RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia gun-rights group is protesting Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to shut down the state’s indoor shooting ranges as part of a series of business closings aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Northam’s order, issued on March 23, closed dozens of “recreation and entertainment” businesses — including theaters, museums, fitness centers and bowling alleys — because they are considered “non-essential.” Indoor shooting ranges were included in that category.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League is asking Northam to remove indoor ranges from his order, citing an advisory issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 28 that designated the firearms industry — including gun ranges — as part of the country’s “critical infrastructure” during the coronavirus outbreak.
“People want to be able to protect themselves. Well, where can they go to learn how to use a gun safely? That would be an indoor shooting range, or an outdoor range, if they can find one,” he said.
Van Cleave said there are about 80 indoor shooting ranges in Virginia, including one at the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, based in Fairfax. Northam’s order does not apply to outdoor ranges.
Northam’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Virginia Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Virginia was the epicenter of the nation’s gun debate after Democrats took full control of the General Assembly last year on an aggressive gun control platform. Tens of thousands of gun owners from around the country rallied against new gun restrictions at the state Capitol in January. Lawmakers ultimately approved legislation requiring universal background checks on gun purchases as well as several other bills backed by Northam.
In its advisory, the Department of Homeland Security said it was not issuing a mandate, but merely guidance for cities, towns and states as they weigh how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The new guidance prompted Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to abandon an effort to shut down firearms dealers. Villaneuva, who was sued by gun-rights groups, on Monday called the DHS memo “persuasive” and said his department won’t order or recommend closing businesses that sell or repair guns.
Van Cleave said he expects the VCDL’s board of directors to vote Tuesday on whether to sue the state over the range closures.
Gun control groups called the advisory from the DHS a move to put profits over public health.