exception of facilities government entities use as emergency shelters.
“The Court does not see how disregarding the statute would benefit the public interest and the rule of law,” Yeatts outlined, adding that Northam violated his constitutional authority.
“The Governor appears to argue that, when he declares a state of emergency, he can ignore any law that limits his power, even laws designed to limit his powers in a state of emergency,” Yeatts stated.
The SafeSide Lynchburg gun range pushed the lawsuit forward. They were joined by Gun Owners of America (GOA), Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), and the Association of Virginia Gun Ranges.
“Gov. Northam has little regard for the rights of gun owners, and his closure of indoor gun ranges is no different. GOA will keep opposing Northam and stand up for the rights of Virginians in the commonwealth,” Erich Pratt, Senior Vice President for GOA, said in a statement.
Other indoor gun ranges in the Old Dominion are still closed. VCDL is entertaining legal options to rectify this situation and make sure all indoor gun ranges are exempt from this order.
“Our goal is to get all indoor ranges the option of reopening as soon as possible,” VCDL stated.
On March 23, Northam issued the order that lumped indoor shooting ranges with “recreation and entertainment businesses [that] are considered non-essential and must close to the public.”
Attorney General Mark Herring came to Northam’s defense, saying, “Governor Northam’s efforts to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19 are necessary and proving to be effective, but unfortunately, the gun lobby believes the ability to shoot a gun indoors during this pandemic is worth risking further spread of the virus and making Virginia communities and families less safe,” according to an Associated Press report.
Litigation is one of many ways gun owners can push back against Second Amendment violations. But Second Amendment movements can’t always rely on the courts.
If Virginia gun owners want to avoid hairy situations like the ones they’ve recently faced, they must have a comprehensive electoral and legislative plan to gain back power and roll back Second Amendment infringements.
José Niño is a Venezuelan American freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Sign up for his mailing list here. Contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or email him at [email protected]. Get his e-book, The 10 Myths of Gun Control, here.